In recent months, ISIS has gone global — carrying out attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. But the Obama administration continues to resist confronting radical Islamist terrorism directly and labeling ISIS’s efforts to destroy Christians and other minority faiths as genocide.
If we’re going to defeat these terrorists, and we must, it is critically important that we are clear-eyed about the enemy we face.
ISIS is waging a vicious and brutal campaign, not only against Shi’a Muslims and fellow Sunnis who do not share its apocalyptic worldview, but against vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities who have no room in its caliphate.
Take, for example, the horrors that have unfolded on Iraq’s plains of Niniveh. Many know this region from the Old Testament’s book of Jonah. It has been home to minorities – including Christians – since the days of the disciples. Until two years ago.
When ISIS fighters overran Mosul, Niniveh and their neighboring regions, Christian homes and businesses were painted red with the Arabic letter “N,” for Nazarene. A holy site said to be the tomb of Jonah was blown up and churches destroyed.
Quickly, entire towns were emptied. Hundreds were killed and others enslaved, while more than 120,000 Christians fled. Last year, a nun who was forced from her Mosul convent testified to my committee that “the only Christians that remain in the Plain of Niniveh are those who are held as hostages.”
This carnage and chaos has become commonplace in ISIS-held territory. You’ve seen the headlines. Mass executions. Beheadings. Crucifixions. Rape. Enslavement of women and children. Last summer, the New York Times asked “Is this the end of Christianity in the Middle East?” It very well could be, if ISIS has its way.
But Christians aren’t the only minorities at risk of eradication. Last fall, our committee heard the harrowing tale of ‘Bazi,’ a young Yezidi woman from Iraq who managed to escape from an ISIS fighter who bought her as a sex slave. Many will recall ISIS’s siege of Mount Sinjar, and its massacre of 5,000 Yezidi men and boys in 2014.
The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed and ratified by the United States, defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy in whole, or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Clearly, the sickening violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other minorities in Iraq and Syria meets this depressing benchmark.
Yet more than two years after dismissing ISIS as the “JV” team, President Obama still isn’t taking the threat posed by these terrorists seriously enough. His administration missed a recent legal deadline to submit a plan to actually defeat and destroy ISIS. Meanwhile, our Kurdish allies still lack desperately needed weapons, U.S. airstrikes are averaging 23 a day – a fraction of what a serious campaign looks like – and the administration continues to drag out a process for making a formal designation of genocide against ISIS.
As Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I believe America must lead in combatting ISIS and all radical Islamist terrorism. In December, I led an effort by a bipartisan coalition of 30 members of Congress to urge Secretary Kerry to meet with a group of prominent religious leaders and experts seeking to provide detailed evidence of ISIS attacks on minorities. So far, the group has yet to get a meeting.
Enough is enough. The administration’s half-measures and ineffective policies in the face of ISIS’s systematic brutality must stop. We need a new approach, and we should start by calling ISIS’s atrocities what they are.
So this week the Foreign Affairs Committee will approve two resolutions: the first will clearly state that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic minorities; the second will affirm the need to end – and pursue accountability for – all war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, including those committed by the murderous Assad regime.
Entire communities are being slaughtered because of their faith. America cannot duck this critical issue any longer.