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The Islamic State Is Right About Some Things

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Yezidi Peacock Angel

Yezidi Peacock Angel

I’ve talked about the Yezidis many times over the years. The main reason is that I find the obscure marginal sects of the Middle East interesting. This is a part of the world where religious pluralism existed under very precise and strict conditions, and these groups deviated from those conditions and lived to tell the tale. The Muslim rulers, and more specifically in historical memory the Ottomans, tolerated a specific set of enumerated dhimmi, generally traditional Christian and Jewish groups. Though subject to persecution and oppression, in principle these groups had rights to exist within the Islamic framework. Heretics and pagans on the other hand were not tolerated. For example, I have read the account from the 17th century of an Ottoman official who was making a progress from Baghdad to Istanbul, which turns out to be an excellent piece of ethnography. His entourage stopped in an isolated mountain valley in what is today Kurdistan. The local population were not Muslims, and when the official inquired as to their religion they told of how they worshiped the sun. Whatever the details of their origin this group obviously would be classed as pagans, and so the official was faced with what to do with these people. The choices were conversion to Islam or death, the implementation of which would have been difficult at that moment. As a solution the local Jacobite Orthodox Christian bishop agreed to accept them as his own, with nominal baptism. Presumably these people eventually became Christians in fact as well as name. But it goes to show that in the pre-modern world of the Middle East religious diversity persisted in the isolated places.

Groups such as the Druze offend Sunni Muslims because they are clearly derived from Islam itself, and Islam is the capstone religion in its own conception. Alawites seem to have emerged from the same milieu as the Druze, but they have retained a tenuous Muslim identity, which has accelerated under the Assad family. The Sunni Muslim stance toward these groups is that they are viewed as illegitimate heresies, not protected religions. The extent of Salafi* influence in one’s orientation also conditions how Sunnis view Shia (and there is variation within the Shia group, the Ismailis in particular viewed as heretical because their practice and theology differs more in obvious ways from Sunni orthodoxy; the Zaydi Shia are at the opposite extreme, being very similar to Sunni norms).

All this leads up to why the Islamic State, and Muslims generally to a lesser extent, tend to be extremely harsh in their attitude toward the Yezidi sect. The details of the Yezidi belief system are somewhat obscure, like that of the Druze, but they are clearly not Muslim. The media reports that the Yezidi are an ancient religion, with some relationship to Zoroastrianism. Many Kurds will also agree with this statement, assuming that something like Yezidism was the primal faith of their ethnic group. This may or may not be true. The origins of the Yezidi may actually be more like the Druze, if somewhat more ancient and obscure. Part of the lack of clarity I think goes back to the fact that there is some opaqueness overall in the first century or so of Islam. The social-religious world of the Middle East was a product of those years, but it is very different from them. For example Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrian-influenced syncretistic Muslim sects were powerful anti-establishment forces across the Iranian cultural zone down to the 9th century. Quite a few extremist Shia sects (ghulat) seem to have made the transition to post-Islam, often imbibing Zoroastrianism of a Mazdakite flavor. Such a transition though was usually a cultural death sentence. Survival depended upon attaching oneself to a Shia identity, however tenuous (the Alawite strategy), or, fleeing to a geographically isolated region (in some cases these sectarians fled to the Byzantine Empire, and converted to Orthodox Christianity rather than revert to normative Islam!). Flight from the world is what the Druze and Yezidi have done in their fastness.

Yezidi children killed by ISIS in Syria

Yezidi children killed by ISIS in Syria

The current capture of Sinjar has been a humanitarian catastrophe for the Yezidi because it has been one of their traditional redoubts. The kidnapping of women, and the summary beheading or crucifixion of men, can be comprehensible in light of the Salafi Muslim vision of groups such as the Yezidi, which literally should not exist. Their obliteration would bring balance back into the Salafi world. While Christians and Jews may persist with the barest of sufferance, the existence of the Yezidi is an abomination to Salafi Muslims. What is occurring is a ethnic cleansing and genocide in straightforward terms. In fact Salafi Muslims would probably agree with the appellation cleansing, because the Yezidi to them are an offence to Being itself. Their existence is a matter of ritual purity in a metaphysical sense. I am wary of ever making analogies to Nazi Germany and the way it viewed the Jews, but this one clearly is a close fit. There is no path toward accommodation of Yezidi existence for the Islamic State, it is now down to an animal battle of survival for them, as they flee into the mountains as they have done so many times in the past.

nationsbook The relationship of Kurdish Muslims to the Yezidi has often been fraught, but there has been a modus vivendi of late. The Yezidi looked to the Peshmerga to protect them, though in this case the Peshmerga failed. The Kurdish reaction overall seems to confirm much of the argument in Azar Gat’s Nations. It is not civic virtue which is drawing out their outrage, or adherence to the state, but ethnic-national honor as a whole, irrespective of boundary. Their identity as Kurds is motivating them to fight the Islamic State first and foremost (whether the Yezidi are Kurds is under debate, but they are of the same general group of Iranian speaking mountain people). See in The New York Times, Iraq Agrees to Help Kurds Battle Sunni Extremists:

On Monday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant Kurdish separatist group in Turkey that for decades has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state, in a statement called for its fighters to go to Sinjar, one of three Iraqi towns where the Kurds were pushed out on Sunday.

“The treacherous ISIS attacks have been humiliating for the Kurds,” the statement said. “Until the Kurds develop a strong resistance, they will not be able to take back their honor.”

The soldiers of the Islamic State certainly seem to behave in a manner which we find ghoulish. But ghoulish behavior is not a monopoly of religious fundamentalists; Assad’s Syrian regime has sent militias to rape and murder children in front of their parents to sow fear into the opposition. The moderate Free Syrian Army has also committed war crimes. But the Islamic State is fighting for principles, a vision, with atrocity as the end and not the means. For the Assad regime atrocity is a tool to instill terror. For the Free Syrian Army atrocity is a reflex against the brutality of the Assad regime. An eye for an eye. In contrast, the vision of the Islamic State necessitates atrocity as the ends of their existence. In theory Yezidis could be given the option to convert to Islam, but the current pattern of killings indicates that pure elimination seems just as likely an end. From my perspective, and most people’s, it is an evil vision. But it is giving its fighters something to fight for. This vision has prompted four upper middle class Indian men to join them, to the shock of the Indian security establishment. The article waxes on about the privileged background of these men, but transnational jihadists have long had a more “up market” demographic. The Islamic State is fundamentally an abstraction, and so appeals to those who deal in abstractions. It is utopian in its fundamentals, just as the Khmer Rouge was utopian. They are attempting to go back to the “year zero” of Islam.

