Robert Rapley, Witch Hunts: From Salem to Guantanamo Bay (McGill-Queen's University Press 2007).
Reviewed by Rachel Morrison, April 2009.
Robert Rapley takes his readers on a journey to Bamberg and Wurzburg, Germany; Loudun, France; and Salem, Massachusetts to examine the social hysteria known as the witch hunt. Rapley expertly recreates the sixteen and seventeenth century atrocities committed under facades of justice. Retelling the crazed assumptions of guilt, the falsified evidence, and the extreme torture, Rapley creates a terrifying picture of witch hunts of the past.
Are these tales of frenzied brutality rare exceptions in human history? Or do they represent a basic pattern? Rapley argues that witch hunts are a state of mind visible in a number of modern day injustices. Examining the three infamous witch hunts, Rapley identifies ten key characteristics of the social madness (see below). Important to note is that fear drives the hunt hysteria. The "witch" becomes a scapegoat; eliminating the culprit alleviates a broader anxiety.
From his analysis of the important characteristics of a witch hunt, Rapley goes on to describe more recent examples. He outlines the Dreyfus Affair in late nineteenth-century France, the arrest and trials of the Scottsboro Boys accused of gang raping two white women in Depression era Alabama, and the wrongful convictions of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven during the seventies in Britain. In all of these cases, innocent people were assumed guilty and faced investigations structured in such a way that made their convictions inevitable.
The same process of social paranoia is visible in post-9/11 America. With the passing of the PATRIOT Act (acronym for Providing Appropriate Tolls Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), Rapley argues that the public's suspicion of Muslims and those of Middle Eastern background was given a sort of legal authority. The PATRIOT Act was one example of the powers created to hunt down and convict terrorists, the new breed of witch. He goes on to examine the atrocities in the treatment of accused terrorists in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghirab. The haunting book concludes with Rapley's impressions of the shape of things to come.
The term "witch hunt" is frequently used to describe workplace mobbing. Just as the witch is assumed guilty and has little hope of proving otherwise, the target of workplace mobbing is labelled "undesirable" and punished without a chance to prove his innocence. The same way that the people of Salem lost touch with reality, workplace mobbers get swept up in the attack. There are striking parallels between Rapley's list of Key Characteristics of a Witch Hunt and Kenneth Westhues' 16 Indicators of Workplace Mobbing. As a quick glance at the two lists shows, both processes are characterized by collective resolve to eliminate an individual, no matter the cost.
Witch Hunts: From Salem to Guantanamo Bay is a compelling read. Rapley expertly weaves together different cases and makes a poignant, valid, and eye-opening argument. The book presents extensive historical facts and analysis but never feels weighed down by academic jargon. His work is intelligent, accessible, and thoroughly enjoyable to read.
Key Characteristics of a Witch Hunt (Rapley 2007, p.30)
Instructors for witch hunters:
1. Judge an accused person guilty before seeking evidence
2. Apply whatever pressures are necessary on suspects, including beatings and torture to extract confessions and obtain accusations against others.
3. Accept any incriminating evidence, however dubious or vague.
4. Emphasize what you want to hear and ignore testimony or evidence inconvenient to your theory.
5. Create or employ false evidence if necessary to convict.
6. Threaten anyone speaking in favour of a defendant as a suspected accessory.
7. Treat the accused as having no normal rights because he or she is so dangerous.
8. Be prepared to accept secret accusations, to hide the accusations from the accused, and to protect the identity of the accuser.
9. Search and expand the hunt for other witches, acolytes, supporters. Always assume that this witch is only the tip of the iceberg.
10. Justify and excuse all errors by appeals to National Security, the Protection of Society, or the Good of the State.
Checklist of Mobbing Indicators (Kenneth Westhues 2006)
1. By standard criteria of job performance, the target is at least average, probably above average.
2. Rumours and gossip circulate about the target's misdeeds: "Did you hear what she did last week?"
3. The target is not invited to meetings or voted onto committees, is excluded or excludes self.
4. Collective focus on a critical incident that "shows what kind of man he really is."
5. Shared conviction that the target needs some kind of formal punishment, "to be taught a lesson."
6. Unusual timing of the decision to punish, e. g., apart from the annual performance review.
7. Emotion-laden, defamatory rhetoric about the target in oral and written communications.
8. Formal expressions of collective negative sentiment toward the target, e. g. a vote of censure, signatures on a petition, meeting to discuss what to do about the target.
9. High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers.
10. Loss of diversity of argument, so that it becomes dangerous to "speak up for"or defend the target.
11. The adding up of the target's real or imagined venial sins to make a mortal sin that cries for action.
12. The target is seen as personally abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities; stigmatizing, exclusionary labels are applied.
13. Disregard of established procedures, as mobbers take matters into their own hands.
14. Resistance to independent, outside review of sanctions imposed on the target.
15. Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.
16. Mobbers' fear of violence from target, target's fear of violence from mobbers, or both.
Clem Martini, The Mob. Feather and Bone: The Crow Chronicles. (Kids Can Press 2004).
Reviewed by Rachel Morrison, May 2009.
In The Mob, the first book of the Feather and Bone Crow Chronicles Trilogy,Canadian playwright Clem Martini introduces readers to the Kinnar crow family. Written from the perspective of Kalum Kinaar, the chosen family leader, the book follows the annual crow migration and reunion at the traditional Gathering Tree.
This particular gathering the fate of the Family is threatened by conflict and chaos. A young crow, named Kyp Kinaar mounts a revenge attack on a nearby cat which results in the death of a young crow. In the aftermath, the flock gathers and members angrily blame Kyp for the tragedy. The crow is placed before a tribunal to decide the appropriate punishment. The Family is divided; some crows are determined to see the bird exiled and other see his punishment as misplaced anger over the young crow's death.
Kyp is banished for a six day period during which he is forbidden to have any contact with members of the Family. When a horrible storm hits, Kyp violates his probation to lead the rest of the Family to safety. Whether they trust the demonized bird or not will determine the fate of the Family as they are faced with new and unheard of dangers.
The Mob is a very readable book for both young and old. The story of the crow family sheds light on the nature of human crowds and the dangers of scapegoating. Martini expertly weaves together storytelling and reflections on animal instincts and behaviours. It is a worthwhile read for anybody interested in group behaviour and the danger of scapegoating and mobbing