Thursday, June 16, 2005

Out of Africa

Fifteen years ago there was a panic in Britain about the "ritual abuse" of children. An idea which began on the wackier fringes of American Evangelical Christianity found its way to the heart of our social work establishment. As a result there were many raids on families and children were taken into care, most famously in Rochdale and the Orkneys.

There were no successful prosecutions and it was generally accepted afterwards that the whole episode was an example of mass hysteria amongst people one hoped would know better. There seemed to be a process at work whereby our society's darkest fears and fantasies were projected upon marginal groups. For a brief account of the period read this article from 1998 by Donald Rooum.

Yet the idea of ritual abuse never went away. It has been smouldering within the caring professions ever since and can still burst into life from time to time.

It has happened again this week. The BBC website reports:
Children are being trafficked into the UK from Africa and used for human sacrifices, a confidential report for the Metropolitan Police suggests.
This report goes on to say:

It said that people who are desperate seek out churches to cast spells for them.

"Members of the workshop said for spells to be powerful it required a sacrifice of a male child unblemished by circumcision," the report said.

Blimey. I suspect that tells us little about Africa but a great deal about the Western psyche.

And is there any evidence for this claim, which sounds remarkably like the charges that were made against Jews in Medieval Britain?
Contributors said boys were being trafficked into the UK for this purpose, but did not give details because they said they feared they would be "dead meat" if they told any more.
That will be why then.

The BBC report does quote a sceptical voice. Unfortunately it is that of a sociology lecturer who confirms all our prejudices about the breed by coming out with something incomprehensible:
"The model that they're based on, they always seem to base their models on the fact that Africans are less civilized, less rational, so their whole systems of rationality are irrational."
Er, right.

Fortunately there is a well-written discussion of the lunacy of this view of African culture from Josie Appleton on the Spiked website. It was written in the light of the recent "witchcraft" court case and before the Metropolitan Police report was leaked, but its conclusions hold good:
there is little hard evidence to justify these wild claims. It seems to be the accusers who are possessed with ideas of mass, ritualised child abuse - not London's immigrant communities.

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