But even error sometimes speaks truth. The Islamic State is right that the Sykes-Pico Agreement is a shambles and ended. The delusion of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Iraq and Syria has collapsed. What replaces it we do not know. Currently the American government continues to support policies which strengthen the unitary Iraqi state. The major weak point in this strategy is that even the superficial appearance of a unitary Iraqi state seems out of reach. That game is lost. We don’t want to admit it, but it is over. We don’t know what gambits with follow, but the local actors will be ultimate deciders.

Roman_Eagle_by_Wittman80What can be done? The Iraq invasion and occupation has made Americans wary of direct intervention. And rightly so. Unless we wish to take upon the mantle of a New Rome, sending our sons (and now daughters) to impose order and justice, and implicitly the American Way, in foreign lands we are better off not getting deeply involved. On the other hand there is no point in pretending that we are neutral in the clash between antinomian barbarians and ethno-religious autocrats. The latter are imperfect, but they have a vision of life which we recognize as life.** We must stand in some way with imperfect humans when they are battling against organic automata, motivated by an ideology which bears false witness to any traditional social order. People can disagree on the details, but there is a moderate position between total detachment and taking upon the burdens of the world upon one’s shoulders.

I do think that the rise of the Islamic State, and the past 10 years of chaos and violence, suggest that this is the end of the persistence of ethno-religious sects such as the Yezidi across most of the Fertile Crescent. The Jacobites Christians, Assyrians, and Yezidi, lack powerful patrons and protectors. Though most Sunni and Shia would not countenance genocide, they are focused more on the exigencies of their own internecine conflicts. Many minorities already have large Diaspora populations Europe. Tens of thousands of Yezidi live in Germany, and tens of thousands of Assyrians live in Sweden. The most practical short-term solution would be to extend refugee status selectively to ethno-religious minorities to prevent them from being eliminated by genocide. Certainly the dominant Muslim groups of the Fertile Crescent are dying in large numbers in the conflicts, but at the end of the day when peace comes the Syrian and Iraqi state(s) are going to be their making, their dominion. They will have something to build up from. In the long term it seems implausible that the Sunni majority can be excluded from the leading role in governance in Syria. When majoritarianism does come I doubt it will look keenly upon the rights of the minorities after the litany of horrors afflicted upon the Sunni populace by the Assad regime and its Alawite militias.

Of course a final irony is that the migration of the ancient Middle Eastern minorities to the West will likely result in their diminishing over the generations. The corporatist straight-jacket of the Middle Eastern milieu was constricting, but it allowed for a communal identity to maintain itself. In the individualist West these small communities are unlikely to be able to self-segregate in large enough ghettos where their cultural norms are dominant. This means that identity will become a choice, and over time intermarriage will likely result in a decrease in numbers. Though the Yezidi are rightly objects of sympathy, their cultural norms are quite retrograde in many ways. These folkways were adaptive in the circumstances of Kurdistan, a persecuted minority which had to maintain a high level of group cohesion. But in the West they are often impediments to full flourishing, and produce inter-generational conflicts.

Dancing-in-the-Glory-of-Monsters-Stearns-Jason-9781586489298 Finally, currently the world is paying attention to the dire humanitarian situation in northern Iraq because that is where the media spotlight is. And rightly so. But let us remember that these sorts of events have an old pedigree. Consider the Assyrian Genocide of the early 20th century. Many thousands died then, and many thousands are dying now. And what about the three-year-old children shot in front of their parents by the militia loyal to the Assad regime? The events in Gaza are quite raw and fresh, but read Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War in Africa, and you gain perspective as to what atrocity truly is. It reminds me of the apocryphal quote attributed to Stalin, the “Death of one man is a tragedy. Death of a million is a statistic.” Right now infants are dying of thirst in northern Iraq. Horrible. But the Central African Republic still teeters on the edge of genocide. I am not saying that because we cannot do all things we should not do anything, but we should keep in mind that for all the positive trends in the world there is a vale of tears we must confront. The soldiers of the Islamic State fight under the banner of demons, but their enemies are no angels.

Assyrian demon Pazuzu

Assyrian demon Pazuzu

But not all distinctions can be erased. When enumerating the horrors meted out by the Assad regime, or noting the ubiquity of rape in the Congo, I can not help but think that these are the products of human venality. The thugs who murder children for Assad, or the soldiers who rape women in the Congo, may have their ad hoc justifications for what they do. But they do what they do not in a spirit of purpose, but on the orders of their paymasters or in a fit of amorality coming to the fore. Atrocity, even on a grand scale, can still be the marshaling of individual human weakness. The power of the Islamic State derives in part from the fact that it inverts the moral order of the world. Some of its soldiers are clear psychopaths, as the most violent and brutal of international jihadis have been drawn to the Islamic State (as opposed to Al Qaeda, which is more pragmatic!). But a substantial number believe in its utopian vision of an Islamic society constructed upon narrow lines. A positive vision of a few evil goals, rather than a grand quantity of small evil pleasures. The Islamic State ushers in an evil new order, it does not unleash unbridled chaos. Though its self-conception that it is resurrecting the first decades of Islam is self-delusion in my opinion, it is still a vision which can entice some in the Islamic international.

I do not think that the Islamic State is here to stay. I believe it will be gone within the next five years, torn apart by its own contradictions and its rebellion against normal human conventions, traditions, and instincts. But that does not mean it is not going to cause misery for many on its way down. The irony is that the iconoclastic Islamic State may as well be worshiping the idols conjured in the most fervid of Christian evangelical apocalyptic literature, because they shall tear the land end to end and leave it in a thousand pieces, a material sacrifice to their god. They live under the illusion that they are building utopia, but they are coming to destroy an imperfect world and leave hell in its wake.

* The modern Salafis are just the latest in a particular extreme of Sunni belief, which goes back to individuals such as Ibn Taymiyyah.

** My distinction here has some similarities to the typology outlined in the Kirkpatrick Doctrine.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: ISIS, Islam, Yezidis

62 Comments to "The Islamic State Is Right About Some Things"

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  1. Although the uniqueness of Yezidi beliefs is overstated, they remain fascinating because their oral tradition is frequently similar to Norse and other Indo-European mythology. A reminder that all Iranic peoples came initially from Europe. Much of this is folk beliefs shared with neighbouring communities though ‘pagan survival’ is identifiable in Yezidi theology proper. In spite of the tendency toward syncretism it can be inferred very easily that Malek Taus was originally a god of Shiva/Odin type not least that his sacred day is Wednesday. Motifs surrounding him place him in the category of deities also; Malek Taus as ‘the third’, pleiomorphy and flight to heaven as an eagle, Malek Tawus as the eagle atop the world tree with a falcon between his brows etc.

