The Legacy of Salem: Modern Day Witch Hunts and Their Causes

by Cullen

Trouble is a brewing. Crops are spoiling in the fields. The weather is grey and foul.  Animals are biting back against their masters. Children are sullen, disobedient, and aggressive. Worse yet are the stillbirths and mysterious deaths that are growing more and more common. Something wicked’s come this way. It must be… a witch.

Now, if you are a typical person in the 21st century, you’re probably scoffing at your screen as you read this. Witch hunts probably seem like a figment of a murky and backward past. However, witch hunts and even witch killings are a frightening reality in much of the Global South. In fact, just last April, 78-year-old Adelina Mohlakoane was accused of witchcraft and beaten to death by an angry mob in Copesville, South Africa. Her son had this to say: “My mother died just like that. She was killed over rumours which are not even true.”

Killings like this are not isolated occurrences. Across Africa, India, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea, people are being accused and often killed due to  rumors of them being witches. Between 1987 and 2003, 2,500 people were killed for this imaginary crime in India according to the UN estimate, which scholars see as highly conservative. The Tanzanian government reported that 3,072 victims were killed in the Sukumaland(from 1970-88) region alone.  In March 2009, hundreds of Gambians were arrested by members of the presidential guard of former president and dictator Yahya Jammeh for “witchcraft”. They driven to concentration camps where they were forced to drink poison. Meanwhile, hundreds of attacks on so-called witches have also been reported in places as distant from each other as Nepal, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and South America.

The victims of the killings are primarily of women, especially elderly(50+-year-old) women, although occasionally men and even children and infants are targeted. The perpetrators are normally unemployed young to middle aged men. Although even people in higher social circles are often accused, the victims of and participants in the killings are almost all lower class.

The killings have devastating effects on the families of the accused. Witchcraft in Africa is traditionally seen as an inheritable attribute, so if one member of the family is accused, then their children are often suspect. Huge numbers are traumatized in exorcism rituals. The Congolese department for welfare states that 50.000 children are kept in churches for such purposes. Many children are also orphaned when they or their mother and family are accused of witchcraft, including 32 000 of all street children in Kinshasa.

 What could drive people to commit such horrors? Scholars are split. Some believe that the killings of elderly women primarily come from a survival motive. According to Dr. Mette Brogden, “Many societies, from the Artic to the tropics, when they perceive a resource threat to the common good … kill expendable persons, thereby stabilizing their conditions. The expendable persons were the very young or the very old.”

Others believe that believe that this these survival style conditions are being brought about due to the disruption of the traditional agrarian and communal economy by neo-liberalism. Due to debt obligations to the IMF, countries in the Global South are forced to enact Washington Consensus policies, which restrict their ability to provide welfare to their citizens and open up their countries to neo-colonialist plunder.

Supporting historian Hugo Hinfelaar supports this interpretation. In writing about Zambia, he says the following: “In the current era of uncontrolled ‘market forces’ as preached by the present government and other supporters of neo-liberalism, confiscating land and other forms of property has taken on a more sinister dimension. It has been noted that witchcraft accusations and cleansing rituals are particularly rife in areas earmarked for game management and game ranching, for tourism, and for occupation by potential big landowners. […] Some chiefs and headmen profit from selling considerable portions of their domain to international investors, and fomenting social disruption in the village facilitates the transaction. A divided village will not have the power to unite and oppose attempts to having the land they cultivate being taken over by someone else. As a matter of fact, the villagers are at times so engaged in accusing each other of practicing witchcraft that they hardly notice that they are being dispossessed and have turned into squatters on their own ancestral lands.”

Not all agree to this interpretation of the crisis. Some believe that the perpetrators of these attacks are carrying out what cultural Marxist Max Horkheimer called “pathetic projection”. Basically, pathetic projection is the psychoanalytic theory that individuals have repressed sexual urges and destructive desires, which are channeled by society towards an acceptable target. This theory serves to explain some of the contradictions of the other two; namely why the rich also take part and are the target of rumors of witchcraft, and the sheer excessive levels of brutality with which are enacted against the accused.

Some also blame the rise of fervent fundamentalist pentecostal churches across Africa for the killings. Others point the finger at an exploitative film industry, which produces pictures such as “End of the Wicked” (1999)  and “Enjoyment in Hell” (2007) depicting witchcraft as if it were a real phenomenon, in keeping with African tradition on witch-focused media.

Whatever the cause, it is clear that these atrocious killings can not be permitted to continue. However, many are baffled at the reluctance of intersectional feminists to talk about this horrific abuse of human rights. No doubt many wish to avoid contributing to a condescending narrative about the Global South in the media, or at worst a justification for more colonialism.

