mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Christians in the Middle East
The Obama Administration and the Question of Genocide

The Obama Administration is working to avoid acknowledging that a genocide against Middle East Christians is happening—even though the EU and Pope Francis say it is. As Nina Shea writes in National Review:

With pressure mounting, the State Department in October leaked word that an official genocide designation would be forthcoming but made clear that State would recognize only a Yazidi genocide and not one against Christians. This prompted Congress to mandate that Secretary John Kerry make a determination by March 16 on the precise question of whether “persecution . . . of Christians and people of other religions in the Middle East by violent Islamic extremists . . . constitutes genocide.”

While other administrations have committed the sin of silence where genocide was concerned, none has officially signaled that it believes a brutally persecuted and displaced minority is not suffering ongoing genocide. Yet that would be the effect of excluding the Christians from an official listing of genocide victims. Despite foreseeable harm this would cause these Christians, the administration appears on track to do just that.

The reason for refusing to say the g-word is the same as it was when the Clinton administration fought against acknowledging the genocide in Rwanda: When you use the word, you have a legal obligation to do something about the reality.

It’s an interesting world we are living in: The U.S. government brings down the hammer on a bakery run by (in our view, misguided) American Christians who don’t want to make cakes for gay weddings, but does its best to downplay the systematic destruction of Christian communities across the Middle East. We don’t think Reinhold Niebuhr, often cited by President Obama as an inspiration for his approach to foreign policy, would approve.

The government’s resistance to using the g-word is not a sustainable position, either in light of the facts on the ground or the sentiments of Congress. The State Department would be better advised to spend its energy and resources in developing policy options for dealing with genocide in accordance with U.S. and international law than in entangling itself in a discreditable and disingenuous effort to avoid using the word because it is inconvenient.

Features Icon
show comments
  • qet

    Sorry, but the word “genocide” has been cheapened by too many who are too indiscriminate in its use. It is a word of some power and people want to clothe their own causes in its glory. “Torture” has suffered a similar fate. Saying that an action is not genocide or torture is not an endorsement of the action nor is it tantamount to saying that the action is not bad or evil. One should be able to resist, oppose and bring to a halt (insofar as it lies within one’s power) all manner of actions which are evil without having first to pronounce them to be something they’re not.

    • Beauceron

      “It is a word of some power and people want to clothe their own causes in its glory.”

      Glory? Really?

      • qet

        Really. I chose the word deliberately for its paradoxical connotation. It may not be a good choice, I admit. These words have been debased, and not unwittingly. We live in an advocacy society where people imagine virtue to consist in adopting one or a few causes and doing everything they can in the way of PR and propaganda to draw attention to that cause (and, for many, to aggrandize themselves as the recognized spokesmodels for the cause). I mean, militant gay activists call the failure of the world to have found a vaccine and a cure for AIDS to be a genocide of gay men!! The only reason they would prefer that word is that it makes their cause seem more glorious; it is a way to elbow their way to the front of the viewing line of Bad Things Happening that demand people’s attention.

    • Anthony

      Well stated.

      • qet

        Thanks Anthony!

    • NYAttorney

      But the point is that the word “genocide” fits — in the Middle East the Christians are being killed because they are Christians in order to eliminate Christians in the Middle East. In Rwanda the Hutu were seeking to eliminate the Tutsis, and the word genocide was avoided (as the author notes) to avoid acknowledging a duty to defend the Tutsis. The word “genocide” may be misused, which seems to be your point (however inapposite here), but it has a definition under international law and we should not seek to redefine it or look the other way simply to avoid action.

      • qet

        If the word fits that’s because it has been stretched like a shoe on a last. The term was first used in 1944 to refer specifically to the Shoah. It was a race/ethnicity extermination/extinction concept. Religious sectarian killing has gone on for millenia and no one ever described that as genocide until recently, doing so not because the term properly fits but because of the halo surrounding it. Genocide does not only not fit this conceptually, it does not even fit it etymologically: Christianity is a species, not a genus. International law, which is neither international nor law, may well have joined in the distending of the term because those dealing in international law are first and foremost concerned with enlarging their own jurisdiction and are not particular about the means or the arguments. It is they, and not I, who have “redefined” it. And like I said, one can act even on matters that are not genocide, so the term has no necessary function.

  • Beauceron

    So we don’t use the word and it simply disappears.
    Wonderful policy.
    Look, the elite in the West is actively anti-Christian. It was fascinating to watch how the Left reacted when ISIS went after the Yazidis. They had been murdering, raping and enslaving Christians for months and barely a peep. But, boy, when they got to the Yazidi communities, even George Clooney got into the act.
    I think, by and large, the only problem the elite in the West have with the destruction of Christian communities is that it’s not happening in the US.

    • Eurydice

      Perhaps, if enough Christians are slaughtered they can achieve minority status in the world’s eye and, thus, become worth saving.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service