Hunting for witches in the UK

8ca60133d67ca396f052946b55804725Leo Igwe, a progressive activist (whom I do know and can vouch for) has written all about the religious idea that witches are real and need to be rooted out. The concept is not new and has existed for quite some time. What is however quite shocking is this …

Witchcraft related abuse is a very serious problem in African migrant communities in the UK. There is documented evidence that these abuses are linked to activities of African pastors and churches. Unfortunately efforts to address this problem are bogged down by concerns over racism, minority rights and abuse of religious liberty. 

First, let’s ask ourselves a few rather important questions.

Is this just an immigrant issue?

No it is not. I well recall once attending a pentecostal church and being advised on the topic by a very well-respected church elder who spent his life circulating amongst a large collection of churches. He claimed, without ever offering any actual evidence, that near every single “true” church there was an active coven of witches.

People do believe weird things, so what is the harm?

The issue is not the absurd belief itself, but is instead the actions that such beliefs can and do invoke within a community. Often innocent people such as boisterous young children can be accused of witchcraft and that sometimes leads to gross physical abuse as attempts are made to deal with the supposed demon within them. As highlighted within a 2012 Guardian article on the topic …

In 2005, three adults in east London were convicted of child cruelty to another eight-year-old, from Angola. She had been starved, beaten, cut with a knife and had chilli peppers rubbed in her eyes in the belief that she was possessed.

Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), a children’s rights charity working with African communities in the UK, told the Commons committee that faith-based abuse is on the rise. Afruca chair Prospera Tedam said: “Over the last year, we have seen and worked with 12 cases in the London area of what we perceive as severe abuse and neglect arising from these beliefs of witchcraft.”

The problem is quite real and as recently highlighted by an article last April, it impacts those that really do need to be protected …

Mardoche was 11 when I first met him, shivering in the corner of a youth psychiatric ward in Chelsea. 

Before I could speak, he looked up. ‘I am not a witch,’ he said. ‘I don’t even know what this kindoki [witchcraft] is.’

This wasn’t my first encounter with a sinister phenomenon taking hold across Europe and Britain.

‘Witch branding’– telling a child they’re possessed by witchcraft and face life-threatening exorcism – is already an epidemic in Africa.

Today there are hundreds of cases of witch branding in Britain, perhaps thousands. 

Most involve people from Africa, where traditional beliefs in black magic are widespread. 

Others involve Muslims who believe in ‘jinns’ or spirits, an element of Islamic theology.

The children are ‘cured’ with the utmost brutality: starvation, violence, sometimes torture, and in a number of appalling cases, death. As I know only too well.

I am a regular expert witness in the courts. 

Where should the line be drawn?

People do embrace utterly absurd ideas that will often lead to some quite dire consequences, to either themselves or others. We need not struggle too hard to grasp that this is true. The rather obvious example is the jihadist variation of Islamic belief that embraces a literal instead of a metaphorical interpretation of the Qu’ran, but there are also other religious ideas within both Islam and also Christianity such as the idea that demons and witches are real. This also leads to real harm.

We generally, as a society, take the view that if an adult submits themselves to religious practises that results in harm to themselves, then it is their choice, but this belief in witchcraft is not just self-submission. Instead, itoften results in young boisterous children being abused as attempts are made to rid them of the supposed “demons”.

Leo within his article highlights a specific pastor who is coming to London about a week from now to promote this nonsense.

Pastor D.K. Olukoya, the general overseer of the Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries worldwide. Pastor Olukoya is ministering at the 2016‘Deliverance, Prayerquake and Anointing Service’ to be held in London on September 16 2016. 

Pastor Olukoya is a witch-hunting pastor who has devoted his ministry to destroying the ‘ministry of witchcraft’. One of his widely known books is ‘Overpowering Witchcraft’. This book, which was published in 1999, is another manual for witch finding and destruction because it contains the ‘secrets of the power over witchcraft’ and some ‘tips’ for those experiencing witchcraft attacks. 

… and so he calls for the banning of this nut from entry into the UK …

This MFM program on September 16 should be an opportunity for the UK government to show its commitment to tackling witchcraft branding and other faith based abuses in the African migrant communities. The UK authorities should stop this witch-hunting pastor from coming to preach at the proposed event in London. They should use this event to send a strong message to Olukoya and to Mountain Fire and Miracle Ministries Worldwide, as well as to other witch hunting pastors and churches in Africa and in African migrant communities: Stop the witch-hunts or you will be stopped.

Having a visitor blacklist for entry into the UK is not a new idea, but is actually something that the UK can and does put into practise. Specific individuals apply to come to the UK and when on a list of undesirables (political extremists or religious hate-preachers for example) their request for entry into the UK to promote ideas that inspire real harm can be denied.

The is wholly legal within the currently existing framework. The reasons for Exclusion from entry into the UK is clearly defined …

  • adverse behaviour (using deception, false representation, fraud, forgery, non- disclosure of material facts or failure to cooperate)
  • non conduciveness, adverse character, conduct or associations (criminal history, deportation order, travel ban, exclusion, non-conducive to public good, a threat to national security)
  • adverse immigration history (overstaying, breaching conditions, illegal entrant, using deception in an application)
  • adverse health (medical reasons)

Human Rights vs Public Safety

Often ideals can clash with reality in a manner that leads to difficult questions, and this issue is perhaps one example. This guy wants to come and just give a religious sermon, so would banning him breach basic humans rights?

We (generally) as a society embrace the concept of Human Rights, not just as an abstract theory, but legally. The UK’s 1998 Human Rights Act contains the following specific articles …

  • Article 9 Freedom of thought, belief and religion
  • Article 10 Freedom of expression

In other words, you are free to believe whatever you wish, even if it is quite obvious to everybody that it is complete and utter nonsense. You are also free to stand on a soap box on the street corner and promote that belief.

John Stuart Mill famously argued within his 1859 essay On Liberty 

“…there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”

This idea is perhaps best expressed today by Noam Chomsky’s observation …

“Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”

If we do indeed truly embrace the concept of “Freedom of Speech” then does that imply that Leo Igwe is wrong to suggest that Pastor D.K. Olukoya should not be granted entry to speak?

No, not at all. Mr Mill also went on to argue that there is an appropriate constraint …

“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

In other words, if what you say will result in actual harm to others, then constraint is appropriate. What Pastor D.K. Olukoya is indeed doing is not simply promoting something that is both absurd and also quite frankly a silly superstitious claim, it is also a belief that inspires real harm.

Leo Igwe is correct, Mr Olukoya should not be granted entry to the UK.

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