Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mandaeans in Iraq

Today's New York Times has another chilling story - this time an op-ed piece by Nathaniel Deutch, of Swarthmore College, about the Mandaeans of Iraq. He begins by saying:

THE United States didn’t set out to eradicate the Mandeans, one of the oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq. This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and entirely unintended consequence of our invasion of Iraq — though that will be of little comfort to the Mandeans, whose 2,000-year-old culture is in grave danger of disappearing from the face of the earth.

The Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, cousins of the people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, a work that sheds invaluable light on the many ways in which Jesus was perceived in the early Christian period. The Mandeans have their own language (Mandaic, a form of Aramaic close to the dialect of the Babylonian Talmud), an impressive body of literature, and a treasury of cultural and religious traditions amassed over two millennia of living in the southern marshes of present-day Iraq and Iran.

Of the 60,000 Mandaeans who were in Iraq in 2003, before the U.S. invasion, only 5,000 remain - the rest have fled to neighboring countries. Their homeland is in the marshes of southern Iraq, and they have no other place where they can find refuge. Deutch calls for the U.S. to take in all of the Mandaeans, so that their unique and ancient culture can be saved. Mandaean refugees in other Middle Eastern countries have been converting to Islam or Christianity so that they can get help.

April DeConick, of Rice University, has written in her blog about the dangers the Mandaeans are suffering in Iraq, and also has useful suggestions for letters that can be sent to Congress about them - Information about Mandaeans.

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