Sunday, March 04, 2007

The slow death of the Mandeans

The Mandeans are a small ethnic and religious minority who live on the frontier bordering Iran and Iraq. They're semi-nomadic, and have lived in the area for over 2000 years. In the power vacuum left by the fall of Saddam Hussein, they've been persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists who regard them as heretics.

Saddam kind of tolerated the Mandeans. The new religious orders taking shape in Iraq feel they shouldn't exist. As a result, Islamic fundamentalists have begun a systematic campaign of rape, torture, and even murder.

The Mandeans aren't often discussed in the mainsteam media. It might be because they probably blend in with the other nomads and semi-nomads in Iraq, like Marsh Arabs. In a lot of ways, they're strangely reminescient of southern U.S. baptists (actually, in a bit of a turdabout, Mandeans are indeed baptists, but not Christians). Like the American baptists, they're very ritualistic, speak in tongues, perform baptisms, and exorcize demons.

What's so strange about the Mandeans is not any particular belief they have, but their history. They're a throwback to a loosely organized group of monotheistic religions known as gnostics (actually, many would classify them as the last gnostic group still in existence, barring perhaps strange traditions carried over from whoever or whatever loosely inspired groups like the Masons). Gnosticism was all the rage in early Christian history, but most of its literature and followers were destroyed by the Catholic Church. The Mandeans don't believe that Jesus Christ was their lord and savior. Actually, they believe Christ was something of a usurper of divine autority and perhaps even an evil demon. They believe themselves to be followers of John the Baptist, whom they see as their major prophet (kind of like Muhammed is to Islam).

According to an article on the BBC, the Mandeans are now trying to get out of Iraq. They're going to slums in urban areas of neighboring countries. A small group already, there is fear that they may become extinct. This is yet one more toll of Bush's moronic war.

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