By Kirsten Powers
December 7, 2015
Syrian refugees pray in Beirut in February 2015 (Photo: Anwar Amro, AFP/Getty Images)
In October, Islamic State militants in Syria demanded that two Christian women and six men convert to Islam. When they refused, the women were publicly raped and then beheaded along with the men. On the same day, militants cut off the fingertips of a 12-year-old boy in an attempt to force his Christian father to convert. When his father refused, they were brutalized and then crucified.
This has become the plight of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS. Beheadings, crucifixions andenslavement are visited on those who won't renounce their religious beliefs. The lucky ones are murdered in more mundane ways or driven from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
This year, we’ve seen a Newsweek cover exclaiming, “The New Exodus: Christians Flee ISIS in the Middle East,” and a New York Times piece asking, “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?” The progressive
Center for American Progress noted in a March report, “Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world are disappearing in the very lands where their faith was born and first took root.”
One of the authors of that report, Brian Katulis, has joined forces with a diverse group of Christian leaders to urge the State Department to recognize what everyone else seems to see: There is an ongoing genocide against Middle Eastern Christians at the hands of radical jihadists.
In a letter sent to the State Department on Friday, a wide range of leaders — including the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference — requested a meeting with
Secretary of State John Kerry to make this case. (They've received no response.) The matter is urgent as the State Department is reportedly poised to designate ISIL’s attacks on the Yazidi people of Iraq as a genocide.
There is no question that the
Yazidis — who practice an ancient religion that includeselements of Islam and Christianity — deserve the designation. But so do Christians, along with other minority religious groups in the Middle East. A 2014 United Nations resolution noted that while many members of religious and ethnic minorities are suffering at the hands of ISIL, Christians and Yazidis deserved special mention.
Indeed, ISIL warned Christians in a video, “You will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam.” Its militants or their affiliates have murdered or claimed credit for killing Christians in Syria, Nigeria, Iraq and Libya.
Invoking the “g word” to recognize this fact is not just a matter of semantics. “Groups that have been designated as genocide victims are much more likely to receive military protection, including arming and training their militias for self-defense, which is always the best defense against genocide,” Gregory Stanton, the former president of the
International Association of Genocide Scholars, told me. “Members of such groups are also much more likely to receive preferential treatment as bona fide refugees under the U.N. convention and protocols on the status of refugees.”
The State Department’s disinterest in including Christians in its potential genocide designation appears to rely on a recent Holocaust Memorial Museum report asserting that, unlike Yazidis, Christians are not suffering from genocidal attacks because ISIL gives them the “option of paying the jizya (tax) to avoid conversion or death” because they, like Jews, are “people of the book.”
Unfortunately, this does not reflect reality. The
Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea — a renowned religious persecution expert — explained to me: “In most examples, there is no jizya option (for Christians) and, when there is, the ISIL tax is so ruinous that eventually a family’s property and even children are taken and all are forced to convert to Islam or killed.”
ISIL doesn’t want to co-exist with Middle Eastern Christians. It wants to eliminate them. Let’s stop pretending otherwise and call this what it is: a genocide.
Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA TODAY and is author of The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech.