THE PEACOCK ANGEL: Satan, Yezidi, massacres and intolerance
It is now September. Walking through the woods I notice that the birds are not singing anymore. Suddenly the calls of wild geese cuts through the neighborhood, looking up I can between the treetops see a plough of geese flying south across the blue sky. Autumn´s impending arrival tunes me into a melancholy mood. A few lines from a song by Elvis Costello appear in my mind:
Banish all dismay, extinguish every sorrow
If I'm lost or I'm forgiven, the birds will still be singing
My wife, sister-in-law and daughters, as well as the boyfriend of the younger one, were with me for a couple of weeks, something that implied a string of activities, as always a mixture of leisure, fun and strife. Now calm has settled again, everyday routines have returned and I miss both my family and the birdsong.
When I return to our empty house I am eying through Swedish Birds with its amazing aquarelles compiled by Olof Rudbeck the Younger by the end of the 17thcentury. My friend Örjan gave it to me on the unforgettable surprise party my family arranged to celebrate my sixtieth birthday. While looking at the pictures I realized that birds are extraordinary creatures, with their feathers, their singing and their ability to fly. They are incomprehensible. Who could anyone in any sensible manner offer what the title of one of António Lobo Atunes´s novels indicates: “An Explanation of the Birds” (Explicação dos Pássaros ). This made me think of how a blind man in H. G. Wells´s short story The Country of the Blindexplains his world to Nuñez, a man who with great difficulty has found his way to an isolated country where everyone is blind from birth. Due to his gift of vision Nuñez is regarded as a kind of mental freak who from scratch has to learn everything about the world and people´s existence within it:
And the eldest of the blind men explained to him life and philosophy and religion, how the world (meaning their valley) had been first an empty hollow in the rocks, and then had come first inanimate things without the gift of touch, and llamas and a few other creatures that had little sense, and then men, and at last angels, whom one could hear singing and making fluttering sounds, but whom no one could touch at all, which puzzled Nunez greatly until he thought of the birds.
Due to their flight ability birds have by different cultures been considered as a link between the divine realm and the human world. All the evangelists wrote that after Jesus had been baptized, the Spirit of God came down upon him in the form of a dove:
And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him (Mark1:10).
It is thus not surprising to find pigeons in Christian art. While living in Rome I found them all over the place, from the catacombs to the numerous mosaics and frescoes depicting them in the churches, while the living specimens littered our terraces and early in the morning woke us up with their annoying cooing.
On Medieval mosaics another bird takes up competition with the doves - the peacock, the uncrowned bird champion when it comes to overwhelming displays of nature's immeasurable splendor. This bird's sumptuous appearance seems to deny Christian demands for prudent humility, but its presence in the churches are generally defended by an ancient legend stating that the peacock's flesh cannot rot and is therefore reminding us about eternal life; the eyes that adorn its train symbolize the all-seeing deity, as well as the firmament´s grandeur with its sun, moon and stars, its incomprehensible beauty has furthermore been compared to the Tree of Life in Paradise.
I came to think of the peacock while browsing the bird book I got from Örjan, he had a month before my birthday given me another book, a collection of short stories by the odd Southern gothic author Flannery O'Connor, a great connoisseur of peacocks. Suffering from an incurable and debilitating disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, she lived in anticipation of death with her mother on a farm in Georgia, surrounded by a flock of peacocks. Her short stories and two novels are characterized by grotesque characters, though she describes her peacocks with both empathy and sympathy, for example, in her article "Living with a peacock":
The cock’s plumage requires two years to attain its pattern, and for the rest of his life this chicken will act as though he designed it himself. For his first two years he might have been put together out of a rag bag by an unimaginative hand. During his first year he has a buff breast, a speckled back, a green neck like his mother’s and a short gray tail. During his second year he has a black breast, his sire’s blue neck, a back which is slowly turning the green and gold it will remain; but still no long tail. In his third year he reaches his majority and acquires his tail. For the rest of his life — and a peachicken may live to be thirty-five — he will have nothing better to do than manicure it, furl and unfurl it, dance forward and backward with it spread, scream when it is stepped upon and arch it carefully when he steps through a puddle.
Like many writers praising the peacock's astounding beauty O'Connor also points to his beauty spots:
Not every part of the peacock is striking to look at, even when he is full-grown. His upper wing feathers are a striated black and white and might have been borrowed from a Barred Rock Fryer; his end wing feathers are the color of clay; his legs are long, thin and iron-colored; his feet are big; and he appears to be wearing the short pants now so much in favor with playboys in the summer. These extend downward, buff-colored and sleek, from what might be a blue-black waistcoat. One would not be disturbed to find a watch chain hanging from this, but none does. Analyzing the appearance of the peacock as he stands with his tail folded, I find the parts incommensurate with the whole. The fact is that with his tail folded, nothing but his bearing saves this bird from being a laughingstock. With his tail spread, he inspires a range of emotions, but I have yet to hear laughter.
Another peculiarity is the peacock's voice:
Frequently the cock combines the lifting of his tail with the raising of his voice. He appears to receive through his feet some shock from the center of the earth, which travels upward through him and is released: Eee-ooo-ii! Eee-ooo-ii! To the melancholy this sound is melancholy and to the hysterical it is hysterical. To me it has always sounded like a cheer for an invisible parade.
In his Sufi inspired poem The Conference of the Birds, written in 1177, the Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar described how the Peacock is annoyed by and suffers from his ugly feet:
Then like a Sultan glittering in all rays
Of Jewelry, and deckt with his own blaze,
The glorious Peacock swept into the ring:
And, turning slowly that the glorious thing
Might fill all eyes with wonder, thus said he.
'Behold, the secret artist, making me,
With no one colour of the skies bedeckt,
But from its angels´ feathers did select
To make up mine withal, the Gabriel
Of all the birds: though from my place I fell
In Eden, when acquaintance I did make
In those blest days with that seven-headed snake,
With these ill feet, was thrust out and debarred.
Little I care for worldly fruit or flower,
Would you restore me to lost Eden's bower,
But first my beauty making all complete
With reparation of these ugly feet.'
The peacock´s ugly feet are occasionally mentioned in Oriental literature, particularly in Arabic and Persian texts. In a collection of sayings attributed to Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, he mentions that the peacock's feet cause so much embarrassment to the proud bird that he cannot help bursting out in ailing cries as soon as he catches a glimpse of them.
The tale that ud-Din Attar tells makes the peacock allude to a legend explaining why its most magnificent creature was banned from the Garden of Eden. The peacock is accused of bringing evil into the world since it was he who made it possible for Iblis, the Devil, to enter the Paradise in the guise the seven-headed serpent that finally succeeded in tempting Adam and Eve to eat the Fruit of Knowledge. Since he had once and for all been expelled from Paradise Iblis had been forced to persuade one of its inhabitants to open the gates. The peacock used to perch on the high walls surrounding the Garden of Eden. As he sat there, looking out over the surrounding wasteland, Iblis crept forward. After winning the peacock´s confidence by praising his breathtaking beauty and furthermore convince him that as a mighty angel Iblis would be able to grant the peacock several wishes, like eternal youth, protection against diseases and furthermore provide a guarantee of eternal residence in Paradise. However, to be able to fulfill all these promises Iblis had to gain access to the Garden of Eden and he needed help since he had lost his keys somewhere in the Garden´s lush greenery. The peacock believed Iblis, was fooled and opened the gates.
Accordingly, it was the peacock´s boundless vanity that caused the disaster of contaminating humankind with transmissible sin and his own banishment from Paradise. Like when the Devil, in the guise of Al Pacino, in the movie The Devil's Advocate states: "Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.” This after he throughout the movie has tried a vast amount of different tricks to vanquish an honorable lawyer, only to find that flattery and the promise of admiration from his colleagues finally makes him in possession of the advocate´s soul.
Criminals are often narcissistic and one of modern history´s arch villains was in fact, like the peacock, plagued by his feet, or rather foot - Hitler's propaganda minister, the demonic Joseph Goebbels. Far from being handsome, the short Dr. Goebbels could nevertheless gain the admiration of men and women. He was always ready to flaunt his intelligence and poisonous tongue, impressing people with his blazing, brown eyes, a winning smile, a modulated baritone and not the least an aura of confident authoritarianism. He demanded to be titled "Doctor" and dressed impeccably in the latest fashion, tenderly nursing his appearance, always professionally manicured and groomed, every day he spent at least fifteen minutes under a sunlamp. Dr. Goebbels had private aircraft, rail cars and limousines at his disposal. If he became interested in a lady, he sent her clever gifts with well-formulated, romantic messages.
Early on in his life Goebbels got to know that his right foot was incurably lame, it was a "neurogenic clubfoot", which meant that it was inwardly bent, bloated and shortened. In his diary Goebbels wrote:
My youth became fairly joyless. [When the doctor said the foot was incurable] it became one of the crucial events of my childhood. I was directed to myself. Could no longer be involved in other people's games. Was alone and solitary. Maybe because of my problem too much of the darling child at home. My friends did not like me.
Goebbels noted that it was the struggle to overcome his disability that made him strong and uninhibited. The deformity caused him all sorts of misery, for example, he wrote in his diary that the great love of his youth, Else Jahne, left him after a "schism caused by my foot problem". It was his almost absolute power within the Nazi hierarchy that saved him from further humiliation.
Obviously it is not uncommon for men who have been fighting against real or imagined physical defects to develop a demonical attraction on women. Like Goebbels, Lord Byron suffered from a foot problem and like the Minister of Propaganda he surrounded himself with an aura of demonic impiety and elegance.
Byron suffered from a so-called "Achilles ailment", a defect of the Achilles tendon that made one of his feet four inches shorter than the other and turned outward, something that Byron was forced to remedy by an arrangement which meant that an iron rod was applied to the foot to keep it straight. Several of his friends and contemporaries have testified how he suffered from his foot and the fight against the malformation affected his entire attitude to life, his relations to the men and women who fell in love with him.
In the name of political correctness I ought to stress that a physical defect does not need to constitute a foundation for a person's outlook on life, but it can certainly characterize a person's emotional life and create vulnerability to any remark that could insinuate shortcomings in someone´s looks and character. As the witty and cynical Swedish writer Fritjof Nilson, “the Pirate”, used to say: "I cannot speak of a darning needle without a one-eyed wretch is hurt."
For sure, his misshapen foot made Byron hypersensitive, something that was not surprising since his mother, who he hated throughout his life, used to call him a “lame brat” However, like his sarcastic mother Byron was convinced that he was a beautiful lad, able to attract and manipulate both women and men. As the gifted poet, he was, Byron was able to reshape his existence into poetry and vice versa. His disfigurement and intellect made him a stranger in life and as such he was inclined to play theater, a spectacle that could easily turn into real cruelty.
The Italian literary historian Mario Praz wrote in his fascinating study The Romantic Agony that Byron often excelled with his malice and bitterness, for example was the poet's behavior towards his wife characterized by such an outstanding moral hardness that one may doubt whether all that was said and written about it was really true. Byron found that his irrational and offensive behavior, as well as his fascination with evil, were mixed up with passion and love: “My embrace was fatal. I loved her and destroy'd her.”
Mario Praz describes in detail how different kinds of evil virility, or rather energy, were expressed in the literature of the Romantic era. When Byron identified himself with the Satan John Milton described in his Paradise Lost, it was mainly the violent passion, the unbridled energy he was fascinated by: “The great purpose and meaning is the sense that we exist, that we do so in pain.” Praz writes that there were traits of insane comedy in the sordid drama of Byron's life, most scenes seemed to be taking place within a "moral torture chamber". Byron disciplined his body, but not his mind. He was involved in a constant struggle against his weak physique, his innate tendency to obesity and in everything he did, he sought intemperance: "Passion is our life's element, without it we would just vegetate."
It is probably no coincidence that Mario Praz wrote his book in 1930 when fascism and its vain leader Benito Mussolini were at the height of their power. Mussolini was a pompous theatrical entertainer who spiced his persona with a flavor of demonic attraction. Energy was a keyword for Fascists, everything would be renewed and revitalized. If a total ruthlessness developed during the process of change it could be defended by saying that the end justified the means, or as the Communist Lenin put it: “If you want to make an omelet, you must be willing to break a few eggs.” By the way, in spite of the fact that Italian Fascism was fervently opposed to Communism, there was a common ground in the two political movements´ fascination with vital energy. Even if the leading stars of Italian Futurism and Soviet Avant-garde, Marinetti and Mayakovski, did chose different political paths they were united in mutual respect and the artistic movements they headed were unashamed in their open avowal of violence as a political means and their ends were equally extreme and uncompromising. As an example, the 1912 Russian Futurist publication A Slap in the Face of Public Taste included Mayakovsky's first published poems: Night and Morning.
Mario Praz describes how Milton's wicked and hate filled Satan, after he had been cast down from Paradise remained beautiful and impressive, characterized by "a magnificence shaded by sorrow and death". Milton's Satan (it is no coincidence that Al Pacino's Devil in the movie Devil's Advocate calls himself John Milton) personified rebellion and defiance, a form of "heroic energy". According to Milton, Satan was the only creature who truly knew God's omnipotence, and yet he dared to rebel against him.
No one, not even Lord Byron managed to highlight the fallen angel's magnificence in such an impressive way as the Russian Mikhail Lermontov, who actually was distantly related to Byron and knowingly took after a lot of the great Englishman's manners. Lermontov's poem The Demon (1838) unfolds among Caucasus´ altitudes where "the sun's glow in the early hours" lends sky and mountains its golden color and the deep valleys are covered with pale gray mist when muezzins from minarets' crests are calling to prayers and the sound of church bells echoes between mountain sides.
God´s world lay wonderful and wild …
But the proud Spirit looked with doubt
And cool contempt on God´s creation,
His brow unruffled an serene
Admitting no participation.
The Demon, Satan, who for eternity has been condemned and forsaken by God, will never die and has grown tired of everything, even sheer evilness disgusts him. Nevertheless, among the Caucasus´ valleys he catches a glimpse of beautiful Tamara and for the first time during his wretched existence the reviled Demon is struck by the full force of love.
He is utterly lost, humiliates himself and entreats the beautiful, but mortal maiden:
No sooner did I see you than
I felt a sudden, veiled revulsion
For immortality and power;
And I was drawn by a strange compulsion
To envy the frail joys of man:
Life without you became a torment
To be apart from you – a horror.
[…] You are my holy one. This day
My power at your feet I lay.
And for your love one moment long
I´ll give you all eternity.
For I am changeless, true and strong
In love as in malignity
Free spirit of the air, I´ll bear you
High up above the stars where you
Will reign in splendor as my queen.
The demon wins Tamara's love, but she is not able to cope with the coldness that has become entrenched in his soul and his pent-up passion finally destroys her. When the Angel of Death carries the deceased Tamara's soul up to Paradise the demon encounters the both. He is filled by rancor and aggressiveness since he once more has become a misunderstood outcast, cursed and opposed by God. All his good intentions have been crushed; hatred of everything and everyone fills him to the brim. When Tamara meets the frenzied stare of her former lover she becomes terrified:
His gaze so brooding and morose
So venomous with hate eternal …
It seemed a death-like cold infernal
Lay on that frozen face and brow …
Banished from love and joy the hateful demon returns back to earth, his gloomy domicile.
