Authorities in Saudi Arabia have announced a new crackdown on witchcraft. According to Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat,
Sources within the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice [that's the religious police] in Saudi Arabia have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the CPVPV will move to combat magic and those who practice it, and regulate the exercise of legitimate spiritual healing, by instituting a system designed to deal with such practices which are against Islamic Shariaa Law...Asharq Al-Awsat managed to obtain a copy of this draft which gives the police the right to deal with witches and sorcerers, and the means to identify and convict them.
There have been crackdowns before, even death sentences - and charges of witchcraft are not infrequently brought against domestic workers and other victims of the country's neo-medieval social system. But until now it has all been a bit disorganised and ad hoc. And as the subtle legal minds of Sprenger and Kramer discovered long ago, when you're dealing with Satanic mischief you need to lay down proper guidelines.
The report continues:
A study of this project was carried out by the Center for Research and Study which is affiliated to the CPVPV and which put a number of legal opinions on the table including; a definition of magic, witchcraft, divination, fortune-telling and other similar practices, a scientific definition to magical practices, and a model in order to help uncover such practices.
The study, also clarified the signs and symbols that can be used in the practice of magic, as well as the tools used to control magic, while also advising that a system of cooperation be initiated between the various authorities involved in this fight against such practices and those who perform them.
By "tools used to control magic" it's not entirely clear if they mean their own legal powers or, for example, magic wands.
The study also suggested that information be used in the fight against magic, and that the public be warned against it, as the CPVPV has been attempting to do.
A warning, by the way, that the Heresiarch would heartily endorse. Turning someone into a frog can be very dangerous. It's always nice to see an "awareness campaign". And we should bear in mind that even the EU has seen fit to legislate against psychics.
But what has led to this new initiative? It appears that just as we in Britain are threatened by epidemics of obese children or "extreme" internet porn, the Saudis are menaced by a less visible but equally growing problem:
Previous cases involving magic prosecuted by the CPVPV revealed the spread of witchcraft and magic throughout the country, and this is as a result of the number of arrested, and the information provided by the relevant authorities involved in the project to address these practices.
The joint-taskforce comprising the CPVPV and the appropriate security agencies was adopted in order to combat what the CPVPV leadership called "the manifestations of this problem, and to define the responsibilities of the parties involved in order to reduce the spread [of magic]" while also recommending that incentives be given to the security agencies that combat magic and witchcraft.
A bonus per witch convicted, presumably. We all know how effective that can be in improving the performance of the police. But why now? It seems to be largely down to (you've guessed it) the internet. The report stressed the need for "regulations to be put in place with regards to the role of telecommunication and Internet service providers to protect the public from communication and television channels that promote magic, while also penalizing those that perpetrate such crimes." But where do they propose to draw the line? Are Harry Potter fansites to blame for the spread of witchcraft and wizardry in the kingdom (as not a few Christian campaigners believe) - or are we talking something more sinister, real "hardcore" black magic sites which contain details of actual spells? The suspicion must be that such websites might lead vulnerable or impressionable people to cross a line and actually start practising black magic. No doubt they "normalise" sorcery, giving "permission" to potential wizards who might otherwise have kept magical thoughts to themselves.
The report concludes:
The rationale behind the CPVPV study, was to seek to fill the vacuum by making legal and regulatory determinations, as well as clarify the burden of evidence for magic and witchcraft cases as being scientific and practical, while also increasing the number of those involved in combating such cases, from the security agents on the ground, including the men of the CPVPV, to investigators, and judges.
Closing loopholes, appealing to science, hiring more staff to combat an imaginary problem. It could almost be New Labour.