Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Mad World, My Masters

There hasn't been much of note happening in my life lately: getting up, going to work, coming back, seeing friends on the weekend, the usual. However I thought I'd talk about a few news articles that I have noticed this past week and that have, generally, exasperated me and made me think that perhaps people really are that stupid and selfish.

The first one is rather comic: the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has been refused accession talks with NATO because of a veto by Greece which rejects to the application on the grounds of their name. Some of you may remember when I was in Greece I wrote about the best way of annoying a Greek was to call FYROM Macedonia. Yep, those Greeks sure can bear a grudge and take it all the way. One would have thought (or should I say hoped) that politics is about being rational, taking the long term view and being pragmatic, but in fact it's all about emotions and touchstone issues. More than in any other walk of life, more even than little boys fighting in the playground, politicians can't seem to admit fault or let a trivial issue pass.

Except, that is, for our illustrious ex-leader Tony Blair, who announced on Friday during his visit to Japan that rich nations should slash greenhouse gas emissions. Now, I may be a bit cynical, but shouldn't he have done something during the 10 years that he was in power and had the perfect opportunity of actually doing something concrete, instead of dithering and, now that he's on the sidelines, criticising and getting on his moral high horse.

But the saddest piece of news comes from Iraq as it prepares to "celebrate" the fifth anniversary of its "liberation". The Chaldean archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped and killed (though possibly he died of other causes in captivity, it's unclear) this week. This in itself is a sad event, as is any loss of life, but it's poignantly so because it's a rare newsworthy article of one of the disasters of the Iraq debacle. The media concentrates on the 3 dominant groups within Iraq - the Kurds, the Shi'ites and the Sunnis - but ignores the many other minorities that live(d) there and that are being targeted by the other 3 three. The Armenians, Assyrians, Qawliya, Mandaeans*, Yezidis, Yarsans and Shabaks (and to a lesser extent the Turkmen) are undergoing what could be termed as a genocide as the stronger groups seek to carve out more power for themselves and as religious intolerance increases to fever pitch. The last 4 practice pre-Christian religions that originated in Mesopotamia and are an important relic of cultural history of the region, but without proper protection they will be wiped out. Unfortunately the Americans don't seem to want to rock the boat with the big three and are turning a blind eye. A truly sad development for what used to be the most ethnically diverse country in the Middle East.

*The Mandaeans are particularly interesting because they follow an ancient gnostic religion that has incorporated elements from Abrahamic religions, where they revere some of their saints and prophets such as Adam, Noah and John the Baptist who they particularly like. Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed, however, are seen as false prophets, which is probably why they kept their teachings very much to themselves and didn't publicise them!

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