One who became fascinated, or rather obsessed, by Lemontov´s demon was the Russian artist Mikhail Vrubel (1856 - 1910), who for most of his working life was struggling to complete a definitive portrayal of Lermontov's Demon. Like Gogol with his Dead Souls and Dostoevsky with A Great Sinner, Vrubel never managed to complete his plan to accomplish a “definite masterpiece”. Eight years before Vrubel´s death his great canvas The Fallen Demon was displayed at the School of Stoganov in Moscow and became an immediate success. Crowds flocked to admire the fallen demon crushed to earth "alone in the universe. Abandoned, without love and hope." The Demon is defeated and beaten, but meets the spectator with a defiant glowering gaze; still alive, but helplessly trapped in his own arrogance.
The unusual, oblong format, the thick layer of shiny color, but especially the demon's dark features and terrifying gaze enthralled the audience, who also gathered to see how Vrubel almost daily appeared in the hall carrying brushes and colors to enhance/change the expression of the demon's face. Something he continued to do when the painting a few months later was exhibited in St. Petersburg. Vrubel had gone mad and for the rest of his life he was confined to a mental institution where he continued to, in sketch after sketch, reproduce the demon's face while simultaneously working on a constantly changing painting he called The Six Winged Seraph, which also showed the demon's features.
On Vrubel's painting the fallen demon lies somewhere among the Caucasian Mountains, resting above the remnants of his mighty wings, depicted as peacock feathers. In Attar's poem about the Birds´ Conference we learned that the peacock's plumage had been created with angels' wings as a prototype and furthermore that he was called the Gabriel of Birds. Likewise the archangel Gabriel, Heaven's chief angel, messenger of God and leader of the heavenly hosts, has been called the Peacock of the Angels. The Peacock Angel is also the main deity of the Yezidi, who call him Malāk-Tawū.
The Yezidi´s historic core area is the plains of Nineveh, north of the city of Mosul and is now divided by the border between Iraq and Syria. Yezidi villages are also found in Turkey, Armenia and Georgia. It is possible that both Lermontov and Vrubel encountered Yezidis in Georgia, where they often spent time, being inspired by legends told in the shadow of the mighty Mount Kazbek.
Yazidism finds its roots in the seedbed of various religions; like the Iranian Zoroastrianism and cult of Mithras, Babylonian Manichaeism, Judaism, Gnosticism, Christianity, Islam and several local traditions, especially popular Sufism. Central to their beliefs is that God, who among them is called Xwadē, distant, omnipotent and incomprehensible created Malāk-Tawū out of his own splendour. Since Malāk-Tawū was the creature closest to Xwadē´s heart he told him not to submit to any other creature than himself, so when Xwadē ordered the archangels to bow to Adam, Malāk-Tawū refused to obey, defending his disobedience with the fact that he had been created as a reflection of Xwadē´s divine splendour and thus could not bow before anything made out of soil. Xwadē was impressed by Malāk-Tawū´s brave stance and decided to give him the power over Adam and his offspring, as well as the entire earth.
It is thus the Peacock Angel, Malāk-Tawū, who is the Lord and Master of this world, providing meaning to our entire existence. By the beginning of humankind´s existence Malāk-Tawū fell like a star from the sky and when he reached the earth he gave it life, light and warmth. He had fallen in love with humankind and pitied it because it lived in darkness and ignorance. He felt sorry for the lonely and vulnerable and thus chose to leave the realm of infinite light and warmth, bringing with him a spark of the divine presence. That had not been part of his agreement with Xwadē, who accordingly withdrew his support to the rebellious angel. Even the people of the earth, whom he loved and provided with light and hope, feared Malāk-Tawū as an incomprehensible stranger. Many despised him, taunted and mocked him. However, Malāk-Tawū accepted their mockery with serenity, hoping that reason and goodness would ultimately prevail. Finally, he encountered a friendly people, pure of heart, and they took him in among themselves, perceiving the spark of eternal light he was nursing and venerated Malāk-Tawū as provider and protector. They gave him their trust and care. This was how the Yezidi by understanding Malāk-Tawū´s true nature became despised by those who had turned their backs on the divine harbinger of truth and enlightenment. The Yezidi saw the good in what other people despised. They knew that the world is far from being perfect, that the peacock in all its glory has ugly feet, but that does not hinder him from exposing and representing the glory of heaven and preach peace and brotherhood among men.
