Friday, September 21, 2007

Genocide, Satan and Salad

On August 14 of this year 500 people were killed and about 350 injured in an act of religious genocide. We only heard about it in passing. See if you can find it buried here in the Economist weekly review. The group that was targeted were the Yazidi who are considered by some orthodox Muslims to be Devil worshipers. This seems tragically to be based on a linguistic confusion of nomenclature. The Yazidi believe that the world was created by God and left to the care of seven angels, the highest ranking one being Melek Ta'us. So Melek Ta'us is the angel that holds the position that is most similar to the Christian angel of St. Michael who is considered to be the leader of the seven angels who stand before God.

In one of the Yazidi creation stories Melek Ta'us is created directly from God's illumination and is later tested by God when asked to obey his newest creation in Adam. Melek Ta'us passes the test by refusing and citing that he was created from a higher origin than Adam. So melek Ta'us is the one that disobeys God and opposes him. The Arabic word that means opponent (one who opposes) is Shaytan.

In an Islamic story Iblis is a pseudo-angel that disobeys God's direction to prostrate to Adam and so this Shaytan (one who opposes) is cursed by God for infinity to the Lake of Fire from where he promises to lead mankind astray and tempt them into hellfire. This Shaytan or opposer/disobeyer comes simply to be named by the descriptor of Shaytan and is who we know in English to be Satan.

But remember the other Shaytan (one who opposes) who is really most similar to St. Michael? Because the highest Angel in the Yazidi belief system is also known as Shaytan (one who opposes) he is mistakingly confused and equated with the Shaytan from the Islamic story and therefore equated with Satan, the being that tempts humans to hellfire. This is ironic since St. Michael's name was the war cry used by the Angels in a battle fought in heaven against Satan.

So the Yazidis are considered to be devil worshipers and therefore free game to eliminate from this world. This must be what those car-bombers were thinking when they targeted and slaughtered the large group of Yazidi on August 14.

This is the state of religion in the 21st century. A preposterously misguided etymological misunderstanding can move one group of people to kill another group en masse. A little linguistic education could have saved everyone a great deal of trouble and trauma. With just a little digging one could easily discover that Melek means Angel and that Ta'us is clearly related to the Greek words Theos or Zeus denoting God and thus Melek Ta'us is an Angel of God not an agent of evil.

A similar misunderstanding but with much less tragic consequences is made by the Yazidi themselves. The Yazidi believe that these seven holy beings are occasionally reincarnated in earthly forms as Koasasa. Their word for lettuce is koas which sounds like, but has nothing whatsoever to do with koasasa. This aural similarity however is enough to make it taboo for the Yazidi to eat lettuce. If only linguistic ignorance would lead to eating less salad and not to more killing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Friday, September 14, 2007


I've recently started watching a TV show called Californication. It's ostensibly about a writer going through a protracted period of writer's block accompanied by a similar obstruction in his personal growth. How apropos. David Duchovny of X-Files fame stars as Hank, a loveable self-destructive writer who has so fallen on hard times that he has been forced to take a job writing a regular blog, all this while trying to win his wife and daughter back.

The show is only so-so. Better than most things on TV but not as good as the best from HBO. What continues to grate on my nerves is that Hank constantly ridicules and derides blog writing as somehow meaningless and something of which any self-respecting writer would be embarrassed. It's true that blog writing is the only writing I've been able to finish on a semi-regular basis lately but this is not a self-defense response.

It should be admitted that most blogs are not written at the level or sophistication of most published novels, but some are. For every dozen mommy-bloggers who fill their pages with fastidiously chronicled minutia of every baby step and diaper change there's a Cognitive Daily For every hundred cat-bloggers who furnish us with their daily furry photos there's a Cosmic Variance. The point is that the choice of medium in which the writing is presented cannot determine the quality of the content. There are some horrifically bad books that sit on the shelves of your local bookstore just as there are some excellent poetry blogs online.

It's true that anyone can write a blog while you must be chosen to be published, so the odds are better that you'll find quality in one medium compared to another but the art is ultimately in the content. There is also a natural process of selection that begins to work when you link from blogs you like to other blogs that they like. Eventually you discover dozens of blogs that you might want to read on a regular basis.

Art can be found just about anywhere a producer chooses to put it. Film snobs like to brag that they don't own a TV as if shielding one's self from any medium could somehow be considered noble. Art can be found in any medium you choose to look at. It can be found in the content that is produced specifically for your TV, cellphone, flash player, sidewalk, milk carton, bus shelter or toilet stall. Snobbery directed prejudicially and wholesale against various media like TV, blogs or even comic books (the most artful of which are now called graphic novels) belies a misunderstanding of what and where art is.