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Witch Hunt

Entry 182, on 2005-06-12 at 11:51:36 (Rating 3, Politics)

I recently listened to an interview with a writer of a book on witch hunts in 17th century England. A lot of the stories we hear about the detection and punishment of witches aren't actually true. For example, there's no evidence to suggest it was specifically anti-women, or that the old Catch-22 situation of drowning or being burned didn't happen either.

Witches were thrown into water to see if they would sink, but if they did, they were pulled back to the surface with a rope, and survived, contrary to popular myth. Accusations of witchcraft were used as a convenient excuse to punish people who the authorities had various problems with though, such as various non-conformists.

As I listened to the politics and religion behind witch hunts, I gradually saw a parallel with the "war against terror" and other modern phenomena. Near the end of the interview, the interviewer mentioned it, and the author also commented that the similarities became apparent to him, although he didn't start with any assumption there would be a parallel.

So I think there is a parallel between witch hunts and the modern war on terror. In both cases there's a lot of religious fanaticism in the background - the president of the US is a religious "nut" and many Americans have extreme fundamentalist views which are totally irrational.

There's a political agenda too. Political power is often maintained by fear. Previously, during the cold war days, fear of the USSR's power was sufficient. In the 1950s in America it was communism - the system of accusing people of communist sympathies at this time was often called a witch hunt.

So clearly things never really change. I wonder if people were better educated about the past that they would see the parallels with the present and be less willing to be taken in by manipulative leaders.

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Comment 1 (46) by f247 on 2005-06-13 at 10:26:26:

Yes, the parallels are hard to ignore. The blanket term more easily recognized by today's historians would be McCarthyism. If at all possible, I'd love to have sources for info mentioned in this entry, thanks.

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Comment 2 (47) by OJB on 2005-06-13 at 10:26:47:

The interview was of an author who had just written a book on 17th century witch hunts in England. The comparison with modern phenomena was only included after the main discussion. Unfortunately, I didn't note the name of the author, and so far I haven't found a reference on Radio NZ's web site.

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Comment 3 (48) by OJB on 2005-06-13 at 10:27:07:

OK, found it! The book was...

Title: Witchfinders: a Seventeenth Century English Tragedy
Author: Malcolm Gaskill
Published By: John Murray, ISBN 0-7195-6120-5

As I said, the book itself it isn't about the modern parallel.

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