Yezidi beliefs arouse antipathy among those who preffered to regard life as either white or black. Those among us who want to wipe out people who do not perceive life in the same way as they do. Their enemies asserted that the Yezidi worshiped Iblis, the Devil, and the Yezidi were forced to hide their beliefs from those who were unable to understand what they were preaching. In the end, the Yezidi did not dare to mention Malāk-Tawū´s name to strangers, they hid their faith´s inner meaning and called themselves sharfadin after an insignificant man who neither said nor did anything subversive. Among themselves they assured one another that it was their duty to preserve the truth and suffer their martyrdom. Yazidi scribes sometimes state that during the last thousand years they have lived through 72 massacres and they are currently suffering their seventy-third visitation as IS, The Islamic State, pillages their towns and villages, while murdering any Yazidi they can lay their hands on.
The Islamic State? A group of militant Sunni Muslims who had chosen to attack the American invasion forces soon controlled several core areas in Iraq. However, their intolerant, violent regimen aroused opposition even among the Sunni who had felt discriminated by Iraq's Shiite majority. Nevertheless, the movement grew strong and is currently calling itself IS, the Islamic State. They are led by a certain Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a forty years old man from Samarra who claims to have a PhD in theology from the University of Baghdad, but is better known as a brutal butcher. By the beginning of 2010, it was assumed that IS counted upon 4 000 armed men, but it is now estimated that its forces are constituted by between 20 000 and 32 000 fighters distributed between Syria and Iraq.
The Islamic State´s nasty ideas are not only a result of confused speculations by bigoted theologians, it is also a jailbird ideology that has emerged among criminal thugs and uneducated youth. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi spent five years in Camp Bucca, one of the Americans' concentration camps for thugs, terrorists, common criminals and a lot of innocents rounded up during various clean-up operations. In early 2005, there were 26,000 detainees in US controlled prisons and compounds inside Iraq. Currently more than 100,000 individuals have passed through the gates of such institutions.
A fatal mistake was to separate detainees on the basis of their self-proclaimed religious beliefs. Andrew Thompson, who worked as “intelligence liaison officer” at “Camp Crooper”, observed that: "the compound´s “emirs” controlled the prison population, Detainees, for example, refused to watch television or play ping-pong, lest they face the judgment of the Shariah courts. Moderate detainees suffered repeated physical violence from radicals. When they fought back, they were punished by the prison authorities”. According to Thompson “the prisons became virtual terrorist universities". When Camp Bucca was closed in 2009 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released along with other future IS leaders with names such as Abu Muslim al-Turk Mani, Loay Abu, Abu Kassam, Abu Jurnas, Abu Shema and Abu Suja (Abu is "father" in Arabic and a common prefix to Arabic surnames). Such prison radicalized fanatics could among their former fellow inmates quickly establish the terrorist gangs, which eventually become the core of IS.
Like a well-established mafia organization IS has substantial assets, mainly based on kidnapping, armed robbery and extortion. During the chaos that now prevails in Syria the IS has established itself firmly within the northern parts of the country and can thus mobilize funds originating from oil fields, electricity sales and smuggling. It is furthermore assumed that up to 10 percent of IS´s income derives from donations by individuals and other stakeholders. IS is infamous for its use of terror, but the organization also wins souls and hearts through charity, road building and by offering free electricity and "education", mainly in the form ofda'wah, religious instruction or proselytizing. Like any big company IS is since publishes 2012 issuing an Annual Report, presumably to attract donors.
