Members of a militant conservative Catholic youth movement called “Youth 2000” marched through Glastonbury on 2 November to commemorate the 467th anniversary of the beheading of the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Richard Whiting, and other Catholics martyred by the Protestant English state.
The march turned into a threatening demonstration against pagans in the town — people who believe in non-Christian witchcraft or in the pre-Christian Druidic religion that was once widely practised in England, Ireland, France and other countries. Glastonbury is a centre for paganism.
The marchers threatened and abused identifiable pagans. Some of them attached a pagan shop, the Magick Box, as they marched past. They shouted slogans such as “burn the witches”. They threw salt in the face of the proprietor of the Magick Box, Maya Pender, and in the faces of other supposed “pagans”.
The young Catholics shouted at the pagans that they will “burn in hell”. Some of them talked loudly about the need to cleanse Glastonbury of pagans. The leading pagan in Glastonbury, the equivalent of a Christian bishop, Dreow Bennett told the Guardian: “It was as if we had returned to the Dark Ages.”
This is a highly significant event. Few things are more certain than that religious bigotry, aggression, intolerant militancy, and the urge to confront, subdue, convert or destroy unbelievers, of one religion, will evoke in other religions the self-same bigotry, aggression, intolerant militancy, and the urge to confront — at first defensively perhaps — subdue and overcome infidels, heretics, unbelievers, and other enemies of their faith.
It may start with easy targets, such as in this case the “Old Believers” in Druidic paganism. As militancy grows, if they win concessions — the sorts of concession which Islam has won in Britain by confrontation, intimidation, and by threats and acts of violence — then their target widens. When victories are won by one lot of zealous bigots, victories like that won by militant Sihks in Birmingham when they forced the closure of a play written by a woman of Sikh background, then, inevitably, zealots of other faiths are encouraged to be militant in their own cause. They are given a model of behaviour to learn from and to emulate.
The world-wide eruption of raucous, belligerent and often murderous political Islam is stimulating Catholic, Anglican and Sikh bigots in Britain (and no doubt, elsewhere). The head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, public advised to Catholics to vote Tory in last year’s General Election. Organised religion backed and encouraged each other in — successfully — demanding that the government legislate to make incitement of “religious hatred” a special crime. The Catholic Church backed the Sikh rioters who forced the closure of the play in Birmingham.
Catholic Church leaders and the organisers of Youth 2000 have disavowed the salt throwing, hate-spewing hooligans in Glastonbury. That is to be expected. At this stage. It is routine, meaningless, “expected” patter. What is significant, what is new is the “militancy” of this conservative Catholic youth group (which is the equivalent, perhaps, of the Muslim Association of Britain, an offshoot of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood).
What is significant is that the witch hunt in Glastonburyit happens agsinst the background of the world wide Islamic upsurge. I repeat: the rampant militancy of political Islam, and the fear of it that has spawned concessions to it, can not fail to stimulate such phenomena. It is not by any means the only cause of the growth of militancy, but it is a key element in it. Religions that seem half-dead and harmless at one point, can nevertheless revive, often in an even more poisonous form.
At the beginning of the 16th Century the Catholic church was riddled with scepticism, doubt, tolerance, free thinking. Bigoted, militant, more primitive-minded Protestantism was a reaction to that. The emergence of the Catholic “Counter-Reformation” led by bigoted zealots such as Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuit Order, the elite corps of the warriors of Catholic reaction, was, in turn, a response to that.
The appearance of witch-hunting young zealots within a Catholicism that is failing to attract enough would-be priests to replace those grown old and dying in its service, should cause those inclined to think that the Christian religions are a spent force, to pause and think about it a little.
Bigoted, vigorous, uninhibited, violent international political Islam is not only reactionary in itself. There is a real danger now that it will evoke its own mirror image amongst the adherents of other religions.
The antics of Youth 2000 in Glastonbury is a warning to all free-thinking people, secularists, consistent — vertebrate! — liberals and to socialists who remain socialists, secularists, free thinkers.
All religious zealotry, all demands for privilege, for any religion or for all religions, must be opposed and fought.
Oppose and fight them all!