Flavin’s Corner

The Yellow Letter

I’ve been troubled by just about everything the Taliban stands for and has done since they seized power in Afghanistan in 1996 (ouch; thanks to the U.S.).  My knowing of their religious killings, mutilations, mistreatment of women, and the recent destruction of Buddhist statues, still didn’t adequately prepare me for their latest: making Hindus wear a strip of yellow cloth to identify themselves.  I regard the Taliban as punks with guns and wish someone would make them wear a yellow letter, like the one worn by Hester in The Scarlet Letter: A Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1850).  C would suit them.

[Note: As I’m unable to locate a suitable hyperlink to direct the reader to the recent story regarding the Taliban, Hindus, and the yellow cloth, I’m reproducing part of an AFP story to describe the situation.  Oh, I’m sure it’s copyrighted and my reproducing the following without permission is improper, but being clever and rewriting someone else’s words just won’t cut it.]

Wednesday, May 23
Hindu leaders unfazed by Taliban edict on yellow badges
Mohammad Bashir

6:40pm, Wed: KABUL (AFP) - Afghan Hindu leaders said today they were unconcerned about a new Taliban edict forcing them to wear yellow stickers reminiscent of the detested badge for Jews in Nazi Germany.

The order by the fundamentalist Islamic regime against the tiny hindu community has sparked international outrage.

But Hindu leaders said they were happy to carry an identifying mark that would spare them harassment by the Taliban’s notorious religious police over Hindus’ failure to attend Islamic prayers.

Members of the community, however, were even more apprehensive about a measure that will make them stand out even more in what the Taliban claim is the world’s purest Islamic state.

“This is not something new.  We reached an agreement with the authorities two years ago that the Hindus should wear a grey skull hat and a ring,” said Inder Singh Majboor, a Sikh and Hindu community leader here.

“There is no cause for concern in this,” he said.

The Taliban have defended the new edict, saying it will save Hindus from harassment during regular spot-checks when religious police herd Muslim men into mosques to check [if] their beards meet strict requirements.

“It is only to differentiate between Muslims and non-Muslims.  The Hindus should put a yellow piece of cloth the size of a thumb inside their pockets,” Information Ministry spokesman Abdul Hanan Hemat said yesterday.

The official denied reports that Hindus had been ordered to raise yellow flags on their rooftops.  Sikhs are exempt from the yellow badge order as they are already recognizable from their turbans.

Creepy.  Oh, many still use the classic line from John Houston’s 1948 film adaptation of the Berwick Traven's 1935 novel, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”  Traven was a smalltime anarchist and remains a most mysterious figure.  Anti-authoritarian past-times may be all the rage right now, but when common folk don’t have a choice and their lives are at stake, quoting an old Bogie movie is a little lame (sorry, RAW).  Yes, Jews were forced to wear yellow badges in Nazi Germany, ...and it wasn’t the first or, sadly, the last time they were so marked.  Damn it; it comes down to wearing targets! 

I’ve just finished reading The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars 1290-1320, by René Weiss (New York: Knopf, 2001), and while I applaud the author’s efforts, I feel like I just saw Saving Private Ryan again.  I’m more than a little numb.  All the violence...

My understanding of the Cathar heresy had focused on the infamous Albigensian Crusade of 1209 to 1255, with its horrible burning of 210 Cathars after the siege of Monteségur in 1244.  I regarded the Cathars as heroic philosophers standing against the Catholic church.  Women had equal power, some were vegetarians, there was something funny about their sexual habits, and I had formed a romantic opinion that these people were deserving of my admiration.  I was, and remain, horrified at mass murder in the cause of religion.  And, I was under the mistaken impression the Cathar movement had all but died out after Monteségur (not counting, of course, legends of connections with the Knights Templar, Scotland, modern Freemasonry, and all that secret handshake crap).  I suppose after reading P. K. Dick’s Valis , researching gnostics, and reading  The Nag Hammadi Library, I thought gnosticism was cool.  The Yellow Cross has opened my eyes and now I almost wish they’d remained closed.  Almost.

Weiss has written a history of the final phase of the Inquisition’s effort to extinguish the Cathars in the south of France in a manner familiar to anyone who reads military histories.  Many maps, photographs, a nearly unbearable attention to detail, and a long, slow build-up to the final sadness.  The book takes its title from the requirement of the Inquisition that all heretics wear yellow crosses to identify themselves.  Weiss makes it clear that many Cathars, especially the rich or well off ones, didn’t comply.

I’m still in awe that the Cathar movement continued after all those horrible deaths!  Weiss describes a movement of the upper and middle class, but seldom mentions a lower.  The Cathars hold that sex with one’s wife is a sin, so ...it’s okay to have sex with someone else’s wife?  They read St. John, but not the other gospels?  The followers raise money to buy the Perfects (the Cathar “priests”) the finest food, spices, cloth, and books?  It sounds like they traded one corrupt system in for another!  The Yellow Cross is an important work, though I'm just not sure why at this time.

It’s a given I regard the time of the Inquisition as one of the darkest for Europe and the Catholic church.  However, the hatred and the killing didn’t begin there, and it certainly hasn’t stopped today.  Our President wants religion to have greater access to federal money, but that’s just the money cult at work.  Sure, some today protest for the environment, against capitalism, or any cafeteria cause of their choice, but I’ve a terrible feeling religion will remain our deadliest obstacle to peace for some time to come.

Wearing an F,

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