(The weekly Danation column is first published in City Link Magazine.)
Sometimes, focus on a particular ongoing news story comes and goes in waves. I first read of the plight of African albinos about a year ago, but the Associated Press did a story on them just last week, which brought new attention to African albinos across the blogosphere. In essence, albinos in sub-Saharan Africa are often killed and dismembered, as their body parts are thought to have magical powers. A good albino body, properly butchered, can fetch as much as $75,000 on the black market, as local shamans and witch doctors use the albino's sundry limbs in various potions and poultices. As a result, many albinos have been murdered -- the most recent that made news was in late October, when 10-year-old Gasper Elikana was decapitated and quartered in the Mwanza region of Tanzania, along Africa's east coast. More than 10,000 albinos have gone into hiding, at least one albino sanctuary has been established on an island off the coast, and various machete-wielding thugs are now finding it more and more difficult to make a living, what with the scarcity of albinos. Soon, they will have to go back to poaching elephants.
The story brings out a modicum of revulsion in the western brain. Hacking people to death because of the color -- or lack thereof -- of their skin seems inhuman. Or maybe not. We were lynching people based on the color of skin in this country not very long ago, so it can't be something so simple as a newfound horror over skin-based crimes. After all, it was only 11 years ago that James Byrd was chained to a pickup truck by a trio of racist white guys in Texas and dragged three miles until his body fell apart. That crime sparked the expected shock and outrage and even led -- along with the later death of Matthew Shepherd, who was bludgeoned to death in October 1998 for the horrific crime of being gay in Wyoming -- to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed by President Obama in October. But the deaths of Byrd and Sheperd don't raise the hackles quite like the idea of widespread executions of albinos for reasons that we can't possibly fathom.
So maybe that's it -- the reasons behind the crime. Black magic. Bad juju. We are horrified by the idea that these poor, pigmentless Africans are being hacked to death with big machetes not because of the color of their skin, but because people actually believe that their various parts can be used in magical processes. The fact that people are actually being killed for such a Dark Ages worldview just doesn't sit right here in the enlightened U. S. of A. at the dawn of the 21st century. Surely, Americans could not be so backward, so colossally benighted as to base their decisions on woo woo, occult reasoning. Just ask J.K. Rowling. Even in oh-so-liberal Massachusetts, Rowling's Harry Potter series has been banned from schools because parents and pastors fear that it may indoctrinate children into witchcraft. In my own Sunshine State, a substitute teacher was fired in Land O' Lakes last year for practicing wizardry -- he had performed a sleight of hand trick in class, making a toothpick disappear and reappear.
But what's a few banned books and fired teachers, right? It's not as though concerned parents are burning teachers at the stake. (Although they have, in some cases, burned Harry Potter books.) Religious nuts aren't marching through the streets armed with pointy objects, slaying sinners. Ah, but they can dream, can't they? Various leading lights of America's brand of weird Christian evangelicalism have called for the death penalty for gays, including Christian reconstructionist Gary North, Covenant News editor Jim Rudd and quite a few others. Even mega-pastor Rick Warren, when asked to condemn a capital-crime law against homosexuals in Uganda (he had welcomed to his church on several occasions a Ugandan minister who endorsed the law), said, "The fundamental dignity of every person, our right to be free, and the freedom to make moral choices are gifts endowed by God, our creator. However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations." And South Florida's own late, lamented D. James Kennedy once tried to get people on board by pointing out that Thomas Jefferson himself had once written a law prescribing castration for the crime of sodomy. Kennedy failed to mention that the very same law also reads, "All attempts to delude the people, or to abuse their understanding by exercise of the pretended arts of witchcraft, conjuration, enchantment, or sorcery or by pretended prophecies, shall be punished by ducking and whipping at the discretion of a jury, not exceeding 15 stripes." Pretended prophesies? Perhaps Pat Robertson needs a good whipping.
There seem to be enough death-penalty-for-gays (or, hey, at least castration) advocates out there in our country that we should be able to gin up the necessary mobs, right? So what's the problem? Maybe it's that there's no cash incentive. After all, your typical albino hunter can rake in 75 grand per kill. And all these evangelicals are telling you to send them money, instead of paying it out. We're not so different from our African fellows. Better law enforcement is one big reason, but another may simply be that, when it comes to killing people for magical motivations, here in America, there's just no money in it.
Send amortentia and felix felicis potions to Dan Sweeney at firstname.lastname@example.org.