    Nowadays they’re an Islamic, extreme Sunni sect though with beliefs like the Ghulat sects of the zone of heterodoxy that stretches across from the Balkans through Armenia and Kurdistan to Tatarstan. But the syncretism is informative as to Yezidi origins. Folktales such as that about the sun as female and moon as male, disrupted by a dragon when they attempt incest, fit right into the lore of Baltic speakers. Actually in the Islamic period the term ‘majus’ may have shifted meaning from Zoroastrian to the more familiar Indo-European polytheism of the North Germanics and the East Slavs. Other characteristics of Yezidi theology and folklore points in the direction of the Hindu Kush.

    Their origins go back to House of Tayran, of Caucasian Alban origins. The majority of the people there were probably speakers of Udi but their rulers were Alans from the north. Remarkably peacock angel and ‘Rex Mundi’ motifs are associated with former Alanic settlements in Gaul – not so remarkable given that the motif arose when the Massagetes (Alans) came under Mauryan influence and the yazata Tir adopted the characteristics of the Murrugan. This syncretism was of course in western Central Asia before the migration to eastern Europe and then the subsequent diaspora and assimilation to other ethnic groups such as the Tatars, Burgundians etc.

    Shemsi al Shams, Arewordik and Yezidi are probably at root the same and persisted due to the Indo-European mannerbund despite the language differences. The mannerbund framework allowed for transmission of values of predominantly Iranian and ‘pre-Zoroastrian’ origin within Christian and Islamic frameworks. Some evidence exists for a persistance of Mithraism in Sassanian military and the Bektashi were similarly represented in the Ottoman military. Its not impossible that the triumph of Mithraism in the Roman Empire – in the Roman army – was an example of Iranian mannerbund beliefs transcending cultural barriers. Roman Mithraism itself, though poorly understood, presents images and themes identifiable from the religions of the Kalash and other non-Zoroastrian Indo-Iranian peoples, as well as Armenian folklore about the bull causing earthquakes.

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  2. 1) there’s no consensus that iranian people came from europe, unless you define it broadly to include the fringes of european russia. also, you seem to presume that nordic and iranian peoples couldn’t come from a central asian source. that’s a model too.

    2) shiva is usually assumed to be pre-indo-aryan.

    3) your comment might be interesting, but it’s an incoherent stream of terms. many of them seem juxtaposed helter-skelter. please be more concise and clear in the future. i do approve comments.

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  3. spoke to my “Egyptian” reporter friend yesterday and we both agreed that the term Holocaust is not totally out of order in the case of Assad or IS given a couple of their last videos. I would also like to to offer “Vlad the Impaler” as a descriptor after their ” heads on stakes” video. These guys are giving the narcos a run for their money.

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  4. #3, a major implication of this post is that there can be qualitative differences between organized atrocities. i.e., the assad regime’s actions are instruments toward particular ends, keeping the dynasty in power and the alawite hegemony. if they had other instruments they would use them (for a while they bribed the sunni elite with relaxation of the economy). in contrast the raison d’etre of ISIS is eliminationist toward those who are not not sunni muslims. in the medium term the organized atrocity is actually a major goal, not just an instrument, since they ambitions are regionally quite broad.

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  5. Definitely. he mentioned, for example, that it is hard for one to be too invested in the Iraqi army when you are given a gun that doesn’t work well and also are not well trained only to then see other recruits getting their heads cut off.
    he also said that they are now calling themselves just “IS” (with the implication being that the Iraqi and Syrian factions had combined and for the sake of unity, I guess.)
    long live the caliphate!

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  6. 1. Proto-Iranic is reconstructed as having loan words from Uralic, pointing to areal contact in the northern forests. In this I am following Witzel who puts their homeland close to the Urals and western Siberia for this reason.

    2. AFAIK, the argument for a pre-IE Shiva is based on questionable interpretation of Indus Valley images. All these show is a generic ‘Lord of Animals’ and besides, some syncretism between IE and non-IE should reasonably be assumed for all later Indian divine images anyway without rejecting evidence for Vedic roots. Of course using the theonym Rudra might’ve been more appropriate, due to Shiva being but the epithet, initially, of Rudra. As Rudra he is most definitively Vedic and Indo-European.

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  7. I maybe wrong, but I see the ISIS state after initial conquest as a sort of new Saudi Arabia. Albeit this new Saudi Arabia is without the decadence of the ruling family or foreign workers. The decadence and foreign workers will probably take a decade or two.

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  8. This is a very thoughtful set of observations.

    Of course, observations are easier done than prescriptions, especially efficacious ones. What would be your policy prescriptions if you were the American Caesar?

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  9. Do you remember where you read about the Ottoman official encountering the sun-worshippers?

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  10. #9, let met think.

    re: saudi analogy. yes, but remember ISIS makes al qaeda seem pragmatic. 10% of the population of saudi arabia is shia. they weren’t killed or driven out in totality (though some were). the ISIS ideology has clear relationships to the salafi one of saudi arabia, but the execution is different.

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  11. Razib, what do you think about the possibility of crop failures a few decades down the line in the middle east. Some analysts are projecting that some countries may face massive starvation die-offs because they depend so much on imported grain, with saudi arabia and egypt being affected the most, and iran and turkey the least. If this were to happen, what kind of effect would it have on the evolution of islam?

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  12. On the whole, I agree with the analysis of the original post, and on the likely impact of migration on those who chose to become refugees to survive.

    Two big open questions remain.

    1. The nominal goal of a strict Islamic state has been a rallying cry in many disparate conflicts across the globe. And, I can certainly understand why people involved in those movements were dissatisfied with a status quo that has involved secular dictators and corrupt democracies (in both cases often run by leadership groups dominated by ethic groups with whom the local population has a long history of being oppressed by and at odds with).

    I can also understand why people no longer see a one party Communist state as a credible alternative. The fall of the Soviet Empire and the increasing capitalism of China has discredited that brand.

    But, what can account for the utter failure of Western style democratic capitalism or anything other than strict Islamic states to win the hearts and minds of the general population, and of the discontented revolutionaries who lead and bully them?

    One piece of “soft power” that the U.S. and developed and developing world has neglected for far too long is the business of presenting people who don’t like the status quo with workable alternatives that are attractive to the general population and revolutionaries alike.

    What makes an Indonesia transition from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy, while in Thailand and Syria and Iraq and Egypt and Northern Nigeria, powerful organized movements led by smart people try to transition from parliamentary democracy to an Islamic state?

    You would think that we would have figured this out in the Iranian Revolution and in contemporaneous developments with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Instead, we don’t really get it and have no alternative.

    While I agree with you that these acts are “evil”, I also recognize that “evil” and “I don’t really understand your motives” are close cousins. Indeed, arguably the non-Islamic dictators, who know what is going on is contrary to their vision of the Good Society that they share with us are more evil than the Islamic State members who are carrying out their vision of the Good Society.

