By Andrew Harrod, PhD:
“Any failure by President Obama to recognize the ongoing genocide against Christians would be irresponsible, indefensible, and unconscionable,” stated Representative Chris Smith at a December 16, 2015, Capitol Hill press conference. Yet Obama’s State of the Union (SOU) did just that with respect to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), continuing his administration’s baffling refusal to recognize this slaughter while American awareness grows.
Appearing on behalf of In Defense of Christians (IDC) before about 30 listeners in the Rayburn House Office Building, Smith and others explained why the destruction of Mesopotamian Christianity merited the term genocide. “Within five years, we will see the death of Christianity in the place of its literal birth,” stated 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative President Randel Everett, who described individual atrocities he encountered while visiting Iraq. ISIS denied cancer treatment to one Christian woman unless she converted to Islam and told another “we are going to raise your child as a jihadist” as ISIS members took away her baby.
While most ISIS victims are actually Muslim, it continues a “soft drip of genocide over the last century” against Middle East minority groups, stated Institute for Global Engagement Emeritus President Chris Seiple. Representative Anna Eshoo referenced her Armenian and Assyrian family background and stated that “this is history in my family that is repeating itself all over again.” In Defense of Christians’ Special Advisor on Iraq Loay Mikhael noted that only 300,000 Iraqi Christians remain today from a community that numbered 1.5 million, 3% of the Iraqi population, before the 2003 American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.
Mikhael noted the 7,000-year history of his Chaldean community in present-day Iraq, predating Christianity and Islam, and how such Christians had been “integrated members of the greater Iraqi society.” Yet after 2003 “many of our Arab countrymen began to identify Iraqi Christians with the West’s intervention in Iraq” and made them a “scapegoat for their animosity towards the West.” Harassment and violence began Iraq’s Christian flight long before ISIS “waged a war on the nation of the cross.”
Everett emphasized that “genocide is the word that is going to awaken the world” to ISIS extermination of Christian and other communities. Genocide Watch President Gregory Stanton presented his empirical study of how the “G-word” galvanizes public attention and action, stating that “words matter. People act according to words.” Phrases like “crimes against humanity” are “just not enough. Those are weak words,” he stated, while Smith noted that “too often meek words have been used to justify meek action.” A genocide designation’s practical benefits include justification for refugee status and the arming of threatened groups, “which is always the best defense against genocide, just ask the Israelis,” Stanton stated.
Eshoo invoked history’s judgment in her appeal against passivity in the face of evil, stating that “this is a time where future generations, I believe, will measure ours.” “This solemn vow of ‘never again’…is extremely important to uphold,” stated Hudson Institute religious freedom expert Nina Shea, while Everett referenced American failures to stop past slaughter in places like Bosnia, Cambodia, and Rwanda. Specifically for Christians, indifference to suffering brethren gives a “poor witness to the world, like a dysfunctional family that tells others how to live,” noted Institute on Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley.
Yet awareness extermination of various groups under ISIS is growing, as indicated by 55% of surveyed Americans who recognized ISIS Christian genocide in a November 2015 poll mentioned by Eshoo and Shea. Mikhael noted that Iraq’s parliament had recognized ISIS genocide of various groups and former Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later made a similar recognition on December 29 while campaigning for president. Speaking at the press conference, Representative Jeff Fortenberry discussed his sponsorship of a congressional resolution calling for United States recognition of ISIS genocide against Christians and others.
By contrast, Shea asked “where are you” of Obama Administration officials. An open letter signed by her and others calling for a briefing on ISIS Christian genocide with Secretary of State John Kerry had gone unanswered. Such inaction contrasted with past humanitarian intervention advocacy from American United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Providing Shea no consolation, Obama’s January 12 State of the Union made no mention of rescuing Christians from genocide, a term whose policy implications would have run counter to his advocacy of diminished American global leadership. Americans “can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis…that’s a recipe for quagmire,” he stated, the “lesson of Vietnam. It’s the lesson of Iraq, and we should have learned it by now.” The next day, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein at the National Press Club argued contrary to the In Defense of Christians speakers that a genocide designation would not have changed American responses to ISIS.
Obama’s supposedly “smarter approach…says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies, but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us.” Thus in Syria “we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace,” he stated in an assessment that struck not just political commentator Charles Krauthammer as sheer fantasy. “Iraq and Syria don’t exist anymore,” Shea at the press conference paraphrased CIA Deputy Director Avril Haines.
True to past form, Muslims, not Christians targeted by ISIS, preoccupied Obama’s State of the Unions in which he obscured the Islamic State behind the never-explicated acronym ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). “When politicians insult Muslims…when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names” concerned him while invited SOU guests of Obama and other Democratic legislators pointedly included American Muslims, including some with extremist ties. Verbal defenses of individual Muslim dignity and protection of American Muslim rights, though, cannot substitute for the far harder tasks neglected by Obama of wielding American power in a dangerous world.
[su_box title=”About Andrew Harrod”]Andrew E. Harrod is a researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. He can be followed on twitter at @AEHarrod.[/su_box]