The Sins of Fear: Dark History from the Salem Witch Trials to Modern Injustices

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Updated: Sep 07, 2023
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Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Unfortunately, we cannot see the future to verify that he was right. Fear and greed are the driving forces of mass hysteria. According to, mass hysteria is “a socially contagious frenzy of irrational behavior in a group of people as a reaction to an event.” The effects of fear and the thirst for power are present in both Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, and the treatment of Arab-Americans after 9/11.

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To grasp the concept, one needs to understand the connection.

The Salem Witch Trials took place in colonial Massachusetts in 1692. Over 200 people were accused, put on trial, and 20 were executed. The evidence was based solely on circumstantial evidence and unreliable testimonies from teenage girls. Fear of the Devil clouded the minds of those in Salem. Since then, the story of the trials has become synonymous with paranoia and injustice, and history continues to repeat itself over 300 years later. The fear of the devil gripped the minds of the Puritans, and the fear of terrorism cripples the minds of modern-day Americans. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the lives of American Muslims continue to be influenced by the anxieties and policies those attacks released.

The enemy’s qualities are always the opposite of those in one’s own culture. For instance, Bush Administration officials constantly painted the terrorist enemy as motivated by their “hatred of freedom”. U.S. efforts to counter terrorist threats are framed as “fighting for freedom.” Similarly, Tituba comes from Barbados, the heart of voodoo and commonly associated with devil worship. Throughout the text, we see how fear can cloud the mind and lead someone to make hasty decisions. For example, Abigail reveals, “I always hear her laughing in my sleep. I hear her singing her Barbados songs and tempting me …” (1154). The fear of the devil and the cultural differences between Tituba and the others contribute to Tituba’s mistreatment and ignite the Salem Witch Trials. Professor Richard Godbeer, in his article “Escaping Salem,” opines, “The Salem witch-hunts were an unfair judgment of a group of people. This is a constant trend throughout human history. One group feels they can or should assert power over another, whether it is to cover something up and get off free, like the girls in the Salem trials. There is always some type of gain in the exploitation of others.”

The result is a perversion of justice, and the destruction of mostly innocent people, their lives, and careers. Today, around 600 prisoners, mostly innocent civilians, are detained at Guantanamo Bay because they were merely accused of terrorism. They are not given even the status of prisoners-of-war; they are never charged in a court of law; they are tortured, not because they fought against the American forces in Afghanistan, but to extract information about others and to name names, as happened in Salem. History has once again repeated itself in another form.

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The Sins of Fear: Dark History from the Salem Witch Trials to Modern Injustices. (2022, Aug 18). Retrieved from