WASHINGTON ((BP, RNS) — The Islamic State’s (ISIS) murderous campaign against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East has officially been labeled genocide. The U.S. State Department’s declaration provides hope for help in the crisis, according to Southern Baptist and other religious leaders fighting to end the killings.
In his March 17 announcement, Secretary of State John Kerry said it is his judgment that ISIS, also known as Daesh, “is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.”
ISIS, he said, “is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology and by actions — in what it says, what it believes and what it does. Daesh is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities.”
Kerry’s report clears up concern that the State Department might exclude Christians in the genocide label, as reported in the March 10 issue of The Alabama Baptist.
The U.S. House of Representatives also unanimously passed a resolution March 14 that condemned the campaign against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East as “crimes against humanity,” “war crimes” and “genocide.” The resolution called on all governments to do the same.
A 1948 United Nations treaty defines genocide as murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
“Naming these crimes is important,” Kerry said. “But what is essential is to stop them. That will require unity in this country and within the countries directly involved.”
Religious liberty leaders said support for and protection of religious minorities threatened by or suffering at the hands of ISIS must continue.
Chaldean Catholic priest Douglas al-Bazi, who serves refugees in Irbil, Iraq, is one who was on hand for the announcement.
Not only has the priest witnessed terrorism escalate against the Christian community in Iraq, he has personally endured acute persecution. In 2006, while serving a parish in Baghdad, he was taken hostage, chained, blindfolded and tortured for nine days. Terrorists smashed his nose and broke his teeth with a hammer.
“What’s killing my people, there are two things,” said al-Bazi. “The sadness, because we feel we are alone. We feel that we are being forgotten … from the international community. And what we are looking for? Just actually to have a future. We just want to live in peace.”
Asked about the implications of not calling this evil genocide, al-Bazi was clear: “To not say the truth, this means you are giving to the terrorists a green light: Go ahead and kill the Christians.”
But with the latest announcement, al-Bazi is hoping for a similar signal to what President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Evil Empire” speech did for former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky and other prisoners in the Soviet gulag.
“For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them and the beginning for us,” recalled Sharansky in a 2004 interview.
He and fellow prisoners communicated the news between cells with taps on walls and toilets. They understood immediately that the truth about the Soviet Union would resound around the world: Reagan’s moral condemnation made indifference toward Soviet oppression unthinkable.