The CNN website this Saturday carried a story entitled “10 Reasons Single Women Should Be Mad.” It is a familiar-themed piece of mass-media dreck, reciting the same tired litany of lies and distortions that serve to provide bitter women with their daily fix of outrage. The fact that the article’s theses have been disproven ad nauseam is quite irrelevant: what matters is the myth of inequality, and the attendant need to scapegoat the evil patriarchs who are holding good women down.

Every hysteria needs the following elements: (1) a scapegoat, on whom rage can be directed; (2) an apparatus which enforces the ruling orthodoxy; (3) a docile population which is pliant enough to believe what it is told to believe; (4) an educated class which provides intellectual justification for the hysteria. Once these factors are present, the hysteria can blossom. The end result is a society riven by suspicion, fear, and division.

We moderns like to think of ourselves as uniquely enlightened, and free from the fears and superstitions of the past. We are not. The specific nature of the hysterias may have changed, but the mentality and results remain the same. The study of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal illustrates this point.

Let me say here that I use the Inquisition as an example not to single out these two nations for special criticism, but only because I am very familiar with this period of history. I have nothing but love for Spain and Portugal, and nothing here should be interpreted as any special criticism of these nations. Every nation, and every historical period, has had its plague of hysterias, paranoias, and problems. No one is exempt in this regard.

(RNS1-jun5) Hassan Bargach at his home in Rabat, Morocco on June 4, 2014, showing the book presented to his family by the Spanish government tracing its roots to the Iberian town of Hornachos. For use with RNS-MORISCOS-SPAIN, transmitted on June 5, 2014, Photo by Gil Shefler.

Descendant of a morisco expelled from Spain

Author Toby Green, in his meticulously documented study Inquisition: The Reign of Fear, notes that Europe’s witchcraft hysteria did not affect the Iberian nations to the same degree as it did Germany and northern Europe. Spain and Portugal did not see the same type of mass burnings of witches that were visited on other parts of the continent (neither did Italy, for that matter). But the explanation for this, Green notes, is quite simple:

Just as the witch-hunts in northern Europe expressed powerful social drives and contradictions which required a scapegoat, so in Iberia the Inquisition had already targeted its own scapegoats, in the shape of conversos [Christianized Jews] and the moriscos [Christianized Muslims]. Witches were no longer necessary; fantastical enemies were not required as others had already been invented. [Green, p. 221]

This has the ring of truth. But what is incredible, then as now, is the degree to which these popular hysterias and delusions can permeate and terrorize every single aspect of society. Green notes that a visitor today entering almost any restaurant in Spain will see dishes on the menu described as a la Espanola or Castellana and served with slices of ham or pork. There is even in Madrid today a museum called the Museo del Jamon (Museum of Ham). There is even a dish there named Judias con Jamon (Jewesses with ham).

At tapas bars, patrons are almost automatically served pieces of pork, chorizo, and shellfish. Few today will notice that all of these foods are forbidden under Jewish and Muslim dietary laws. Offering such foods to a converso or a morisco was the ideal way of testing a suspect person, and of publicly affirming one’s own doctrinal orthodoxy to the rest of the community. The offering of such food was as much of a veiled threat as it was a hospitality. It was a way to test the other party, to see if he was “one of us.”

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Spanish tapas dishes

Thus, even something has apparently innocuous as tapas became a kind of enforcement mechanism. Culinary vigilance against evildoers became embedded in society, just as today, in the halls of universities, every student must be on his or her guard from the imaginary racists and rapists that might steal their souls.

We moderns are tested in the same way, but in other ways. There are creeping bans on certain pronouns that might “offend” some people. One’s choice of words on social issues immediately signals to the modern “social justice” inquisitor whether one is a friend or an enemy.

Green goes on to cite examples of how, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the Inquisition was strongest, anyone who even hesitated to eat these “forbidden” foods could be denounced as a crypto-Jew or crypto-Muslim. Jews and Muslims were seen as the invisible enemy infecting the body politic, and had to be neutralized and destroyed, just as today’s invisible enemies are the legions of secret “patriarchists,” “racists,” and “rapists” who are stalking the landscape.

This mentality was not something in the abstract. In societies where everyone watched everyone else, people’s lives could be ruined for the slightest deviation from the party line. In 1597, for example, a morisco named Bartolome Sanchez was arrested along with his entire family. The neighbor who had denounced him stated that he had seen Sanchez wash himself scrupulously after emptying his bowels.

Since this was supposedly something that only a Muslim or Jew would do, Sanchez must have “relapsed” into his old Muslim ways. Even converting was not enough: simply having Moorish or Jewish blood made one automatically corrupt, and the taint would hang over the heads of generations.

For example, the completely innocent granddaughter of an accused man was prosecuted by the Inquisition in Mexico in 1604 for wearing silk garments (supposedly favored by Muslims and Jews). In 1587, several descendants of denounced people in Murcia were convicted of wearing silks.

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Accusations equal guilt

Even one’s sexual proclivities, however harmless, could come under scrutiny. This was a particularly dangerous area of inquiry, as one’s sexual habits could be interpreted to suit almost any pre-existing conclusion. In other words, a crime could be manufactured where none existed. In Lisbon in 1637, for example, a woman named Cecilia da Silva was accused of sorcery for “putting a spell” on a man named Antonio de Bairros and causing him to stray from his attractive wife.

It was a case of hysteria brought on by an accuser likely suffering from a tortured sense of sexual envy; regardless, people’s lives were ruined where there was no demonstrable crime. An atmosphere of suspicion leads to repression. Where normal sexual desires are denied a legitimate outlet, the repressed energy is vented in obsessive fixations on deviant sexual behavior.

The CNN story cited at the outset of this article is part of this same conditioning process: with the use of false or misleading propaganda, the Western media is systematically conditioning women to regard men not as partners in a healthy society, as the evil “enemy” with inherently depraved motivations and predilections. He must be controlled; failing that, he must be destroyed.

The greatest tragedy that these types of hysterias inflict on society is the chilling effect that they have on personal freedoms. A climate of fear and suspicion is generated, with every person watching what they say and do. The Inquisition is rightly considered one of the first modern institutions, because it sought to monitor every aspect of a person’s life.

Torquemada’s original Inquisitorial decrees from 1484 aimed for nothing less than a state of permanent social surveillance. Teachers could not be appointed, nurses and midwives could not work, and no profession could be practiced, without first securing the Inquisition’s approval.

As Green says,

Since the slightest slip of the tongue could lead to a denunciation, humiliation and the loss of privileges, the society of vigilance became the society of suspicion, and of division. The spread of conformity had predictable and deleterious results, which are being repeated today.

The blood of the denounced, leaching into the fields, fertilized the growth of continuing repression; innovation came to a shuddering halt, and creativity ebbed to a trickle; and the looming figures of gossip, suspicion, and retribution cast dark shadows over the affected societies.

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