Thursday, August 16, 2007

"The Devil-Worshippers"

After the ghastly bombings targeting Yazidi communities in Iraq yesterday, I pulled my well-thumbed copy of Freya Stark's "Baghdad Sketches" off the shelf. Written in the 1930s, her essays about the life and land of Iraq are almost as valuable today as they were then. Perhaps more so. (As Aldous Huxley once wrote, "old guide-books, so out of date as to be historical documents, make excellent traveling-companions." And Stark is much, much better than that.)

Years ago I had underlined several passages in the chapter "The Devil-Worshippers" about the Yazidis. "They are a peaceful agricultural people used to persecution," wrote Stark after visiting their villages and one of their shrines. "They by no means deny the orthodox saints, nor the existence of a beneficent Omnipotence above them: but they hold that the Spirit of Evil has been given a free hand in the world for the time being -- a theory which one must admit may be heard on the lips of quite respectable people of every persuasion at the present day without the necessity of a pilgrimage to Shaikh 'Adi. The Devil-Worshippers, however, introduce an Oriental touch into this blameless conservative attitude by maintaining the advisability of making up to whoever is in power."

Then, as now. But who is in power? The Yazidis could not placate such random and varied evils as exist in Iraq today. -- C.D.

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