(Editor's Warning: The video linked to below is extremely graphic, violent, and disturbing. Do not view if you don't want your day ruined. You need not view it to understand the accompanying article.)
Posted below is a video of a "witch" burning in the Kisii district of western Kenya, in a village called Nyamatoro. It is a two-minute excerpt from a 45-minute piece of footage, apparently shot by a Kenyan freelance journalist named Johnny. If you like, you may visit Johnny's webpage here, though it won't provide any fresh insight into the horrors captured by his camera. In his brief discussion of the video, Johnny's language is studiedly neutral. This is understandable. As you shall see, Johnny has temperamental neighbors.
On his website, Johnny writes mostly about his wish to receive journalistic commissions from news agencies abroad. That, too, is understandable. Any man who witnesses five acquaintances beaten and burned to death by sixty or so of his other acquaintances has every right to a little wanderlust, at the very least.
Perhaps to alert the world to sub-Saharan Africa's latest outbreak of stone-age barbarism, or perhaps to further his career, Johnny is selling the full 45-minute version of his video to any news outlet that will have it. As far as I can tell, no one's buying. Not the BBC, not Fox, not NBC, not CNN. The closest Africa's new witch craze has come to serious media exposure was in November of last year, when The New York Times ran a story about that unlucky continent's "witch children" -- toddlers, tykes, and ‘tweens who are beaten and kicked out of their homes for practicing sorcery. The story found a bit of traction in a few other outlets, but not much. When such items did appear, they were usually accompanied by pictures of the children taken long after the fact, smiling in new group homes set up by friendly foreign NGOs, or at the very worst looking cutely solemn as they pondered their new lives of ostracism and fear. There was something unavoidably distant about it; something very "We Are The World."
There is nothing distant about this.
One last warning.
This is a graphic video
of people being forcibly burned alive.)
Kind of resists commentary, doesn't it?
Perhaps that's why Africa's new witch craze has been so poorly covered by the western media. In a rare moment of trend-bucking, Breitbart ran an in-depth story about another Kenyan "witch" burning that took place in May of this year and took the lives of 15 human beings, all women. (This episode also garnered a few moments on ABC and the Beeb, but neither organization thought the matter warranted fresh reportage.) Breitbart's dispatch reads like news from another world. How does one make sense of a sentence like this one, from pastor Enoch Obiero: "I can't believe my wife of many years would be killed so brutally by people who cannot prove their case even before God." Or this, from Emily Monari: "My mother has always been a role model to the entire village and why the mob had to kill her will remain a mystery to me forever." How reasonable they sound in the wake of such an unreasonable event, and how poorly suited is ordinary English to express the truth of it. Perhaps Rachel Maddow and Wolf Blitzer have remained silent because they don't know what to say.
I certainly don't, and neither does anyone else at the JREF. We sat on this video for months before deciding to publish it. We do so now in answer to a South African newspaper called The Sunday News, the courageous staff of which has decided that they, at least, are done with silence. They have decided to speak out against the African "witchcraft" outrage, and last week they did so. Here are some excerpts from their report, written by a minister named Paul Damasane. Pardon the poor English.
The main reason one would hazard to explain could be the background of our Western missionary upbringing. It is important to begin there because my angle will of necessity be to disabuse our minds of the fact that this is a purely African mysticism that is shrouded in mystery and so-called superstition. Let me not leave you guessing for now whether witchcraft exists or not. The answer is in the affirmative WITCHCRAFT IS FOR REAL, WITCHES ARE AS REAL AS THE BACK OF YOUR HAND. Be not fooled that I have just realised this, no I have known it all my short life [...]
[...] I write not because of mere speculation but because I have met and spoken to people who have been victims of wizardry. A long distance truck driver assured his wife of his fidelity and demanded the same of his wife. They had then shared some portion as a protective measure. The wife because of hunger defaulted and all hell broke loose. Not with the woman but with the intruding male. When he got back to his spouse and tried to lie with her a snake would just appear from under the bed and molest him. Sadly the snake was only visibly to the man. In some place I was shown a man who had abused and raped a woman after the use of certain medicines by the woman the man was found bleeding at his private parts after he had cut them off himself. He lives to bear testimony that rape is evil. [...]
[...] Let me close by assuring you that in as much as this is part of our culture it is that part that we would like to destroy and not promote. That is why we as Christians exorcise these spirits and of late many of these spirits have been threatening the lives of little children and women giving birth - this is an attempt by evil forces at aborting the eternal plan of God in making mankind overcome and have dominion over the earth. We will continue next week as we look at some spiritual principles and views from different religious backgrounds on the subject of witchcraft. Do send in your views on the same. Stay far from the influence of this evil in the coming week - Jesus protect you!
Rev. Damasane's point of view is shared by many, including those whose own grim histories should teach them better.
Can they be blamed? Perhaps they can, perhaps they can't. I find it more difficult to be angry with Rev. Damasane than with the newspaper staff that puts up with him, and with the public that, even if it protests in private, will tacitly accept -- and thereby give credence to -- ideas that are murderously wrong.
The persecution of witches across Africa, from Kenya to Johannesburg, is the terminus of irrationality. From the relative safety of a desk in the semi-sane West, it is too easy to forget that -- to believe that "critical thinking" is a game of intellectual one-upmanship, and that the "enemy" really is Sylvia Browne or John Edward or Peter Popoff. But they are not our enemies. They are merely promoters of an attitude. They tell us that the impossible is possible, and it would be asking far too much to expect them to imagine that, a world away, the same proposition has the power to make the intolerable tolerable; to turn famine to fate, a still-birth to a curse, and kin to kindling.