Saturday 30 March 2013

Jimmy Savile and 21st century witchcraft

In an interview for Spiked, Professor Frank Furedi talks about his new book Moral Crusades in an Age of Mistrust: The Jimmy Savile Scandal. Furedi argues that the Savile case has acquired totemic status in a moral crusade that promotes a victim culture rather than actually helping victims:
It seems to me that victim culture has a tendency to ratify the victims’ identity and to recast it as permanent, for life. Which I don’t think is good for anyone, including those who have suffered from abuse. I’ve no interest in being complicit in this process of undermining the power and agency of individuals to deal with negative experiences. Rather, I want the victims to transcend their experience, to begin to regain control over their existence instead of being encouraged to embrace the victim narrative which gives the victim this constant, very distinct, very limited identity.
Furedi does not defend Savile’s behaviour at all – far from it. But he is well aware of the risks he is taking by questioning victim culture:
...the victims are used as a form of moral blackmail. What you have to remember is that it is based upon the idea that an allegation is not simply a claim but also that it must contain an element of truth. By definition it points towards something that is true. That’s one of the reasons I was so motivated to write this book. We live in a world where elementary notions of evidence and proof have been dispensed with, where you just assume in so many domains of experience that an allegation by itself is a precursor to establishing guilt. The police themselves do not use the word allegations in relation to Savile; they use something approximate to evidence. So what is really being said is that if you dare question an allegation, if you call for some measure of objectivity, then you’re complicit in a double victimisation. You are as bad as the person against whom the allegations have been made.
This is why I use a lot of material in the book about medieval witchcraft. The procedure adopted for dealing with sceptics is what you’d find in witchcraft manuals. I spent a lot of time, before writing the book, studying medieval witchcraft manuals. If you look at the guidance that was being given to witchhunters, time and time again they are told that the people they really have to worry about are those who deny the existence of witchcraft. In short, the sceptics are considered worse than the witches themselves. The act of denial or of scepticism is seen as being corrosive to the hunt, or in this case, the crusade.
Even today, if you are accused of abuse, and you claim ‘I’m innocent’, that’s acceptable to some extent, because you’re not questioning the framework in which the whole debate occurs. You might be criticised for lying. But if you question the way in which this culture of abuse has been created, then you are considered to be wholly more dangerous.

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