American politicians and federal officials are still trying to get straight in their heads that confusing Shia vs. Sunni thingie, but it turns out that the Middle East has a whole bunch of living religions that aren't exactly part of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.
Sure, we've all heard of the Samaritans in Israel, the mysterious and pugnacious Druze of Lebanon, the heretical Alawites who rule Syria, the Lucifer-worshipping Yezidis of Kurdistan, the millions of angel-worshipping Alevi of Turkey, and the Donme, the crypto-Jewish followers of the False Messiah who wield much influence in modern Istanbul.
But according to this NYT oped "Save the Gnostics," in 2003 there were also 50,000 Gnostics, known as Mandaeans, who lived in Southern Iraq. They revere Adam, Noah and John the Baptist, and reject Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Wikipedia informs us, "While they agree with other gnostic sects that the world is a prison governed by the planetary archons, they do not view it as a cruel and inhospitable one." So, they've got that going for them, which is nice...
Wait a minute, did that just say "planetary archons?"
A planetary archon, it appears, is a demiurge, in-between humans and God, who created and rules the world, and does a pretty bad job of it. (It's basically the same idea as John Tierney's recent NYT article hypothesizing that our universe is just a simulation game, like World of Warcraft, being played by some superintelligent computer geek somewhere.) The point of the Gnosis or secret knowledge is to get around the layers of bureaucracy in the middle and talk directly to God.
But now thanks to America spreading democracy to Iraq, the Gnostics are being persecuted by the Shia Muslims and are fleeing to Syria. Whether they blame their fate on America or on a planetary archon is not specified. (Better not mention this term to Bill Kristol or he'll make it the basis of his whole political platform and worldview. The Weekly Standard will run cover stories on "America's Destiny: Apocalypse or Planetary Archonship? We Must Choose Now!")
Meanwhile, at GNXP, Razib chips in with "Obscure Middle Eastern religious cults - part n," in which he unveils the million or so people in Iran who are called various names: Yarsan/Yaresan, Kakeyi, Ahl-e Haqq or Ahl-i Haqq. They believe in reincarnation.
In the comments on GNXP, tommy asks about the Shabak near Mosul, who appear to be sort of like the Yazidis, but also like kind of Muslims, except they drink alcohol and have their own sacred book, written in Turkoman. The Sunnis are beheading them in large numbers.
Are we totally sure we knew what we were getting into over there?