The Islamic State is a frequent web user. Their most prominent online publication is Dabiq. The name provides a hint to the Organization's twisted ideology. Dabiq is a city in northern Syria, which by many Sunnis is associated with an approachingLast Judgment, when the sheep will be separated from the goats. A belief that carries a special meaning and attraction for certain Salafi (from salaf, predecessor, or ancestor), who want to establish an ideal society in accordance with their perception of the conditions that 1 400 years ago prevailed in the society that grew up around of the Prophet. Of great significance are the obscure prophecies written down in Abu Hurariah´s Hadith. Abu Hurariah knew the Prophet and in his name several predictions have been handed down, in particular concerning an imminent fight against Constantinople, or Rome. A fight that presumably will start in Dabiq. IS applies these prophesies to the present and teaches that they concern the immediate fall of the Western powers and Christianity. One reason to why Abu Hurariah´s prophecies have become so popular among IS followers could be that they are generally not accepted as authentic by Shia, the group that the Sunni-oriented IS adherents consider themselves to be discriminated by. One Abu Huaryrah prophecy states, for example:
The Last hour will not happen until the Romans come to al-A'maq or Dabiq. Then they will be greeted by an army from Medina, composed of the world's best people.
The murderous Abu al-Baghdadi consider himself to the leader of the "world's best people" that the prophesy is mentioning and their task will be to realize God's plan for the entire humanity. Al-Baghdadi has taken the title of Amir al-Mu'minin, Leader of the Believers, and is by IS regarded as a caliph,, ie the Prophet's deputy, heading the State of God, IS says it wants to establish in accordance with another of Abu Huaryrahs prophesies:
God will within this community [i.e. the true believers in Northern Syria] by the end of each century exalt someone who will renew the faith.
IS´s armed forces attract young men from all over the world. They are probably looking for a cause to believe in during these times of violent structural changes, confusion, poverty and unemployment. Like Goebbels and Byron who were tormented by their infirmities and shortcomings, fundamentalists and fanatics seek confidence and justification in a faith that might strengthen them and make others forget about their mistakes and inadequacies. The thought that they have the right and power on their side and accordingly a mandate to condemn those who are not with them to death and humiliation, carries for many of IS hitherto confused youngsters a liberating sense of strength and power. To “follow the Will of God" in the company of other energetic young men and to be encouraged, praised and rewarded for acts that previously have been banned and rebuked, probably produce a sense of invulnerability and authoritarianism.
However, those who do not share the IS faith become victims of their vengeance and wrath; men, women and children are kidnapped, tortured and murdered. Blood flows in streams in the Nineveh Valley. IS fanaticism affects Shia Muslims, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syrians, Armenians, Druze, Nizaris, Mandeans, Jews and all other people who do not share their faith. The IS caliphate provides the “infidels” with three options, i) conversion to Islam; ii) jizya, the tax imposed on monotheists who do not want to convert to the true faith; or iii) death. The last option applies inevitable to the Yezidi, who even if they would repent nonetheless are doomed since they in IS eyes are, or have been, devil worshipers.
The Islamic State denies free will and in violation of the religion they assume they belong to they place themselves on the throne of God Almighty and do in His name condemn their fellow human beings to death and suffering. Something I assume is an abomination for most righteous Muslims, who agree upon the fact that one of the prime features of The Prophet was righteousness.
Sinjar, a city that for centuries has been a center of the Yezidi and one of their most sacred sites was taken by storm by IS forces on August the third this year. More than 200 000 people were displaced, including 40 000 Yazidi, who were forced to leave behind 500 massacred co-religionists.
It has been said that the moral collapse that befall supporters of fundamentalism and totalitarianism is uncommon, but I assume that such a claim is unfounded. To me history indicates that it is fairly easy for ordinary people to become fanatics, capable of committing or defend the mass murder of innocent and defenseless human beings. Furthermore, such horrific changes may occur within a fairly short time span. For such a process of increasing indifference or, even worse, uninhibited violence to get started it seems to be enough that a majority is becoming better off due to what they imagine to be innate characteristics, or a reliance on a fairly recently invented traditions, while a minority for similar reasons is becoming marginalized and worse off than before. An individual's dignity becomes downgraded while entire groups of people are deemed to be unworthy of participating in the community of the majority. This may be the beginning of the establishment of a set of values that eventually turns into the prerequisite for a process that ends with a group destroying another. We have witnessed such processes in Eastern Europe during the Second World War, in Bosnia and Kosovo, in Rwanda, in China under Mao, in the Soviet Union, in Kampuchea, and now in Syria and Iraq. We have to choose sides before it becomes too late.
