The courage to call it genocide

Mankind’s history is marked by more genocides than we would like to admit. In America, our response in many of these episodes, from the Holocaust to Rwanda, has been far from stellar. During the former, we turned away and slowed the admission of Jewish refugees; during the latter, we ignored it altogether. 

Despite the pledge of “never again,” today another genocide is being ignored. Iraqi and Syrian Christians – and other religious minorities – in the Middle East are under attack from ISIS and its allies. They are being methodically slaughtered, sexually enslaved, and driven from the very lands where their religions took root almost 2,000 years ago. And still, the United States has yet to formally recognize this as genocide.  

Thankfully, in the coming days we have an opportunity to right this wrong. 

This month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed H. Con. Res. 75, which has more than 200 bipartisan sponsors. Passage by the full House is expected soon of this resolution that declares the “atrocities against Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities” a genocide.

The State Department now needs to move swiftly as well.  

State has a congressionally mandated March 17 deadline by which to make a genocide determination.  

Tens of thousands of Americans have signed a petition calling on our government to stand with these innocent men, women, and children in this way. We wholeheartedly agree with Secretary Kerry who said in 2014, “ISIL’s campaign of terror against the innocent, including Yazidi and Christian minorities, and its grotesque and targeted acts of violence bear all the warning signs and hallmarks of genocide.” 

The UN’s Genocide Convention defines this crime as killing and certain other acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”  

ISIS’s actions against Christians and other vulnerable minorities meets the definition of genocide. The group assassinates Church leaders; conducts mass murders; tortures and kidnaps for ransom; destroys churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and artifacts; rapes Christian girls and women; and practices forcible conversion to Islam. With each of these, ISIS has proven its intent to eradicate Christianity from its ancient homelands.  

Sadly, there is no evidence of Christianity left in any region ISIS now controls.  

These actions are not hidden. ISIS’s own statements – including in its magazine – take credit for the mass murder of Christians and express ISIS’s intent to eliminate Christian and other minority communities from the Caliphate.  These stories have haunted our news cycle for years. And this genocidal campaign is far from over. 

Genocide is the word that legally and morally defines what these people are suffering. Presidential candidates of both parties agree. Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFighting for affordable energy could remake presidential race Trump claims Democrats are making up polls Veterans group targets Toomey with new ad MORE, Ted CruzTed CruzJuan Williams: When WikiLeaks leaked my cell number 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Is Georgia turning blue? MORE, John Kasich and Marco RubioMarco RubioJuan Williams: When WikiLeaks leaked my cell number 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race New York Times endorses Rubio's rival MORE have all declared their support for this designation. So has Pope Francis. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (on which one of us serves) did so, and the European Parliament did as well. The European resolution passed last month calls for those responsible for committing genocide against ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians, in Syria and Iraq to be brought before criminal courts for violations of crimes against humanity. This is historic. It is the first time the European Union has recognized an ongoing situation as a genocide.  

The Middle East is in the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises in modern history. Hundreds of thousands have been killed. Millions see no choice but to flee their homes. And Christians and other religious minorities have been targeted for genocidal elimination. 

The United States is the world’s leading defender of persecuted minorities, and for hundreds of years has been a safe-haven for those fleeing religious persecution. In fact, our country was built by men and women fleeing oppression. Our leadership and moral standing in the world requires us to acknowledge this genocide in Iraq and Syria. 

In the face of mass graves, men in orange jumpsuits on the beach, kidnapping, rape, and killing, will we have the courage to call genocide by its name?  

We did the right thing in Darfur, but the memory of our missteps in Rwanda and during the Holocaust still haunt us. Here, we can still do the right thing, while it still matters, and while lives can still be saved.


Anderson is CEO of the Knights of Columbus, a New York Times bestselling author and a former member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Mark is assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and battalion professor of the Navy ROTC program there. He is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.