    2. I agree with you that there needs to be middle ground between involuntarily securing regime change and imposing martial law for many years in countries that the U.S. has no special obligation towards that do not directly threaten us, and falling into the trap identified by John F. Kennedy of taking a position of neutrality in a time of moral crisis.

    But, it isn’t obvious, even when one is quite well informed about the reality, as Razib is, to discern from that knowledge what kind of policy actions in response to the reality make sense as a consequence of these facts. Is bad mouthing these evil actors from the bully pulpit and accepting refugees who are minorities in these regimes really sufficient?

    I don’t claim to have all of the answers either, but do feel that these limited steps ring hollow, and that a lack of a larger doctrine or agenda for this whole class of issues leaves us rudderless and ineffectual generally.

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  13. One thing I find striking about Yezidis is how gnostic some of their apparent beliefs sound. They worship a made-not-begotten angel who made the world and has been deputised by the higher god to rule it. Per Wikipedia: “The Yazidi consider Tawûsê Melek an emanation of God and a benevolent angel who has redeemed himself from his fall and has become a demiurge who created the cosmos from the Cosmic egg.”

    Proto- or para-gnostics such as Simon Magus and Apelles believed that the world was made by an angel. For instance, per Pseudo-Tertullian, Apelles’ followers “… call a certain angel famous who established the world …” and Apelles makes some “glorious angel of the higher God, whom he calls fiery, into the creator and God of the law and Israel.”

    http://books.google.com/books?id=4-mxAuGDv3UC&pg=PA211&lpg=PA211&dq=tertullian+apelles+%22fiery+angel%22&source=bl&ots=9iovPs5p9k&sig=BxJbdNgac5waqo8CRfQYGuDSrzI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=WojiU_LNN8uayASy14CoDg&ved=0CDAQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=tertullian%20apelles%20%22fiery%20angel%22&f=false

    Paul, too, at places in the epistles, seems to believe that the world is ruled by angels (such as in Ephesiasn 2:2) who created the Law (although I’m not aware of any Pauline passages that imply directly that angels per se made the world).

    The Mandaeans of Iraq are what’s left of the gnostic John the Baptist cult. I don’t know what sequence of events would have led to the gnostic ideas of the Yezidis. I don’t think Mandaeans and Yezidis are known to have lived near each other. The surviving Mandaeans are city-dwellers, I believe.

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  14. Proto-Iranic is reconstructed as having loan words from Uralic, pointing to areal contact in the northern forests. In this I am following Witzel who puts their homeland close to the Urals and western Siberia for this reason.

    right. i don’t consider that european. semantic issue then. sorry peter the great, europe starts as the pripet marshes ;-)

    #11, the mid-east has to be a crop importer. population has stabilized, but unless technology gets better (aquaculture?) they’ll have to import. if there’s a shock to the global economy, yes, they’re screwed. i recall egypt is now the world’s biggest wheat importer? re: effect islam. hanbali/salafi variants of islam have been more prominent due to oil money from the gulf. major consequences would be a shift more toward the type of islam practiced in turkey and other liminal lands, where populations are still higher. an analogy some muslims make is that the saudi discovery of oil was like the people of eastern kentucky discovering oil and becoming the the richest and most influential. snake handling protestant christianity might have become normative? :-)

    But, what can account for the utter failure of Western style democratic capitalism or anything other than strict Islamic states to win the hearts and minds of the general population, and of the discontented revolutionaries who lead and bully them?

    i think economics explains a lot of this. mid-eastern economies still have a autarkic orientation. the wealthy ones are wealthy due to oil, unless you count turkey’s recent foreign investment driven boom. indonesia has some oil, but mostly its development is more like an ‘asian tiger.’ with an larger middle class from the private sector you have civil society not dependent on the gov. bangladesh might be another example. very imperfect as a democracy, but economic development is great enough that it can handle the extraction demands of corruption. the tunisian exception might be somewhat illustrative, though it is still a gov. driven economy….

    But, it isn’t obvious, even when one is quite well informed about the reality, as Razib is, to discern from that knowledge what kind of policy actions in response to the reality make sense as a consequence of these facts.

    yeah. i didn’t want to state anything, but it seems like giving air support to the kurds is the least we can do, if we did it for the libyans, who had far less of a civil society to fall back on. the kurdish polity is corrupt and not the picture of perfection, but it has a 25 year record now of being ‘on our side.’ that’s not always on the side of angels, but in this case it is. i am to understand one reason the peshmerga got whipped is that ISIS captured a lot of good american equipment from the iraqi army, and the peshmerga have not been so armed.

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  15. The surviving Mandaeans are city-dwellers, I believe.

    they are no longer in iraq after 2003. most are refugees in jordan or syria. a large number live in sweden. i think re: gnosticism it’s a general tendency or strain of thought which was very common in late antiquity that spanned many religious traditions. we know more about xtian gnostics, but clearly it was a common pagan and zoroastrian orientation too. the fragments of that milieu have persisted down to the present, and periodically explode out in popular religiosity (e.g., bogomils and cathars).

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  16. While I agree with you that these acts are “evil”, I also recognize that “evil” and “I don’t really understand your motives” are close cousins. Indeed, arguably the non-Islamic dictators, who know what is going on is contrary to their vision of the Good Society that they share with us are more evil than the Islamic State members who are carrying out their vision of the Good Society.

    another way might be to say that the baathist regime in syria is committing immoral acts, as they know what they are doing is wrong, though they believe that the ends justify the means. in contrast ISIS isn’t really committing immoral acts, because for them exterminating or converting heretics and pagans such as the yezidi are actions with fundamental merit, which they would gladly defend before their god. the means/ends distinction here is not relevant, because the value system is just so alien. ISIS has admitted that they are more focused on enforcing islamic law than enabling their subjects to live. of course the communists under stalin killed many too to enforce their order, but the ideal ultimate end was still a workers paradise of the living in the here and now.

    ISIS is attempting to recreate a pre-modern mentality. and in some ways they’ve done a good job. their behavior is reminiscent of the sort of fanaticism which produced wholesale mass slaughter in jerusalem when the crusaders conquered the city.

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  17. @16

    The comparison that comes to mind for me is between the legal system of the Roman Empire and that of the barbarians who ultimately brought about its collapse.

    The Roman legal system had a lot in common with our own. Knowledgeable jurists reviewed documents and heard testimony regarding facts from witnesses under oath in orderly pre-scheduled hearings and reviewed legal precedents and applied the precedents to the facts presented in an logical manner aimed at producing a morally sensible result given the facts. They had lawyers then, as now, and it was expensive and slow at times, but was fundamentally based upon determining a just result in a rational and fair manner. When the Middle Ages ended, Continental Europeans dug up the old law books and just started using them without any formal authorization to do so, and without substantive modification in a process called the “reception” of Roman law.

