The Persecution of Witches, 21st-Century Style

HorowitzThe erudite Mitch Horowitz, a stalwart of intellectual New York book publishing, has been given op-ed space in today’s New York Times to highlight a new worldwide wave of violence against witches — and how to end it:

Most people believe that the persecution of “witches” reached its height in the early 1690s with the trials in Salem, Mass., but it is a grim paradox of 21st-century life that violence against people accused of sorcery is very much still with us. Far from fading away, thanks to digital interconnectedness and economic development, witch hunting has become a growing, global problem.

In recent years, there has been a spate of attacks against people accused of witchcraft in Africa, the Pacific and Latin America, and even among immigrant communities in the United States and Western Europe. Researchers with United Nations refugee and human rights agencies have estimated the murders of supposed witches as numbering in the thousands each year, while beatings and banishments could run into the millions. “This is becoming an international problem — it is a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe,” Jeff Crisp, an official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told a panel in 2009, the last year in which an international body studied the full dimensions of the problem. A report that year from the same agency and a Unicef study in 2010 both found a rise, especially in Africa, of violence and child abuse linked to witchcraft accusations.

More recent media reports suggest a disturbing pattern of mutilation and murder. Last year, a mob in Papua New Guinea burned alive a young mother, Kepari Leniata, 20, who was suspected of sorcery. This highly publicized case followed a series of instances over recent years of lethal group violence against women and men accused of witchcraft…

[continues at the New York Times]

majestic

Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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2 Comments on "The Persecution of Witches, 21st-Century Style"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Jul 4, 2014 at 3:36 pm |

    > have estimated the murders of supposed witches
    as numbering in the thousands each year

    the planet has about 8 billion humans
    it’s a population with a lot of intractable problems to face
    witches seem to have it pretty good compared to millions of others
    who also suffer death and privation through no fault of their own

  2. “Any misfortune or death within the community can be used as an excuse to accuse such a person of being a sorcerer.”

    A key nascent advantage in a society being introduced to the zero-sum game…

    Caliban and the Witch is a book that challenges many important myths about the world we live in. First and foremost among these is the widely-held belief that capitalism, though perhaps flawed in its current form, started out as a “progressive” development that liberated workers and improved the conditions of women, people of color and other oppressed groups. Silvia Federici has done impressive work to take us back to the very foundations of the capitalist system in late-medieval Europe to uncover a secret history of land dispossession and impoverishment, gender and sexual terror, and brutal colonization of non-Europeans. This terrible legacy leads her to the profound conclusion that the system is “necessarily committed to racism and sexism”.

    Most strongly, she writes, “It is impossible to associate capitalism with any form of liberation or attribute the longevity of the system to its capacity to satisfy human needs. If capitalism has been able to reproduce itself it is only because of the web of inequalities that it has built into the body of the world proletariat, and because of its capacity to globalize exploitation. This process is still unfolding under our eyes, as it has for the last 500 years”.

    It’s been said that we can measure a society by how it treats its women. This book provides compelling documentation to suggest that capitalism is and has always been a male dominated system, which reduces opportunities and security for women as well as marginalizing those who don’t fit within narrow gender boundaries. In particular, Silvia Federici uses the story of the Witch Hunt to illuminate the inner workings of capitalism to show the restraining, silencing, and demonizing of female sexual power built into it. Responding to our question that started this essay, she writes, “The witch was not only the midwife, the woman who avoided maternity, or the beggar who eked out a living by stealing some wood or butter from her neighbors. She was also the loose, promiscuous woman – the prostitute or adulteress, and generally, the woman who exercised her sexuality outside the bonds of marriage and procreation… The witch was also the rebel woman who talked back, argued, swore, and did not cry under torture”.

    In other words, the witches were those women who in one way or another resisted the establishment of an unjust social order – the mechanical exploitation of capitalism. The witches represented a whole world that Europe’s new masters were anxious to destroy: a world with strong female leadership, a world rooted in local communities and knowledge, a world alive with magical possibilities, a world in revolt.
    (Via: http://endofcapitalism.com/2009/11/05/who-were-the-witches-patriarchal-terror-and-the-creation-of-capitalism/ )

    Or skip the review:
    https://libcom.org/files/Caliban%20and%20the%20Witch.pdf

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