A Belated Recognition
Kerry: ISIS is Committing Genocide Against Christians

The Secretary of State has formally recognized that ISIS is committing genocide against the Middle East’s Christians. The Washington Post reports:

Responding to a March 17 deadline set by Congress late last year, Kerry issued a finding that largely concurred with a resolution passed unanimously Monday night by the House of Representatives declaring the Islamic State guilty of genocide. The vote was 393 to 0.

Kerry said a review by the State Department and U.S. intelligence determined that Christians, Yazidis and Shiite groups are victims of genocide by the radical al-Qaeda offshoot, a Sunni Muslim group also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, its Arabic acronym.

In a statement read to reporters at the State Department, Kerry said that in his judgment, “Daesh is responsible for genocide” against the groups.

Kerry said that “Daesh is genocidal” in its actions and overall policy and that the group “has self-defined itself as genocidal.” He said that “we must hold the perpetrators accountable,” adding: “Naming these crimes is important, but what is essential is to stop them.”

It’s one thing to say that, though, and it’s another thing “to stop them.” Ultimately, the U.S. has few easy and palatable options at this point, and that sad state of affairs is a direct result of not intervening much earlier in Syria, when the conflict was still readily containable. And even Kerry’s recognition, while welcome, is decidedly belated. In fact, until yesterday, reports seemed to indicate that State would delay the legally-mandated acknowledgement to avoid precisely the “so what are you doing about it” question. Others have been speaking out about the issue for months:

The Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a report last year saying its investigators had found evidence that Yazidis — an ancient faith made up of mostly ethnic Kurds — were victims of genocide in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State. The Catholic organization Knights of Columbus last week released a 280-page research document highlighting Christians as victims of ISIS genocide.

Dozens of members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars signed a document last fall saying it believed the Islamic States has perpetrated genocide against “Chaldean, Assyrian, Melkite Greek and Coptic Christians; Yazidis, Shia Muslims, Sunni Kurds and other religious groups.”

And our own Walter Russell Mead wrote on the topic in the Wall Street Journal last May, following an appearance at a Hudson Institute event with Cardinal Dolan and Middle Eastern clergy:

The numbers are stark. Almost 1.5 million Christians lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Between the U.S.-led invasion that toppled his regime in 2003 and the rise of Islamic State, three-fourths of the country’s Christians are believed to have fled Iraq or died in sectarian conflict. The carnage continues. Of the 300,000 Christians remaining in 2014, some 125,000 have been driven from their homes within the past year, according to a March report on “60 Minutes.”

Almost a third of Syrians were Christian as recently as the 1920s, but only about 10% of the country’s 22 million inhabitants at the onset of the current civil war were members of Christian communities. That long and slow relative decline has accelerated as hundreds of thousands of desperate Christians, along with millions of their Muslim fellow citizens, flee the fanaticism of Islamist rebels and the brutality of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.[..]

The process of murder and “religious cleansing” may well continue until, for all practical purposes, the Christians of these countries simply disappear. Other Christian populations in the Middle East have been almost entirely wiped out or displaced. In 1900, most of Constantinople’s residents were Christian; today, of Istanbul’s population of some 14.4 million people, fewer than 150,000 identify with any faith other than Islam.

The years ahead may bring a similar fate to other Christian communities, consumed by the fires of fanaticism. But the risk is not just regional: The loss of a meaningful Christian presence in the Middle East could further polarize relations between Christians and Muslims around the world—and bring us a step closer to the kind of “clash of civilizations” that no sensible person wishes to see.

As Walter wrote, one way to understand the current disorder in the Middle East is as the resumption of the national wars of identity that from circa 1870-1945 accompanied the break-up of the four great empires in Eastern Europe and the Middle East: Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire. These identity wars were and are some of the most destructive and dangerous of all conflicts. In light of today’s news, it’s well worth going back to read the whole thing.

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