"This song and video was just released by Radiohead. It's like Radiohead has been reading René Girard -- sacrifice at the dark heart of civilization." - Brian Zahnd
I concur with Brian. Certainly the Girardian themes of scapegoating and sacred violence are intrinsic to both the witchhunt lyrics and the Wickerman-style references in the video. First to the lyrics:
Stay in the shadows
Cheer at the gallows
This is a roundup
This is a low flying panic attack
Sing a song on the jukebox that goes
Burn the witch, burn the witch
We know where you live
Red crosses on wooden doors
And if you float you burn
Loose talk around tables
Abandon all reason
Avoid all eye contact
Do not react
Shoot the messengers
This is a low flying panic attack
Sing the song of sixpence that goes
Burn the witch, burn the witch
We know where you live, We know where you live
Song meanings are notoriously subjective. Listeners hear what a song means to them, sometimes quite divorced from authorial intent. And this is as it should be. Art does that. One interpretation of the song and video comes from Virpi Kettu, an animator who collaborated on the video, spoke to Billboard about her take on the song:
Based on Kettu's understanding of what the band was after, she opines they may have wanted "Witch" to raise awareness about the refugee crisis in Europe and the "blaming of different people... the blaming of Muslims and the negativity" that could lead to sentiments such as "burn the witch."
The Immigrant / Refugee Crisis
My reaction: With the current refugee crisis, and even prior to that, with the momentum of Muslim immigration into the UK, movements like 'Britain First,' (and watch for America First) are sharpening their pitchforks and terrifying people with how the Muslims will impose Sharia Law once their numbers make them the majority.
Now, those who oppose the fear-mongering typically say, "You're exaggerating. The population balance won't tip that soon and the danger that Sharia Law will be imposed here is fabricated."
But I say, let's do a thought experiment. Let's assume for a moment that for sure Muslims will outnumber non-Muslims in the UK (or Europe) by 2050 or 2070. And let's assume that your children or grandchildren will live under Sharia Law. If you knew that for sure, how would you want to treat Muslims for the next 35-50 years as you wait for that day? What we sow, we will reap. If for the next 35-50 years, we sow fear, hatred and exclusion, what do you imagine our descendants will experience once Islam is running the nation? If it were me, foreseeing what's coming, I would want to be so kind, respectful and hospitable that when the day comes, mistreating my children or trampling on their rights would be unthinkable to them. The spiritual or social math on this is unbelievably obvious.
Typically, I see glazed looks in response. And the next words always start with "Yeah, but ..." My reaction: "Yeah, but ... what did our Lord, Jesus Christ say?"
Our Lord, Jesus Christ
The golden rule, after all, is part of the sermon on the mount. Jesus said,“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). And he did say,
43 I was a stranger [the Bible-word for immigrant/refugee], and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, [YEAH, BUT] Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee.
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
"Yeah, but ..." A common, but oh-so-inappropriate phrase after Jesus speaks. Or worse, "By no means, Lord!" -- Peter's words in Acts 10 as Christ is preparing to dismantle his racism!
Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan
In any case, such interesting timing ... the release of Radiohead's song coincides with the election of London's first Muslim mayor! Of course, Britain First will be panicking. Their own mayoral candidate, Paul Golding, defiantly turned his back on Kahn at his swearing-in ceremony
Is it ironic or poignant (in light of the controversy) that the first Muslim mayor of London is the son of Pakistani immigrants and became a civil rights lawyer. His statement at the swearing-in didn't sound so much like the first steps to Sharia Law. It didn't feel like the great tribulation had begun:
"I'm determined to lead the most transparent, engaged and accessible administration London has ever seen, and to represent every single community and every single part of our city as a mayor for Londoners."
Not that I believe political promises or trust the systems that overwhelm their good intentions. But Gandalf seemed happy. Actor Sir Ian McKellen greeted Khan at the cathedral gates. He said,
"To have a Muslim mayor seems preferable to me to any alternative regardless of the politics. I hope it's an image that will go round the world as representing a new sort of England that's at peace with itself regardless of race and so on. That's the beauty of it."
America First - the Donald
Meanwhile, much closer to home (for me ... 2 miles from America), I write this the week that Donald Trump crushed it in Indiana and became the GOP's presumptive nominee. Today, Donald Trump is having a rally in Lyndon, Washington, about 15 miles from my house. I'd probably cross the border and attempt to start negotiations with him on building the northern wall (echoes of Game of Thrones), but I'm told that I'd have to get a ticket and line up by 9:00 am to get into the 3:30 pm rally. I guess I won't bother.
Some of my very good friends (truly) will be voting for him in November. I'm just saying.
I only bring him up to connect the dots between the above story to one policy item that's come up. Thanks to BZ for digging this up for me:
"America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration." - Donald J Trump, Foreign Policy Speech, April 27, 2016
You have to admit, he's good at slogans. Slogans are powerful. Slogans cover a multitude of sins. "Make America Great Again" may yet stand as the greatest marketing slogan of all time ... at least since "Jesus is Lord." As one of his Evangelical supporters put it: "It doesn't matter if he's a racist or a misogynist or a xenophobe. We need a strong president. We need someone who will make America great again."
Back to scapegoating. Donald Trump is an expert at employing Girard's scapegoating mechanism: you create pseudo-peace by bringing mimetic rivals together to focus on and sacrifice a common threat. In the end, though, those who live by the sword, die by the sword, and I won't be too surprised if the Donald becomes the scapegoat whose sacrifice will make everyone feel good about themselves. Creating the Trump phenomenon and then voting him out in a landslide (if that happens) could almost make the nation feel virtuous, yes? No?
Satan, your kingdom must come down (Robert Plant)
At the end of the day, Robert Plant's 'Band of Joy' gets it right. "I heard the voice of Jesus say, Satan, your kingdom must come down." A great tune worth hearing before I give Michael Hardin the last word.
Last Word - Michael Hardin
I dare not wax eloquent about Girardian theory without passing the mic. to Michael Hardin--Rene Girard's preeminent interpreter. What say you, Michael?
This pervasive disease that is Christendom (Empire Christianity) must fall. The whole megalomaniac, flash and glitz, narcissistic personality disorder that I see dominating Christendom (except for the few, the proud, the Pope Francis's; and Richard Rohr's) has got to come tumbling down. And then I wonder how will Islam respond to its internal Janus-faced god, it's economies of exchange and its theology of glory. I wonder: 100 years from now, who will be known as the Kierkegaards and Bonhoeffers of our generation?
By the grace of God, there will be some.