Take care! Do not fall victim to what the current pope has called “the globalization of indifference”. We have to avoid an overestimation of our own excellence, like the peacock being blended by the glow of his beauty and brilliance. Such blindness can easily bring us to gates of hell and beyond. We might occasionally turn into peacocks, raising magnificent trains, forgetting our own wretchedness and wallow in what many of my fellow Swedes lovingly remember as the “People´s Home” of the fifties, or the Swedish excellence that we ourselves adorn us with, instead of looking down towards our own ugly feet, those that unite us with the earth. Our feet that are supposed to anchor us in reality and make us realize that we share both the ugly and the beautiful, the good and the bad, with the other inhabitants of our global village. Like the Yezidi faith in Malāk-Tawū, the Peacock Angel who despite his superior beauty chose to descend to earth to help the people down here. A faith IS fanatics regard as devil worship. If you judge people by the results of their beliefs, it is easy to ask who worships what. To deny other people their value, to exclude, murder and rape can that be counted as service to God? No, I am assured of the fact that another Master is served by SI, exactly the one they accuse their victims of serving.
The birds have fallen silent, the cold is approaching. In this week´s elections the painfully jingoistic Sweden Democrats gained the trust of more than 700 000 of my fellow countrymen. A party that makes a difference between people and people, wanting to sift the goats from the sheep. There are currently 4 000 Yezidi in Sweden, on the run from murderous fanatics. Do the Swedish Democrats care about that? Do they know who the Yezidi are? Where they come from? What they flee from? Come on! Please, do not lie to me. You don´t give a damn about it. You are like so many others becoming part of the mighty European party of theIndifferents. Maybe one day I will also be a party member, running the risk of waking up in a strange world, far from the one I envisioned myself to grow old in.
Maybe I'm a hopeless romantic, but like Kierkegaard I would like to be able to define himself as an individual and a human being. To avoid becoming a bloodthirsty beast, or a dumb creature, it is necessary to make choices. I did not chose the Sweden Democrats. Not that I believe myself to be superior to those who did it, but because I wanted to imagine what my choice could mean to me as an individual. I choose to try to believe in justice and equality. A choice that might help me not to end up in a situation where I have to make a choice between people and people, like on the ramp at Auschwitz - who should be put to death, who is going to live. Exaggerated? Perhaps. But, I wanted to avoid being dazzled by all this stifling Swedishness, the supposedly magnificent plumage of Our Great Nation, instead I prefer to consider the ugly feet that anchor me to the ground.
Asatrian Garnik S. and Victoria Arakelova (2014) The Religion of the Peacock Angel: The Yezidis and Their Spirit World. Cambridge: Acumen. Farid ud-Din Attar (2012) The Conference of the Birds (Bird Parliament), translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Digireads.com Publishing. Guerman, Mikhail (1988) Mikhail Vrubel. Leningrad: Aurora Art Publishers. Jackson, Christine E. (2006) Peacock. London: Reaktion Books. Lermontov, Mikhail (1976) “The Demon: An Eastern Legend, translated by Avril Pyman”, in Michail Lermontov: Selected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Longerich, Peter (2015) Goebbels A biography. London: HighBridge Company (this book is scheduled to be published in Enlish translation in 2015, I read it in Swedish). MacCarthy, Fiona (2002) Byron: Life and Legend. London: John Murray. O´Connor, Flannery (1988). “Living with a Peacock”, in O´Connor, Flannery: Collected Works. New York: Library of America. Praz, Mario (1978) The Romantic Agony. Oxford: Oxford Press Paperbacks. Tompson, Andrew and Jeremi Suri (2014) "How America helped ISIS", in New York Times International, 2 October.