    The barbarians, in contrast, had a system of trial by combat that involved minimal receipt of evidence (mostly only in the lodging of the initial charges by someone competent in the barbarian community to do so) that pre-modern and alien, but was also quick, decisive and cheap by comparison.

    It was no surprise that the Roman system’s expense and delay contributed to the dysfunction of the collapsing empire. But, what was a surprise is that the barbarian system didn’t prevent their society from functioning and won over many converts from former Roman subjects.

    Part of the issue is that the barbarian system meted out justice in a non-transparent way hidden in social dynamics that weren’t part of the formal system illustrated psychologically, a bit, for example, in the Game of Thrones series. For example, part of winning a trial by combat when the employment of proxies is permitted, is that you have to win the support of worthy allies who evaluate your overall credibility and worth and don’t want to ally with people whom they fear will only betray them in turn.

    International warfare today is much the same. A key factor in who wins is who your friends are when the conflict arises, and who the friends of your enemy may be. The Libyan regime was bombed because it had no international allies, while the Syrian regime and rebels in Ukraine have not been bombed by foreign air forces and rockets because Western allied forces have not wanted to cross Russia which injected itself as a defender of the other party in the fight.

    I suspect that similar factors that are invisible to outsiders because they are not part of the formal rhetoric and symbolism of Islamist revolutionaries is at work in revolutions seeking the proclamation of an Islamic state.

    As the example of the 17th century Ottoman official and the Jacobin Christian converts illustrates, there are outs and social conventions that can blunt the practical reality of harsh rules in practice much of the time. Lots of people are sentenced to death in Islamic law and then end up paying blood money instead. Temporary marriage institutions in Islam mitigate what would otherwise be punishable as vice. Yes, Islamic states still use the death penalty and corporal punishment more often than the West, and yes, there are still many hundreds of honor killings a year that are ignored by authorities, for example. But, the very real bite is still much less severe than the bark.

    There must be enough that works in the Islamic state model, or at least enough that the smart vanguards of the revolution can convince their backers to believe will work, that it can win financial backers and mass support only partially obtained through force. Backers trade a harsh dawn of the regime and submission to a harsh ruler, in exchange for an implicit promise not to oppress their fellow ethnic community members and to govern in a manner that is not as corrupt as the secular regime.

    If that bargain can be kept, there is no reason to think that the Islamic state would be any less stable than the theocracy in Iran, or the Taliban who were on the verge of ruling Afghanistan when extreme U.S. and coalition intervention after 9-11 tipped the balance in the final days of that civil war and removed them from power.

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  18. Many that picture of those kids and babies nearly made me cry. Impotence in the face of atrocity against the innocent makes many angry. However Bush’s adventures showed the danger of acting on that.

    Out of curiosity how do you view Turkey? It’s become far less secular yet it’s economy is booming. Is it a model for the rest of the mid-east? Is anyone even emulating it?

    Once Syria stabilizes, in some form, I wonder what the consequences of these atrocities will be? Syria never was a great economy, but I can’t think but what it’s going to be a mess for decades to come. Nations that have suffered that level of atrocity along that wide spread a demographic never seem to recover well. (Are you aware of any exceptions?) Regardless of what emerges do you think the balance of power has been significantly shifted? How do you see future Turkish/Kurdish relations? It seems like Turkey and the defacto Kurdistan still are the best bet for a real functioning western democracy.

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  19. Re: #14: As a Ky. native (albeit W.-Central, rather than Eastern): Snake-handling normative?! Scary thought, that. (Stated as one with a dear, and very intelligent – incongruously – sister who is a devout Pentecostalist.)

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  20. 1#

    How can we know that the ancestors of the Iranian peoples came from Europe, even if we assume the Iranian urheimat is in Europe? Isn’t it possible that the modern Iranian-speaking peoples are mostly descended from pre-Indo-European peoples that were linguistically assimilated by northern invaders a la Greece? This hypothesis is more suggestive in the case of Greece because the Greek language has a significant non-Indo-European substrate.

    Not that I know, but I would think claims about the direct ancestries of people require more genetic and archaeological evidence now that we know large scale language replacement often took place without large scale population displacement or admixture, although there is always some admixture. (Case study: Turkification of Anatolia).

    Or perhaps, when you referred to the “Iranian peoples” you made reference only to the socio-cultural linguistic identity of the Iranian peoples, not to their biology.

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  21. would be any less stable than the theocracy in Iran, or the Taliban

    i think iran’s theocracy gets a bad rap. it deserves opprobrium, but it’s much more progressive than saudi arabia. the main issue is that it is an enemy of america, not that it’s culture is anti-modern and barbaric. normed to the region it isn’t at all. the taliban is a better analogy, but afghanistan is literally one of the most backward places in the world. syria and iraq are much more advanced nations.

    (also, remember that the taliban was backed by pakistan, so it’s victories in afghanistan weren’t just due to endogenous advantages)

    Out of curiosity how do you view Turkey? It’s become far less secular yet it’s economy is booming. Is it a model for the rest of the mid-east? Is anyone even emulating it?

    the ‘neo-ottoman moment’ is over. the economy is not doing as well, though foreign money needs to go somewhere. instead of building legitimacy for the state system by buttressing it with their own values the AKP has shifted toward autocracy. turkey is no basket case, but it doesn’t look like the model can be generalized. also, the demographics of the society haven’t changed. it’s just that the secular elites have been pushed aside from the center of the cultural conversation. it may swing back. if you look at WVS it doesn’t look like turkey is getting more religious. it’s just that it’s getting more populist, so the religious element is now flexing its demographic muscle.

    Nations that have suffered that level of atrocity along that wide spread a demographic never seem to recover well.

    paraguay?

    How do you see future Turkish/Kurdish relations? It seems like Turkey and the defacto Kurdistan still are the best bet for a real functioning western democracy.

    from what i have read the kurds and the turkish state have reached a modus vivendi. erdogan’s energies have not been toward anti-kurd nationalism, and the insurgency has died down.

    Isn’t it possible that the modern Iranian-speaking peoples are mostly descended from pre-Indo-European peoples that were linguistically assimilated by northern invaders a la Greece?

    the genetics seems to support this supposition. an analogy with anatolian turks seems appropriate.

