I have been putting up some posts on witchcraft and witchcraft which happened centuries ago, but it dismays me that last week two men were convicted of murder in Bristol, England, the result of a witchhunt against their neighbour, Bijan Ebrahimi. Bristol has a reputation for being racially diverse and tolerant, but it is very much a divided city, with new wealth and jobs flooding in in the past few decades which have left some locals isolated, and at times resentful of being marginalised in their home city.
Bijam was a young man with mental health problems who lived alone on an outlying council estate in South Bristol. He enjoyed working on his garden, but local kids started picking on him and damaging his garden, so he took some photos of them and the damage they did. In response, some locals decided he was a paedophile, taunted him with shouts of ‘paedo’ and got him arrested, but when the police found no evidence for the allegations, released him.
Two days later he was attacked, dragged from his home and set on fire.
Two young men admitted the crime and have been convicted, and three police officers are being investigated for mishandling the events leading up to this horrific event.
It is not just the police who are to blame here, but the people who failed to get him out of the estate when problems first arose. It is hard to imagine the horror he went through by being arrested for being the victim of harassment. Why was he left alone afterwards? So many questions need answering here, but basically it shows how badly vulnerable people are dealt with by the authorities.
It is a timely reminder that people do not change, hence the importance of learning about history. Witch hunts should have been relegated to the past, but when people are having a tough time, they cannot lash out at the real culprits, ie the government, or big businesses, so they hit whoever seems different. Some locals failed to understand how important Bijam’s garden was to him, so failed to understand his distress when children damaged it. As a minority and an outsider he was an easy target. This is exactly the scenario that sprang up time and time again and fuelled the mediaeval witch craze. With budgets being cut in housing, education, welfare and policing, let us hope that this case serves as a warning to protect vulnerable people in future.