Heirs to forgotten kingdoms

forgotten kingdomsAs we know, the war-torn Middle East is in a bit of a mess today. Gerard Russell was a British diplomat in various countries of the region for many years, and took a particular interest in some of its minority religions. His book of the above title reflects on these: Mandaeans, Yazidis, Zoroastrians, Druze, Samaritans, Copts, Kalasha.

The remarkable thing is that communities practicing these religions have survived for thousands of years, including long periods of Islamic dominance. Russell points out that in fact Islam has proved to be more tolerant in the Middle East than has Christianity in Europe,  where heretical and the so-called pagan religions were all but eliminated, notably through the Catholic Inquisition (e.g. Cathars).

Today, however, in the current environment of conflict, the survival of these communities is very much in doubt – for example the recent problems of the Yazidis and Copts have had wide publicity. Russell finds evidence that some members of the communities have found sanctuary in the US, but cultural dilution seems almost inevitable in such cases.

This readable and interesting book is written very much from the author’s personal experience, and is all the better for that. Worth reading if the subject appeals. I learned a lot about the various faiths. Russell has captured a picture of a disappearing world.

The message of the need for tolerance of the faith and beliefs of others is never ending.

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