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  22. I think that we can’t deal with these problems because we believe there are democrats in every country and can’t see that there are different shades of bad. Like Putin may not be perfect, but he should be appeased so he might help on Iran’s nuclear weapons. And Bashar al-Assad may be a killer, but when the alternative is ISIS…

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  23. #22, if we arm the kurds now it might cause major issues down the line. so i think it is good obama is thinking a little on what to do. OTOH, when a thousand babies are dying of thirst on top of a mountain you wonder what the point of it all is if we can’t stop that sort of thing…

    (the estimate is ~10,000 of the individuals on the mountain are children, so 1,000 babies seems OK estimate)

    the kurds are at least a known quantity. their de facto nation-state is a pretty good actor by regional standards, though it has its own demerits (see kurdish civil war of 1996).

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  24. I saw on TV today that the US only wanted to funnel weapons to the Kurds through the Baghdad government. Why we’re so committed to maintaining Iraq as a unified state, I have no idea. No force on earth will put that country back together again, long live Kurdistan.

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  25. Razib, thought you are generally anti-intervention. you didn’t seem too keen on the Syria deal

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  26. #24, that’s what i’ve heard too. it makes some sense, but as an empirical matter i think humpty-dumpty is broken. iraq may remain a unified state *de jure*, but unless we support one side to the exclusion of others, it will remain divided *de facto* (kurdistan is already de facto independent, and has been since the early 90s).

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  27. #25, the free syrian army isn’t a side we can easily support. all evidence subsequent increase my confidence in this. barring direct american conquest i couldn’t see any likelihood of an end to the slaughter, as opposed to just switching the victims around somewhat (eventually the sunnis will probably win, and lebanon will have to take all the non-sunnis as refugees). kurdistan is imperfect, but to a great extent it is suri generis in the mid east, at least for muslim majority nation (e.g., its state schools apparently enforce neutrality on matters of religion when it comes to teaching about the issue). i don’t see any future for mixed religious life in syria and northern iraq. multiple reports suggest that sunnis in these regions are often supportive of ISIS as the lesser of various evils. some of the sunni villages around sinjar are supporting ISIS and are no-go for fleeing yezidis.

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  28. sounds good to me. i’ll probably never be categorically against intervention. as a white, liberal/conservative atheist who’d probably get his head cut off in these types of cultures it’s hard for me to want to our soldiers to help them much but no one should suffer like THAT. and then, to sound quite cynical, there are other strategical benefits to wielding our power. never thought i’d see Yazidis trending on twitter!

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/07/photos-yazidis-christians-minorities-iraq_n_5658370.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592

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  29. most yezidis in turkey left for germany. so there are probably on the order of 100,000 in the west.

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  30. Your point about intergenerational conflict among Yezidis who migrate to the West is confirmed in this tragic story: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/prosecutors-focus-on-father-in-german-honor-killing-case-a-834752.html

    Yazidi teen killed by her family for having a relationship with German teen.

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  31. http://www.frontpagemag.com/2012/stephenbrown/a-new-sect-of-honor-killing-enthusiasts/

    if this is truly a common thing in their culture then i have more mixed feeling about the whole deal but whatevs – bombing has already started.

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  32. Razib Khan: Your article is informative. Indeed, IS leaves hell in it’s wake and effectively uses atrocity as a goal rather than a necessary means to moral ends. But the big questions remain how to stop them, how to eliminate IS, and why won’t Iran stand up? Your view, please.

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  33. But the big questions remain how to stop them, how to eliminate IS, and why won’t Iran stand up? Your view, please.

    like anarchism i think we’re in for a generation or two of radical islam being a disruptive force. so the conditions for the seeds of something like IS will e with us. i assume the air attacks can stop them for now. ISIS has cohesion and elan, but if the kurds are fighting in their territory for national survival i think that balances out. the key is that kurds need firepower to match the US weapons ISIS has. finally, since 2003 iran seems to have gotten good at letting america do its dirty work. why change now?

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  34. eyewitness in kurdistan:

    The divergence of perspectives between the communities is striking. How can Kurdish Muslims feel so at ease while Christians and Yazidis tremble with so much fear, the same place? It can be explained as the intimate knowledge of a kind of virulent personal enmity intent upon erasing one’s kind from the planet. When you know that an enemy’s sworn purpose is to kill you and wipe out yours—not merely over profit or resources, but because you are inherently wrong—a sense of vulnerability develops that others, who do not share the experience, cannot relate to.

    basically what i said, but with actual experience informing the situation.

    http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/sinjar-beginning-matthew-barber/

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  35. Fascinating piece. You hit the nail on the head here: “… even the superficial appearance of a unitary Iraqi state seems out of reach. That game is lost. We don’t want to admit it, but it is over.”

    Like Somalia, Iraq is a “corpse state,” yet we insist that it is not only alive but immortal. And thus we continue to betray the Kurds, just as we continue to undermine the effective but unrecognized state of Somaliland. By denying reality in favor of illusions, the U.S. foreign policy establishment proves itself to be delusional.

    See for an expanded discussion of these ideas, see http://geocurrents.info/geopolitics/myth-nation-state/geocurrents-editorial-genocide-yezidis-begins-united-states-complicit

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  36. I think the six decades of ME conflict in which the Muslim states have repeatedly been crushed is the cause of larger entities forming. Ideologically and territorially powerful states without internal contradictions are being called into existence. But this is happening while, as Natan Sharansky says “… the ideology of liberalism has become bound-up with multiculturalism, against religion, against nationalism. [...] Europe’s new ideology comes from John Lennon; let’s see the world without anyone having religion, or cultural identity, without state, without nationality. Europe has embraced this.”

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  37. What is happening in the Middle East with these ethnic cleansings is not very different with what happened in Central and Eastern Europe between the War of 1877 and Kosovo War.
    The end game will be ethnically and religiously homogenous states with the minorities partly killed, partly assimilated and partly exiled as the croatian ustasha proposed during WW2 and eventually did in the 90′s.

