Leaders call for United States to declare ISIS persecution of Christians as ‘genocide’

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Maureen Boyle, Special to the Standard, Special to the Standard
Religious leaders, members of Congress and Middle East scholars are strongly urging the U.S. government to officially declare the ongoing persecution and targeted mass killing of Christians at the hands of ISIS in Iraq and Syria as genocide.

“We are here today because ISIS continues to commit genocide against Christians, and because the White House is considering a public genocide declaration that would exclude Christians,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. “Any failure by President Obama to recognize the ongoing genocide against Christians would be irresponsible, indefensible, and unconscionable.”

In Defense of Christians, an organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of Christians and Christian culture in the Middle East, sponsored a Dec. 16 gathering on Capitol Hill to support a bipartisan congressional resolution (H. Con. Res. 75) denouncing the atrocities against Christians and other religious minority groups in Iraq and Syria and declaring such acts as “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” and “genocide.”

“We have never been as close to seeing an end to Christianity in the Middle East than we are today,” said Randel Everett, president of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and a longtime Christian pastor.

He called for urgent and swift action to prevent and end the forced conversions to Islam, torture, rape, displacement, kidnappings, crucifixions, and beheadings. “There is no end to the horrible stories…Within five years, we will see the death of Christianity in the place of its birth,” he said. “…Genocide is the word that will awaken the world.”

Nina Shea, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom-Hudson Institute and a human rights lawyer, said a letter signed by Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl and other Christian leaders and scholars, including Robert George and Mary Ann Glendon, was recently sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking for an opportunity to brief him on the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

She also cited a recent Marist poll, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, that found 55% of Americans believe Christians are undergoing a genocide in Iraq and Syria.

The current genocide did not start with the rise of ISIS, said Shea, but was an after-effect of the American invasion of Iraq, which spurred heightened sectarian violence and resentment toward Christians leading to mass killings, kidnappings, and attacks on churches in Iraq.

Shea called on the Obama administration to recognize the genocide in order to aid future issues of land, resettlement and reparations that will be needed to preserve the ancestral Christian presence in the area.

Shea said that American Christians are urged to pray and send aid to help their Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East, but political advocacy is also needed. She said elected officials must be called upon to take moral and political leadership to ensure that the safety and preservation of all religious minorities in Iraq and Syria is a priority of U.S. foreign policy.

“To President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Rice, Ambassador Power, I ask, where are you?” she said. “And to Speaker Paul Ryan, I say, ‘Pass House Resolution 75 now!’”

In August of 2014, the Iraqi parliament decried the atrocities and crimes against humanity targeting religious minorities under ISIS as genocide. Many others have done so as well, including Pope Francis, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and a leading international association of genocide scholars.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., co-chair of the caucus for religious minorities in the Middle East, spoke of the systematic extermination of Christians and other religious minorities under ISIS and the obligation of the United States to exhibit moral leadership on the issue.

“Future generations will look at us and ask ‘Did they do anything?’” Rep. Eshoo said. As the only member of Congress of Armenian and Assyrian decent, she added, “This is history for my family that is repeating itself all over again,” referencing the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., who in September introduced House Con. Resolution 75, said, “We cannot underestimate the moral authority the United States has when we simply utter what is true.”

Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, emphasized the importance of the use of the word “genocide,” in getting international recognition since words like “ethnic cleansing” or “atrocities” have no international legal recognition.

Loay Mikhael, an In Defense of Christians advisor on Iraq and an Iraqi Christian, said, “ISIS has not hesitated to declare to the world that it has waged a war on ‘the nation of the cross,’ beheading Coptic Christians, Ethiopian Christians, and Assyrian Christians, before the global public, simply because they would not convert to Islam… If we don’t do anything urgently, Iraq will be empty of Christians.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., called for special protection for persecuted religious communities under ISIS by granting easier access to asylum in the United States. “It is not about a test of religion,” he said, “It is about special protection for victims of targeted and systematic persecution.”