For those who have been wondering about the Yazidi…

Prospect magazine explains…

Who are the Yazidi?

An ancient religious sect, with less than 1m followers worldwide, largely concentrated in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and parts of Iran. Since Sunday, around 40,000 Yazidi from the north of Iraq have been trapped in the Sinjar Mountains in the northwest of the country, having fled their homes in the nearby town of Sinjar after it was attacked by militants from the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS). A further 200,000 have reportedly fled the area. The Guardian reports that Kurdish troops stationed nearby have been forced to withdraw, and that at least 500 Yazidis, including 40 children, have been killed in the past week. The Yazidi have suffered violence throughout the recent fighting in Iraq; according to al-Jazeera, IS were accused of killing six Yazidi in May, and a group claiming to be part of IS kidnapped 24 Yazidi border guards in June.

What is their religion?

Linked to the ancient faith Zoroastrianism, the Yazidi religion revolves around the worship of seven angels, of whom Malak Ṭāʾūs (“peacock angel”) is the most important. Above all of these is a supreme God, who created the universe, but the Yazidi god no longer has any direct interest in the world. Yazidi deny the existence of evil, rejecting the notion of sin, the devil and hell—this makes them “antidualists.” They believe in a form of reincarnation, whereby the spirit is purified as it migrates through different bodily forms until it achieves divinity. Shaykh ʿAdī, a 12th century mystic and chief Yazidi saint, is believed by followers to have managed this.

Why are they being persecuted?

The Yazidi are reported to believe that they are descended from Adam, rather than Adam and Eve, and are distinct from the rest of mankind. Consequently, they separate themselves out from whatever community they live in. The Yazidi have been persecuted by Sunni militants in Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, and historically have faced persecution from nearby Muslim communities, as Malak Ṭāʾūs is often misidentified as the Judeo-Christian devil. This has led to Yazidi throughout the world being derided as “devil worshippers.”

This is the BBC’s account of the religion and its followers.

Is there no escape from war, famine, pestilence and death?

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Ten years after the invasion of Iraq by the American led coalition the air is still full of condemnation and recrimination. Much of it is far too simplistic. A piece in today’s Washington Post, combining as it does both heart and head, is much more nuanced than any of the other assessments, for or against, which I have read. This article, by a participant and undoubted victim of the war and its aftermath, reflects the perplexity which must assail anyone trying to unravel the complex tragedy that is Iraq, past and present.

When people ask me, he wrote, “Was the war worth it?,” I am often unsure how to respond. The world is a better place without a tyrant like Saddam Hussein. But poor U.S. post-invasion planning helped unleash sectarian furies that will plague not just Iraq but the broader Middle East for decades. I think a better question is “What should the United States do now?” My answer is that the venture into Iraq must not result in American detachment from the region. American ideals and aims are too noble for isolationism. The United States must learn from its errors and use its unequaled power to positively shape the world, helping to prevent future conflicts rather than sparking them.

Was it worth it to me? I can’t deny that my wife and child are healthy or that there is limitless opportunity for me in the United States. But is that worth losing my friends, family and country? Never.

Is it not true to say that the turmoil of this entire region, stretching from the borders of India and Pakistan to the Mediterranean coast, presents a problem for mankind which is well beyond the limits of what the powers of the rest of the world can either understand or cope with by either war or diplomacy? Leave them to their own devices is the explicit or implicit consensus which now prevails.

Is this a just consensus? As the Syrian conflagration inexorably climbs towards the sum total – and perhaps greater – of human misery and suffering endured by Iraq following the West’s intervention to remove its dictator, can we say “better that way”? We say, “we do not know how to solve their problem. Let us not even think of trying”.

The ingredients of the Syrian conflict bear many similarities to those which prevailed in Iraq. They were not adequately understood before the Iraq intervention took place and the consequences of that lack of understanding made that venture into a truly horrendous misadventure. Now they are better understood and the consequence of our better understanding is moral paralysis and “a plague on both your houses”.

No one can yet dare say how Iraq will turn out. But is there not at least a hope that some foundations have been laid on which an eventual peaceful coexistence may be established – a coexistence held in place by the free choice of a free people and not by a tyranny as heretofore? Furthermore, does it not seem that if the fall of Sadam had not come in the manner in which it did, it would inevitably have come in the way that the fall of the Baathist regime in Syria will surely come – after who knows how much bloodshed? Had this been the fate of Iraq then, with its more clearly defined historic enmities, its body count would have far exceeded that which it suffered when it had an external force holding the the factions at bay in however flawed a manner.

