The Opposite of Right Society


This paper explores cultural antecedents for the idea of the “sleeper,” the terrorist who appears to adapt to a host culture while secretly harboring plans to destroy it, in the discourse of European and American witch hunts. The idea of an evil infiltrator, who lives hidden within a society, clandestinely conspiring to overthrow it, has deep historical roots. The language used by American political leaders to describe Al-Qaeda echoes that of medieval inquisitors and New England witch hunter Cotton Mather, ferreting out diabolical conspiracies threatening to destroy the foundations of society. In this paper, I explore the similarities between the discourse of witch hunts and that of terrorism, arguing that language which creates an enemy simultaneously alien and internal to the host society accomplishes two rhetorical goals: it projects evil onto a racial, cultural, gendered or social Other, allowing the host culture to see itself as “pure” and “good;” and it dehumanizes the Other, making it easier to deprive him/her of basic human rights.

How to Cite

Magliocco, S., (2003) “The Opposite of Right Society”, Ethnologia Europaea 33(2), 13-22. doi:

Publisher Notes

  • This article was previously published by Museum Tusculanum Press.


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Sabina Magliocco (California State University)



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