Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Witchhunts in the Congo Today

An interesting article from Slate Magazine about witch hunts in the Congo today and two books on the subject that I'd like to read someday.

Like the witch crazes that plagued Europe 400-500 years ago, the same causal factors emerge on the top of the list: Stress and societal upheaval, trauma, loss of control, and chaos force societies seek out a scapegoat, projecting blame for all their unexplainable problems onto women, particularly outcast women who occupy a marginalized place in their community.

In the Congo today, for example, the concept of witches didn't exist until the chaos and and tragedy of their war took 6 million lives. Like conspiracy theorists in the modern world, witchhunters seek an easy, simple explanation for their troubles, a narrative that they can understand, a story they can play a part in and control. Like a conspiracy theory in developed democratic states, blaming a witch or a conspirator for the turmoil in one's life is always more appealing to humans than understanding and accepting the bewildering complexities of the universe.

Whether it be Salem, Germany, or the Congo, the author summarizes the process quite nicely:

"The process, then and now, follows a strikingly similar arc of discovery. There is an unexplained death. A woman is blamed. Some local Jack Bauer is at hand to make her "confess." She is forced to name other "guilty" women. (Clarice's grandmother was accused; Anna's daughter was roped in.) And, lo, a conspiracy is discovered. The conspiracy spreads like a bloodstain outward ever further."

We humans are very curious creatures, outlandish and bizarre, yet dreadfully predictable.

Why the Wicked Witch Isn't Dead, by Johann Hari

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