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  38. Religious diversity persisted in other parts of the pre-modern world, not just the Middle East. In fact, it was an official policy, handed down and enforced through official decree, of the Mongol Khans. (Come to think of it, Razib, perhaps your surname comes from Mongol aristocrats, Moghuls, who came to rule parts of India in the Middle Ages, though I think that name is of multiple distinct linguistic origin.) Part of the rationale for this policy of tolerance was to ensure that regions under Mongol rule did not fight each other, but it also reflects the syncretic nature of Mongol culture over the centuries: they simply picked and chose what was useful and dispensed what was not–this went for religion as much as it did for, say, cuisine, dress, and language–making very different and often conflicting customs their own.
    Another society reflected religious syncretism, and was therefore implicitly tolerant: China. The typical Chinese person incorporated beliefs and customs from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and local spiritualities into their own unique spiritual practice, changing and integrating disparate ideas to suit their individual needs. This syncretic approach at the individual level was manifest at the level of Chinese society as a whole, which has exhibited religious and spiritual diversity throughout its history. Indeed, it may account for the fact that Jewish populations in China (like the Kaifeng Jews) who have been present since the 9th century were not persecuted in the way they have been in other places in the world. Christians have not been as well tolerated, but remember that the Christianity in China has a strong and recent connection to Western colonization–Western missionaries appeared in China just as it was falling apart at the end of the 1800s (and those missionaries pursued a very vigorous program of conversion that was backed by extraterritoriality) so the Chinese understandably, probably unfairly, see Christianity as a tool for undermining and eroding the fabric of their society. Buddhism was also seen as a nefarious foreign influence in the 6th-8th centuries, but once the Chinese made it their own, it was tolerated. The Chinese appear to be doing the same with Christianity, recently declaring at least nominal support for certain Protestant denominations. Cynics may counter that they have no choice, as they wish to forestall protests and riots, but this lukewarm tolerance is consistent with their historical reception to foreign ideologies that gradually underwent universal acceptance.

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  39. he probably means indra and rudra, which were aryan gods whose characteristics were fused into the shiva persona over time.

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  40. I don’t know. Greece, Turkey, Iran, India – what made Indo europeans so good at assimilating people to their language? I can understand groups being victorious in battle, but by and large they often end up assimilating to the conquered, like Manchurians in china, everyone except the muslim invaders of India, the Bactrian greeks, mongols wherever they went etc.

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  41. I wonder if the East Asian tolerance towards spiritual matters has an HBD origin. Northern Europeans and Middle Easterners seem a lot more prone to idealism, which is the cousin of intolerance.

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  42. I wonder if the East Asian tolerance towards spiritual matters has an HBD origin. Northern Europeans and Middle Easterners seem a lot more prone to idealism, which is the cousin of intolerance.

    maoism? north korea? i’m pretty skeptical of the utility of such models because they can hardly ever predict anything robustly.

    organized religion has never been at the center of the culture in northeast asia. in some ways secularization happened early there insofar as the state cut institutional religion down to size.

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  43. I hope Razib is right and IS has a relatively short life. But what becomes of it? Do you really think the rest of the world will let this stuff go on without trying to counter it? Iraq War III with terrestrial drones and combots? Sandia Labs, Lincoln Lab, et al., will be chomping at the bit. Aerial drones are so last decade.

    Btw, if you watch this IS hi-def propaganda video– http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=efe_1403037495 — and read the subtitles, you don’t get the impression the average IS guy is driven by anything but thrill-killing.

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  44. The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Cohen, Kristof and Bruni | Marion in Savannah
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    […] ISIS represents a more distinctive form of evil even than a butcher like Assad. As the blogger Razib Khan argued last week, the would-be caliphate is “utopian in its fundamentals,” and so its ruthless […]

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  45. Errors in grammar and syntax made this a very frustrating read. Are there editors anymore?

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  46. About the extinction of religious minorities in the Middle East and more broadly:

    Philip Jenkins’s book, The Lost History of Christianity, takes the very long view of that phenomenon, in the case of Christianity.

    http://www.personal.psu.edu/faculty/j/p/jpj1/lost.html

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/march/24.52.html?paging=off

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  47. https://uk.news.yahoo.com/iraq-war-created-isis-concedes-david-miliband-111122567.html#PqUZ7yf

    Iraq War Created Isis, Concedes David Miliband
    i failed to consider this so i guess i’m def. in support of the intervention now. can’t just mess everything up and then leave them on their own, right?

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  48. Maoism was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, after which the Chinese became concerned with national interest and making money.

    North Korea is obviously a brutal Orwellian dictatorship, which is a phenomenon distinct from the grass roots idealism that we saw in the European wars of religion or the modern Middle East.

    Such a model could predict, for example, that Mongoloid and SE Asian groups that are Muslim will be able to form functional states better than Near East Muslims (Indonesia politically seems to be doing ok). I admit that this is sort of ad hoc, but that makes it no different than a lot of other theories about deep differences between civilizations.

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  49. don’t oppose it on a priori grounds. most theories about deep differences just don’t pan out.

    Maoism was a relatively short-lived phenomenon, after which the Chinese became concerned with national interest and making money.

    maoism has been argued to be a successor to a long string of moralistic/idealistic movements in chinese history. see: legalism, mohism.

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  50. What has always struck me about Chinese movements is how concerned they are with practical goods like order and harmonious living, rather than saving one’s soul in the afterlife or achieving an earthly utopia. The first paragraph for Legalism at Wikipedia describes it thusly:

    Chinese “Legalism” (Chinese: 法家|hp=fă jiā), [1] is defined in the West as certain autocratic [2][3] political-philosophical currents, reforms, persons, and writings focusing on the running of the state with an emphasis on the use of law, often with strict obedience to it. In the west they are often compared with political realist figures like Machiavelli.[4]

    I admit that I’d never heard of Mohism before, but a quick look at Wikipedia gives me this:

    Unlike hedonistic utilitarianism, which views pleasure as a moral good, “the basic goods in Mohist consequentialist thinking are… order, material wealth, and increase in population”.

    The fact that the state developed so early in East Asia could be related to the lack of organic idealism, which ultimately has an inherent basis in the population.

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  51. What has always struck me about Chinese movements is how concerned they are with practical goods like order and harmonious living, rather than saving one’s soul in the afterlife or achieving an earthly utopia

    you used the word ‘idealism.’ not sure that’s getting at what you are talking about. yes, chinese high culture has focused social and political order. there was a philosophical school of ‘logicians,’ but they had low status. i think part of the problem here is that generalizations like ‘culture of shame/guilt’ and ‘individualism/collectivism’ can mean too many things are are hard to make informative. so, for example, when it comes to religion northeast asia is sui generis, and has been for a long time. religious identities have been at the center of southeast asian national cultures for at least a thousand years. the one exception is that of vietnam, which is more sinic. but genetically southeast asians are not that far from northeast asians. so it has to be VERY RECENT evolution.

    (yes, indonesia is kind of getting democracy to work, but there have been multiple genocides within the last 50 years against the chinese based on ethnic-religious motives)

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  52. The Islamic State is right about some things – The Unz Review | therhinorceros
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    […] http://www.unz.com/gnxp/the-islamic-state-is-right-about-some-things/ […]

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  53. I was using the term “idealism” in the sense of a philosophy or religion which sacrifices material well-being for logical purity, some kind of afterlife, or an earthly utopia. This would mean Christianity, Marxism, and Islam. Probably Buddhism, although it lacks the logical rigor. Chinese legalists sound like the equivalent of 20th century technocrats.

