The UK government may soon face a terrible clash of Silly New Laws: not only has it vowed to protect witches from discrimination, it has also vowed to clamp down on witches. The Wiccans are apparently following in the footsteps of their historical predecessors in seeking to slaughter children, although gingerbread houses appear not to be involved this time round.
This clash should be fairly easy to resolve in reality: we’ll come to some kind of compromise. The government will issue empty statements and impose scary new laws as part of its War On Baby Eating, which will make a large proportion of the Wiccan community believe that we fear them and want to burn them at the stake. However, to make sure they don’t lose the Wiccan vote, the government will also issue empty statements that most witches are perfectly OK, and impose scary new laws that make it illegal for anyone to suggest that witches eat babies. Nobody will be prosecuted under any of them, but at least satirists won’t be left short of material.
However, we should be worried about the Metropolitan Police’s clampdown on witchcraft for reasons that go well beyond lame analogies with the War on Terror. The story, according to the Met, is that young boys are being smuggled into the UK from Africa in order to be slaughtered as part of the spell-performing ritual at some of London’s black (as in African, rather than Satanic) churches. I think we can probably agree that this would be pretty awful, if it were happening.
Even the police seem to think that this point is questionable: they say the claims are only allegations (although they also say there are “countless examples” of such allegations, and that witnesses have refused to elaborate on what’s going on because they’d be “dead meat” if they did). The only things the report actually supplies evidence for are dodgy “exorcisms”, where children believed to be possessed by demons are beaten up by holy men. We can agree this is bloody stupid behaviour, but it’s more or less the opposite of sacrificing kids to do spells, it’s hardly unique to African culture, and it wouldn’t have grabbed many headlines on its own.
The slaughter story is troublesome, though. I’m sure you won’t have too much trouble thinking of immigrant groups who’ve been accused in the past of slaughtering children as part of their weird religious ceremonies, generally on the basis of testimony made up by anonymous mobs and/or mentally unbalanced loons. I’m also fairly sure you won’t have too much trouble thinking of a particular race of people who’ve historically been demonised as backward bloodthirsty pagans who wear bones through their noses and slaughter each other for kicks, generally so that Westerners could morally justify selling them into slavery and stealing their land.
It also has more recent historical echoes: during the early-to-mid 1980s, child protection experts were absolutely convinced that the country was rife with devil-worshipping groups who tortured, raped and killed children as part of their religious ceremonies. At first, the experts said that the claims were only allegations (although they also said there were countless examples of such exaggerations, and that witnesses only refused to elaborate because they’d be dead meat if they did). Indeed, they never actually managed to provide enough evidence to land anyone a conviction for actual satanic acts in the UK – but plenty of children were taken into care, and plenty of parents were demonised as freaks and monsters as a result.
So what do you get when you cross a bunch of well-meaning child protection officials worried that there’s a Terrible Crisis and Something Must Be Done (armed with an armful of stereotypes about foreigners, Africans and Satanic abusers), a bunch of disturbed kids, a bunch of parents who are here illegally, don’t speak English well and are terrified of the authorities, and a bunch of front-line policemen famed neither for their tolerance of kiddie-fiddlers nor their love of our African brethren?
I don’t know either, but I’m worried that the outcome will be no joke.