In recent months we have heard a number of disastrous reports of the Yazidi people being specifically targeted by members of ISIL for rape, torture, enslavement, and murder. The terrorists seem to take special glee in butchering Yazidi men and forcing Yazidi girls (some as young as six) into sexual slavery. In part, I believe this is because the Yazidi people have long been a persecuted minority in the Muslim dominate countries and called “Devil Worshipers.”
The Yazidi are a small community nestled amongst the Kurdish communities in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey that have religious beliefs that predate Islam by hundreds, possibly even thousands of years. As is any living religious system, the details and nuance of this belief system are far too vast to handle here with even the most cursory treatment but I will say that many of their beliefs appear to be strangely Gnostic.
The Yazidis themselves would balk at such a categorization, I’m sure, and even modern scholarship would disagree but I can’t help but think about Classical Gnosticism when I hear of their worship of “The Peacock Angel.” They seem to have a concept of a “god above God” and on first blush worship al-Shaitan, the Satan of the Muslim world. This parallels greatly to the Gnostic idea of the Demiurge being an inferior world creator and there being a greater Being behind him. This also parallels the labeling of Gnostics as “Satan Worshipers” because some Gnostic systems glorify beings that are traditionally portrayed as pure evil, such as the Serpent in the Garden.
While ISIL is not in any way representative of actual Muslim beliefs, most of the members have grown up in a Muslim world and from childhood have been inculcated with doctrines that include the Divine Inspiration and lifelong focus on the Koran and its teachings. The Yazidis have often offended even the religious moderates with their divergent beliefs and practices and so the normal mercy shown by a sensible and devout Muslim even for so called “Devil Worshipers” will be utterly compromised by a terrorist zealot that appeals to the most deranged interpretations of Scripture. In short, whatever basic decency that society has taught these villains is regularly thrown out in the pursuit of their political aims but even more so among the Yazidi in whom even the most compassionate Muslim could find cause for great disagreement.
The human tragedy of all this is painful for me to bear, sheltered and safe, thousands of miles away, how much more so is this agony endured by these victims? In no way do I wish to appropriate this sorrow but I do feel a certain kinship to it, distant as it may be. As Gnostics, we are the radical group nestled amongst the Evangelicals and the Catholics and all the others that make up the Christian majority of our home. While it would be ignorant to the point of evil to say that we have it anywhere near as bad as the Yazidi people, I do believe we share the kinship of having to be a bit more circumspect in our religious discussions in the public forum. We can and do face minor aggression and are targeted for social attacks or shaming. In the same way the “Muslims” (and I use the word very loosely) of ISIL feel extra free in targeting the Yazidis, I know that many of my Christian brethren feel extra free in showing the poorest parts of their character to the oddball religious minority we are a part of.
It’s strange how bigotry works. As a lifelong resident of the South, racial tension has been part and parcel of my life here and in that context, “half-breeds,” those who have both a white and a black parent, are hated by the lunatic supremacists even more than a full-blooded black African. It is somehow more vile to them that you are somehow corrupting the white blood with black blood rather than just stay a seperate, “inferior” black. I bring this up because this same schema plays out among Christian Gnostics who are seen as worse than actual atheists or possibly even cult members because we “corrupt” Christianity and deceive ourselves in our take on the Christian faith. We are the “half-breeds” of Christianity and have a large target on our back.
I’m very glad to have the freedoms that I have and any micro-aggressions I receive from the angry or ignorant are a far cry from rape, torture, and forced servitude. But with the Yazidi in mind, we should always work to insure the religious freedom of all people and despite being under the Christian banner, we should always take care to never let the assumption of Christian faith and values blunt our ability to relate to marginalized groups, even if they were our personal enemies. We have to love our enemy, after all; a very difficult command indeed.
Let us pray that the Yazidi people find peace and freedom from their torment and let us do all we can to protect the religious minorities in our country from persecution even if that persecution is often more annoying than lethal.
Hold up the Light of Christ in All Things,