    You’ve probably seen this from Peter Frost:

    http://evoandproud.blogspot.com/2014/05/rice-farming-and-gene-culture-co.html

    If the personality traits he talks about have a genetic basis, then it follows that they would have an effect on the development of religion, philosophy, and legal institutions. For example, a preference for formal reasoning would lead a group to battle to save the soul of the enemy, if you start from a Christian or Islamic premise. A society that embraced contradiction, however, would synchronize different faiths that may even be logically inconsistent with one another. The latter group might still engage in warfare or violence, but violence would tend to be employed in the service of practical goals. Of course, you can always find counterexamples, like China’s Maoist madness, but we’re talking about broad patterns of history.

    Also, I said that SE Asians, like NE Asians, seemed to be less prone to this kind of idealism. Thus, a country like Indonesia can have 200 million Muslims but its citizens are basically MIA from the global jihadist hotspots. That could be entirely due to culture, or it might be that Indonesians are less prone than Middle Easterners to go off to a distant land and fight for a caliphate.

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  54. I was using the term “idealism” in the sense of a philosophy or religion which sacrifices material well-being for logical purity, some kind of afterlife, or an earthly utopia.

    is that a technical term in philosophy of religion? seems like your are bracketing too many things together for it to be coherent.

    This would mean Christianity, Marxism, and Islam. Probably Buddhism, although it lacks the logical rigor.

    the emphasis on logical rigor varies a lot by type of xtianity and islam (and obviously this only means at the elite levels). e.g., the sunnis pretty much rejected greek rationalism with ghazali. the shia, especially ismaili, have retained it.

    A society that embraced contradiction, however, would synchronize different faiths that may even be logically inconsistent with one another.

    the societies never operated with any of this frameworks. it was always an elite thing. the cog psy of religion is pretty clear that on the mass level the basic psychological intuitions are the same.

    That could be entirely due to culture, or it might be that Indonesians are less prone than Middle Easterners to go off to a distant land and fight for a caliphate.

    again, none of this is making much sense to me. people in the middle east aren’t going off to ‘distant lands.’ saudis and egyptians going to syria-iraq are not going too far. in contrast in indonesia you have jihad thousands of miles away in ambon.

    to get a sense of why i don’t really think your model of religion is empirically valid, see: Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t. after you read the research reported here it is really hard to talk about ‘logic’ and ‘religion’ in the same sentence. there’s an aquinas every 500 years.

    but we’re talking about broad patterns of history.

    i know a fair amount of that, yes. i think the gap is smaller than you’d think, though there do seem to be robust differences. but it’s more multi-textured than the spectrum i am getting a sense from you.

    p.s. for biological evolution to matter it needs to effect a substantial number of people. so that’s why psychology of religion matters. if you can’t make your typology work at that level then it’s not biological evolution (could still be cultural though).

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  55. Beautifully written piece Razib. My viwpoint on Is is that the decapitations were entirely in the spirit of Timurlane that black spot on humanity if ever there was one! to prove a discouragement factor and induce fear and that they are seeking to involve and enmesh US .One of their kind was rumoured to mention they have a score to settle with the Americans in Kuwait .

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  56. “i think iran’s theocracy gets a bad rap”

    Just so. The Iranians are a fairly multicultural lot; they even have the last large Jewish population in the Islamic world (except for France that is). Iran would probably make a decent place to deposit the Yezidis if we lived in a sane world.

    Because we don’t live in a sane world, apparently the Yezidis and Sunnis are continuing their fight in the streets of Germany. Word of mouth from a reliable German; I couldn’t find this using the google machine.

    Fun fact about the Assyrian genocide: quite a few made it to the former Soviet Union; I briefly dated a girl whose family arrived there shortly after the Ottoman empire fell. They apparently became quite prosperous, as they do in most places they end up. Lost it all when the Soviet Union fell.

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  57. iran has a lot of yarsan, who are very similar to yezidi

    http://www.pdk-iran.org/english/doc/unhrc_iran_2002_minorities.htm

    (control-f yarsan)

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  58. I thought I should point out that the constitution of Medina was very tolerant towards pagans even. Though I realize no one in ISIS wants to hear that.

    Your point about the identity of groups like the Yezidi and the Assyrians is pretty valid I think. Last weekend I attended a reunion of Sudeten German refugees who settled in Canada in 1939 in a village called Tomslake. Between our flight from the Nazis before the war, and the expulsion of our relatives by the Czechs after the war, it is clear to me that within 20-30 years, our dialect and our culture will effectively be dead. Most of us (including myself) have converted from Catholicism to other Christian faiths or to atheism too. While this does bother me to some extent, I must admit that I greatly prefer the death of my culture to the death of my person.

    I hope people do as you suggest and take in Yezidi and other minorities as refugees. I hope others are given the same refuge my family was.

    While I do personally find some Yezidi beliefs “backwards” the Yezidi faith certainly hasn’t stopped the diaspora community from being successful in sport, in business, in the arts or in politics. For example, the Yezidi German politician Feleknas Uca has had a very distinguished career.

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  59. The Z Blog › War on STEM
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    […] must be false. Therefore, they are required to destroy all traces of these heretics and infidels. Razib Khan does a great job explaining this with regards to the current situation in […]

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  60. “But, it isn’t obvious, even when one is quite well informed about the reality, as Razib is, to discern from that knowledge what kind of policy actions in response to the reality make sense as a consequence of these facts.”

    Don’t fund or turn a blind eye to the funding of militias as a cheap form of regime change.

    “I saw on TV today that the US only wanted to funnel weapons to the Kurds through the Baghdad government. Why we’re so committed to maintaining Iraq as a unified state…”

    There’s a second possibility which is if Iraq is to broken up then the US doesn’t want the southern piece to end up allied to Iran so they want to directly control the process by which Iraq is broken up which means having pet leaders in place which means getting rid of Maliki first.

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  61. Links 8/12/14 | Mike the Mad Biologist
    says:
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    […] The Islamic State Is Right About Some Things (excellent) Russian Hackers Steal Passwords of Billion Users Kane and Chetty: Witnesses for the defense? Shameless Attacks Battle cry of the white man Put affordable housing for seniors in the new MLK Library How Dan Snyder Bought Off The D.C. Media Richmond councilwoman perseveres through hate speech The Rehabilitation of Martha Coakley: She was the most vilified politician in America. Four years later, she’s on the brink of a remarkable comeback. 40,000 Iraqis stranded on mountain as Isis jihadists threaten death: Members of minority Yazidi sect face slaughter if they go down and dehydration if they stay, while 130,000 fled to Kurdish north The economics of a McDonalds franchise Who Stole the Four-Hour Workday? […]

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  62. To me, this photo says it all as far as ISIS is concerned:

    https://lexingtonlibertarian.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/isis-3.jpg

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