Month: November 2013

Do you know why we celebrate the 5th of November?

Fireworks night! I sat down with my girlfriend this evening and listened to the fireworks pop and crackle over in Brockwell Park. While I knew that the reason everyone sets fire to big piles of wood and fire rockets into the air is because of a guy called Guy Fawkes and his decision to blow up Parliament in… ages ago, I didn’t know why he’d tried to do it or why we celebrate it.

Seen in the context of the quest for universal freedom of speech and human rights that we chase today, I naively assumed that we celebrate this man for his bravery against oppression of some sort. This assumption turned out to be true – he was a Roman Catholic in a newly turned Protestant England – a minority. Now, I don’t know if anyone else saw V for Vendetta, but that certainly portrayed the supposed villain as the ‘good guy’ battling against an entrenched and wholly evil state, bent on oppressing citizens of London with endless propaganda and a variety of state owned television channels.

Intrigued, I looked it up on the internet, and quickly found out that rather than celebrating the man who stood up for his rights as a minority Catholic man, we celebrate the fifth of November because King James 1st and his Royal leaders were saved, even after they continued to deny Roman Catholics the same rights as Protestants and enforced persecution and injustice.

A Guy Fawkes Mask

The mask from the film V for Vendetta has become an internationally recognisable symbol of protest and resistance to a variety of things, from state capitalism to poor living conditions.

Now, I don’t condone terrorism, but it was intensely interesting that so many people celebrate the survival of someone who oppressed people because of their religious beliefs. In today’s society, I assume that most people (including myself) don’t know the reason we celebrate the 5th of November either, and just set off a few rockets to keep the kids happy.

Or, perhaps, I just missed out on that one history lesson at school or was looking out the window.

But, then, you look at it the other way – who is oppressed in our society today? Some people would say that in certain areas of the country poor people are oppressed and unfairly affected by meagre wages and often awful living conditions. If someone professing their commitment to the cause of the poor by attempting to assassinate the Prime Minister, of course it would be a crime and I would want that person taken off the streets. But, would we as a society celebrate Mr Cameron’s survival 400 years later? I think not. Just an interesting thought – maybe just from my point of view. I believe that every point of view is worth sharing.

Olsoweir