The Heinous Depths of Superstition

Superstition has always been a word that has represented for me the mostly laughable, absurd and meaningless quirks of personality in people I’ve known.  Rituals, observances and attitudes that were mostly harmless and mostly forgettable.  Like most people (I think), I have tended to ignore and sometimes humour other people’s superstitions.

My attitude of viewing other people’s superstition as mostly harmless received a sharp jolt when I learned about the fact that Malawi police have been given the directive to shoot criminals who attack people with albinism. Jamie Campbell’s article on The Independent website is a shocking reminder that superstition can reach the most despicable and heinous of depths.  It is almost inconceivable that the world must be advised that there are people who live in fear of their lives because

Their body parts are desired by witch doctors for use in black magic potions and spells, said to bring love, luck and wealth.

I am glad to see that there is a Canadian charity, operating under the name Under The Same Sun, working to assist and protect these vulnerable people.  On their website, they self-describe as a Christian charity with a

primary focus is on advocacy and education as well as assisting (people with albinism) PWA to access external information, education bursaries, health care and other community supports available to assist with their genetic condition.

It would have been better for UTSS to omit the “Christian” designation from their organization pre-amble – there actually isn’t much overt religious information on their website (at least, based on a cursory review) and I’d expect that an organization like this will eventually figure out that they’re better off as a properly secular organization protecting and assisting vulnerable people.  But there’s no need to spend much time quibbling over a detail like that when they are doing work to combat the effects of such a horror-ridden representation of superstitious and brutal people.

According to an article in Voice of America, Tanzania and Burundi also have plans to actively protect people with albinism.  How far should such protection go? In Malawi, the Inspector General of Police is quoted as saying

“We cannot just watch while our friends with albinism are being killed like animals every day. We do realise that these people are ruthless, have no mercy and therefore need to be treated like that.”

Meanwhile the Executive Director of UTSS is more interested in catching the “big shark” not the “little fish”.  Promoting the use of deadly force by police (any police, anywhere) is not something that should be undertaken lightly or often.  We need police to be secular, sensible and focussed on protecting people.  I also tend to agree with UTSS that killing ignorant and vicious criminals on the spot likely isn’t going to solve the problem.

Superstition has the potential to reach the most cruel and horrible of depths. We can only correct such things with the tools of reason, science, education and the most resolute commitment to go beyond the temptations of emotion-driven retaliation.  There can only be a market for superstition when people are uneducated.

This is an example of the harm enabled by humouring “woo”.

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