Iraq’s melting pot has almost gone

 Iraq has always been home to a remarkable melting pot of cults and religions. But for how much longer?

The most remarkable melting pot in history is about to be erased by a ruthless jihadist army, IS. It’s not just a crime against humanity, but civilisation, writes Tom Holland in The Spectator.

To this day, though, across the Fertile Crescent, there remain
communities which bear witness to the extraordinary antiquity of its
religious traditions. There are the Mandaeans, who hold themselves, as
Mani did, to be sparks of a cosmic light, and whose priests, like their
Babylonian forebears, are obsessive astrologers. There are the Alawites,
who revere Plato as a prophet, believe in reincarnation, and pray
towards the sun. There are the Yezidis, whose home of Sinjar still
preserves in its name an echo of the ancient Harranian moon god. Like
the Harranians, they reverence the planets; and like the Harranians,
they hold a special place in their hearts for the peacock. Melek Taus,
the angel whom they believe to be God’s lieutenant here in the material
world, wears the form of the bird; and back at the beginning of time,
when the earth was nothing but pearl, he laid his feathers over it, and
gave colour to its forests and mountains and seas.

Various strategies were adopted by these communities to survive the
disapproval of their Muslim overlords. All of them kept the precise
details of their faiths a secret; and all of them, when faced by bouts
of persecution, would retreat to remote and inaccessible fastnesses,
whether in marshes or on mountain tops. The Mandaeans, copy-ing the
strategy of the Harranians, were able to market themselves as Sabaeans;
the Alawites, some of whom believe Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law, to have
been the reincarnation of St Peter, took on a patina of Shi’ism. Even
the Yazidis, who proudly keep a list of the 72 persecutions they have
survived over the course of the centuries, were sometimes willing, when
particularly hard-pressed, to accept a nominal baptism from an amenable
bishop.

It is hard to believe, though, that they will survive the 73rd
persecution. Their prospects, and those of all the religious minorities
of the Fertile Crescent, look grim. Mandaeans, exposed to murder and
forced conversions in the wake of Saddam’s overthrow, are now almost
extinct in Iraq. The future of the Alawites is bound inseparably to that
of their co-religionist, the blood-stained president of Syria, Bashar
al-Assad. As for the Yezidis, targeted as they are for extermination by
the slave-taking, atrocity-vaunting murderers of the Islamic State, how
can they possibly survive in their ancient homeland?

 Meanwhile, with
Iraqi and Syrian Jews now only to be found in Israel, and Christians
emigrating from the region in increasing numbers, even the Peoples of
the Book are vanishing from the Fertile Crescent.

The risk is that all traces of what once, back in antiquity, made the
area the most remarkable melting pot in history will soon have been
erased. In cultural terms, it is as though a rainforest is being
levelled to provide for cattle-ranching. Not just a crime against
humanity, it is a crime against civilisation.

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