However, this argument loses much of it’s weight when historical factors are taken into account. According to Dr. Elom Dovlo and Adeyemi Ademowo, Pre-colonial Africa had no witch killings, a claim which has been challenged by some due to lack of records. What is clear though is that, whatever pre-colonial Africa’s witch situation was, the one in modern day Africa is much worse.

To combat this epidemic, local governments have tried various measures. Ghana and South Africa now have “safe spaces” for women fleeing from witch hunts. South Africa’s pension reform in the ‘90’s significantly reduced witch hunt fatalities by turning the elderly into a financial asset for struggling households. But in order for assistance to these marginalized people to continue, it is vital that funds be allocated to concerned activists and that the Washington Consensus, which has caused so much harm already, be rejected once and for all.

Works Cited

CEGA | Center for Effective Global Action. Web. 08 May 2017.

http://cega.berkeley.edu/assets/miscellaneous_files/wgape/2_Miguel.pdf

Ngubane, Nompendulo. “South Africa: Woman, 78, Accused of Witchcraft Beaten to Death.” AllAfrica.com. 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.

“Universität Duisburg-Essen.” Willkommen Bei DuEPublico – Duisburg-Essen Publications Online.

Web. 08 May 2017.

http://duepublico.uni-duisburg-essen.de/servlets/DerivateServlet/Derivate-24612/03_Federici_Women.pdf

“The Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network.” WHRIN. Web. 08 May 2017.

http://www.whrin.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/childreninafricanwitchhuntsfinalversion-1-Felix-Riedel-2.pdf

Links to Organizations to support to counter this menace:

http://www.whrin.org/africa/

Advertisements

In Defence of Fox Mulder

by Sage

(Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for The X-Files all the way up until season ten! Read at your own risk.)

I first discovered the website ‘Bitch Media’ upon searching Google for articles discussing one of my favourite TV shows, The X-Files, and its positive messages connected to feminism. Instead, I found the exact opposite: an article entitled “In Rewatching The X-Files, One Thing is Clear: Mulder is a Real Jerk”. In this article, the author talks about their realization that, without the ‘haze of nostalgia’, Fox Mulder is a sexist character. As someone who loves Fox Mulder as dearly as you can love a fictional character (which is very much), I decided to check it out. My first impression of the site was that of exasperation; it was obvious that, with a title like Bitch Media, the owners were trying to ‘reclaim’ the word bitch, a word that many feminists consider a ‘gendered slur’. And, as for the article itself? Well, I’ll admit it: the article made me angry. Not just because it was framing one of my favourite fictional characters as an ‘anti-feminist’ character, but because… he isn’t. And that’s why I decided to write my second article for this blog taking apart the argument put forth by Bitch Media.

The article begins with the author reminiscing about how she used to love The X-Files when she was a teenager. It’s not until the second paragraph that everything begins to go downhill; specifically, this line: “Before finishing even one episode, I realized something even worse: Agent Mulder is not a dreamboat. In fact, he’s an asshole … who spends most of the series mansplaining to Agent Scully.” I was already cringing. ‘Mansplaining’ is a term that stops me from ever taking someone seriously. Same with ‘manspreading’. I mentioned ‘gendered slurs’ before, like the word ‘bitch’? Well, ‘mansplaining’ isn’t a slur, but it certainly is gendered. Apparently it’s only okay to use gendered insults when they don’t affect you. Huh.

The next passage that I will comment on is this: “It’s suddenly obvious just how much bullshit Scully has to put up with. Not only does Mulder routinely dismiss her extremely practical ideas, but her knowledge often gets the side-eye from other men in the male-dominated world of law enforcement. In episode after episode, she has to defend her ideas to Mulder, her boss Agent Skinner, small-town cops, and a rotating cast of folks like the Lone Gunmen.” I’ll admit, this was the part where I started to laugh. Yes, Mulder routinely dismisses her ideas, but it is not because of her gender. It’s because he believes in the supernatural, and she does not. I can safely say this because we actually got to see Mulder interacting with a partner who he had no respect for, and this was a man. Yep, it was Alex Krycek, back in the season two episode ‘Sleepless’. Comparing their interactions in this episode with Mulder and Scully’s in any episode will show you that there is a mutual respect between them that is impossible to break, despite the fact that their beliefs are polar opposites. In fact, this is exactly why the two characters play so well off of each other. Still skeptical? In the first X-Files movie, Mulder says to Scully, “You saved me! As difficult and as frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your goddamned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over! You’ve kept me honest… you’ve made me a whole person. I owe you everything, Scully, and you owe me nothing.”