The mystery of the evils with which this region of the world presents us tests us to what appear to be the limits of our imaginative powers. But can we therefore, without guilt, succumb to the “bystander” effect and just walk on by? Or do we, all else failing, make a practical judgment on the principles of justice and take up arms to vindicate those suffering injustice? Can it be that there is no escape from condemnation? Here, surely, is a formula for true tragedy.

Saddam is gone – and what conflicting reactions ab…

Saddam is gone – and what conflicting reactions abound. Many supporters of the war which overthrew him still cannot bring themselves to reverse their judgements – and I number myself among them. Some of those judgements have clearly been undermined as the law of unintended consequences unfolded. However, new ones have taken their place and on balance these still support the intervention. But we are clearly in the minority. Is it pride, desperation or right judgement that keeps us sticking to our post?

The reality of our position now – whatever rational arguments we may still be prepared to entertain and advance in its support – is more that of the desperate victim who has walked into a trap and has to fight for his life to get out of it. The enemy has been engaged, the engagement has opened a Pandora’s box of indescribable complexity but now has to be closed. They cannot leave it open. They have no choice but to fight to the end and hope against hope for an ultimately positive outcome.

The anti-war faction is of no help. The sterility of their “I-told-you-so” stance – spoken or unspoken – offers nothing. Whatever might be said for the misgivings on which they based their original opposition to the military action they now have nothing to say that is positive.

The unpalatable thought for those who supported the action – in the belief that it was protecting the world from an imminent threat (nuclear chemical WMD) which turned out to be no threat in fact, and in the belief that the volatility of Iraq under Saddam was something that could be removed with his removal – is that death and destruction have come in its wake along with the creation of an apparently more threatening instability than was there before.

The most painful truth of all that may have to be faced is that the just war basis which had been held to support the action has been fatally compromised by the apparent calamity that has ensued. On the basis that some kind of proportionality should apply and on the basis that a hope of a successful outcome with a minimal suffering and death should ensue, the case for this being a just war seems no longer tenable.

And yet a lingering suspicion persists. All this may be necessary, all this may be an unavoidable conflict in the interests of avoiding an even greater conflict and catastrophe. Had there been a political will prepared to face up to the perceived threats of Nazi Germany in the 1930s which would have been prepared to engage militarily with the monster at an earlier stage of its development, would millions, tens of millions of lives been saved?

There is a Middle East scenario which is potentially as disastrous as any of the two great world wars proved to be. Millions have already died in a conflict between Iraq and Iran. In this case the majority who died were military personnel. Sadam was not going to live forever and one might have anticipated his death – from either natural or unnatural cause any time over this decade. What was likely to happen in the aftermath of that death is probably a pale shadow of the conflict now raging there. The Rwanda massacres for which the world still feels guilty would probably even have been a pale reflection. The world’s greatest military machine is grappling with a situation which by now would be a quagmire of blood were it not in the place to help contain it.

A militant fundamentalist Islamic nuclear power is a far more frightening prospect than a nuclear Communist power ever was. Iran still threatens to become one. Had Sadam become one Iran would certainly have done so. Had Saddam’s regime collapsed into a vacuum then Iran would almost certainly have gone to war to protect the Shia community and Saudi Arabia to protect the Suni. The rest of the world could not have stood aside and watched the oil on which its entire economic structure is based run into the sand. A war bringing unimaginable suffering and death and of unimaginably disastrous consequences would have followed.

Hypotheses? Perhaps. But politics of any kind, national or international has to take account of hypotheses, weigh them up and act. Had the hypotheses of the few in the 1930s been acted upon there would doubtless have been death and destruction and many would have excoriated the few responsible. But had that happened the greatest evil that the world has ever seen would have been prevented.

America and Britain have to stay the course in Iraq and in Afghanistan. It does not mean they have to conduct themselves on this course in the way they have to date. The reality is that there is a monster lurking in the fold of Islam. It is not Islam itself but it will destroy Islam the world as we know it unless it is removed.

These are the conflicting thoughts lingering in the mind of one who in 2003 thought that the Coalition which invaded Iraq was going in to do good job quickly. Guilty of naivety? With hindsight, yes? But if he was guilty of naivety once he may be even more determined not to make the same mistake twice.