As for Skinner, I would argue that Skinner is far more inclined to believe what Scully says than what Mulder does. For most of the series, he, like Scully, does not believe in the existence of extraterrestrials. Not only does he share her views, but in the season two episode ‘One Breath’, Skinner says, “Agent Scully was a fine officer. More than that, I liked her. I respected her.” Yes, you read that correctly. Skinner respects Scully, and cares about her too. Many times throughout the series, he is one of her most valuable allies.

And as for the Lone Gunmen, their lives are literally devoted to proving conspiracy theories and exposing the supernatural. Of course they wouldn’t agree with Scully’s rational, medical opinions. But as the series goes on, they grow to respect her too. They bring Scully flowers when she is in the hospital, and protect her son in season nine. Scully says in the season nine episode ‘Jump the Shark’ how much they meant to her.

It is true that law enforcement was a male-dominated world during the run of The X-Files. However, Scully is able to hold her own. The reason she has to fight for respect is not because she is a woman, it’s because she works with ‘Spooky Mulder’.

The author then goes on to analyze several exchanges between Mulder and Scully that apparently prove that Mulder is a ‘mansplainer’ and a sexist. One of the episodes she brings up is ‘Never Again’, an episode from season four. To be honest, I was guessing that this episode would be mentioned somewhere, because I was surprised and even disappointed with Mulder’s attitude towards Scully when I first watched it. Here is the exchange the author has cited from this episode:

MULDER: So you’re refusing an assignment based on the adventures of Moose and Squirrel?
SCULLY: “Refusing an assignment?” It makes it sound like you’re my superior.
MULDER: Do what you want. Don’t go to Philadelphia, but let me remind you that I worked my ass off to get the files reopened. You were just assigned. This work is my life.
SCULLY: And it’s become mine.
MULDER: You don’t want it to be.

The problem here is obvious: Mulder considers himself more committed to the X-Files than Scully is. Coupled with the fact that, earlier in the episode, Scully asked Mulder why he was the only one who had a desk and he responded by saying that he considered one of the corners ‘her area’, ‘Never Again’ paints Mulder in a very bad light. If this had been the first episode I had seen, I might have agreed with the author of Bitch Media’s article. However, this is exactly it: the only way I would have agreed would be if I had not seen any other episodes.

Fox Mulder is one of the most complex and dynamic characters I have ever encountered in all my years of reading, writing, and watching. However, the author of this article makes him sound very one-dimensional. She believes that Mulder’s attitude is derived from how little he respects Scully. But she is overlooking a crucial piece of the puzzle: the trauma Mulder went through that fuels his obsession. His sister was abducted when he was a child, and it broke his family apart. Scully may be devoted to the X-Files, but Mulder clung to the idea of the supernatural because it was his only hope of getting his sister back. So although I disagree with his attitude in this episode, I can definitely understand why he reacted in the way that he did. Just like Scully, Mulder is flawed. And he should be.

The author ends her article on this charming note: “Mulder and his eye-rolling can go get permanently abducted for all I care.” And yet the author emphasized throughout the article how much she loves Scully. Below, I have provided two photos: one of Scully when she found out that Mulder had been abducted, and one of when she thought she had lost him forever.

This is what you want for her? If so, I would take a second look at how much you actually like The X-Files.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time for me to put my opinion about Mulder out there. Namely, why I believe Fox Mulder is a feminist character.

In season five, there are two very important episodes in which Scully discovers that she has a daughter; a strange, half-alien girl named Emily who was born during Scully’s abduction in season two. Upon further investigation in the episode ‘Emily’, Mulder discovers that Emily’s conception was just another experiment performed on Scully. And when he meets one of the doctors responsible, he calls him out to his face. Not just for their conspiracies, but for the fact that they impregnated women without their consent. He calls them ‘medical rapists’, a phrase which has stuck with me ever since I watched that episode. He was looking past his personal bias toward conspiracy theories and seeing the actual impact that their testing had on women like Scully. That, I think, was one of Mulder’s most important feminist moments.

There is an episode in the revival series, ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, that features a transgender woman. A lot of people were upset about the portrayal, so I was bracing myself for the worst when I saw the episode– but it was much better than I was expecting. Mulder explains to another character what the term ‘transgender’ means– and although it wasn’t the best explanation I’ve ever heard, the fact stands that he was respectful to her.

There’s another point I want to bring up, but it’s less about Mulder’s purposeful feminist actions and more about the way he was written. Despite the fact that Mulder was a male TV lead in the 90s, he was not a cold, ultra-masculine character. The writers of the show did something very important by letting Mulder cry. He was not an emotionless, stereotypically ‘masculine’ character. He was always human first.

A lot of people seem to believe that just because someone is in a position of power (such as male, straight, or white) they are automatically a terrible person. Because Mulder is a white and presumably straight man, people judge his actions in a much different way than they would Scully’s, for example. If she had done any of the things that the author brought up, she would be seen as a powerful feminist icon. (Which she already is, but still.) People would be outraged at Mulder asking for a desk from Scully. You may not agree with me there, but I’ve seen terrible things on Tumblr. We should not empower women by putting down men. The same goes for people of colour and white people, LGBT+ people and straight people, transgender people and cisgender people, etc. The only way to achieve true equality is for both sides– oppressed and privileged– to respect each other.

Why I’m Anti-SJW

by Ava

 

When I was fourteen years old, I accidentally stepped into the world of SJW-ism. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that I fell into it facefirst.

It was an easy trap to fall into. I had been identifying as a feminist all of my life, due to my mom working for a non-profit organization. She had been to countries where girls are not allowed to go to school, where they can be married off to older men without any say in the matter, where she herself could not go outside without a male colleague.

Naturally, when I learned about these horrible things, I wanted to be part of something that would improve them, so I began to call myself a feminist. So at fourteen, when I first joined Instagram, I followed a few feminist accounts. Less than a month later, most of my following would be feminist accounts, and that was what filled my home page every day.

These accounts introduced to me something called “intersectional feminism”. It was a wonderful idea: a sect of feminism devoted to providing equality between all people. It promised to be especially inclusive of racial minorities, LGBT, disabled people, and so on. To my younger self, this sounded like everything I’d always believed in: respect, equality, and treating everyone with kindness.

I still maintain that intersectional feminism is a great idea. Unfortunately, like many other great ideas, its execution can be ineffective and flawed. So was the case with the feminist accounts that I followed. They started off moderate but began to change, and my ideas went with them.

I have always considered myself to be an individualistic person. It is scary to look back on how screenshotted Tumblr posts pulled me into that collective mindset. The SJWs have very effective ways of convincing people, especially young people, to join them. “If you don’t think xyz, then you are a bad feminist” is the one that got me.

I think this article by Areo Magazine sums it up well when it says, “Liberal feminism had shifted from the universality of equal human rights to identity politics. No longer were ideas valued on their merit but on the identity of the speaker and this was multifaceted, incorporating sex, gender identity, race, religion, sexuality and physical ability. The value of an identity in social justice terms is dependent on its degree of marginalization, and these stack up and vie for primacy.”

In other words, people lost sight of the important things. Feminism began to mean SJWs, and their never-ending game of Oppression Olympics. Those who were deemed “too privileged” were ignored when they tried to express an opinion. And I am ashamed to say that I probably contributed to that.

Having interacted with many SJWs, and of course having been one myself, I want to say that not all SJWs mean to be the Identity Police. Many of them, and maybe even the majority, really do think that they’re helping the communities that they see as “marginalized and oppressed”. They truly care about social justice issues. Unfortunately, good intentions really do pave the road to hell.

I remember exactly when and why I left my SJW days behind. I was scrolling through the feminist accounts that had become so toxic, when I noticed a new trend. People were censoring the words “stupid”, “dumb”, “idiot”, “moron”, “mad”, and even “bad” on the basis that they were ableist slurs and offensive to mentally ill people.

This was the first time (but definitely not the last) that I read a statement that I had expected to agree with, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get behind it. I find it even more offensive to mollycoddle mentally ill people and protect them from “bad words” (words which children use freely) as if they’re too fragile to cope with this.

That was the day that I unfollowed all of those feminist accounts on Instagram. I looked around for feminist accounts or blogs that I could agree with, but found none. In fact, I found that my views were more likely to line up with those of egalitarians, or even moderate anti-feminists.

This brought up a lot of hard questions: Should I continue identifying as a feminist? Should I call myself egalitarian instead? Should I give up feminism as a lost cause, as so many other people out there are doing? Should I break free of labels entirely and not tie myself to any particular ideology?

Right now, I’ve reached something of a middle ground. I don’t label myself according to any ideology. Instead, I follow people from several different points on the political spectrum. Whenever an issue comes up, I read through all of their various opinions and then form my own through critical thinking. I’m much happier now than when I would succumb to confirmation bias and believe things just because that was the “feminist opinion”.

I suppose that, in conclusion, my advice to anyone reading is to never underestimate the value of critical thinking. It’s important to free yourself from that echo chamber and listen to a multitude of voices with many different perspectives. There are many sides to every story, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you are only open to one.