“There had been public meetings in England, protests, petitions, letters – the whole machinery of democratic expression had been set in motion to impress upon the British government the need for action – and not a thing was done. Everyone was sympathetic – but no one was sympathetic enough. The British had let some few Jews in, and then closed their doors. America hadn’t cared enough, either. No one had cared enough. The world closed its doors and six million Jews were slaughtered.” – Chaim Potok, The Chosen
This haunting passage from Potok’s masterful work is eerily similar to a situation unfolding today: the systematic murder and enslavement of Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and the apathetic, often anemic Western response to this genocide – for it truly is a genocide.
What Constitutes A Genocide
A genocide “means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” including “killing members of the group.” ISIS systematically targets Christians, Yazidis, and other Muslims. There have been many reports of Christians, including children, being executed for refusing to convert to Islam. Yazidis have been systematically killed and buried (some buried alive) in mass graves. As of April 2015, ISIS’ bloody conquests have led to almost 15,000 civilian deaths – and, a significant number of these deaths appear to be motivated be ISIS’ desire to eliminate other religious groups.
Another genocidal action is “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.” ISIS’ actions meet this definition since the group engages in organized sexual exploitation, including systematic rape, forced “marriages,” and selling women and children as sex slaves. The exact number of women and children who have been exploited is unknown, but the number appears to be in the thousands. ISIS issued a statement that it is permissible to have sex with female prisoners who are unbelievers (i.e., Christians and Yazidis), as well as beating them and forcing them into sexual slavery. This statement shows that ISIS has a plan to implement systematic and widespread sexual exploitation of female prisoners, some as young as 9 years old. The West condemns these actions by ISIS – but does little else.
In addition, the insurgency’s kidnapping and subsequent brainwashing of children clearly fits the 1948 Genocide Convention’s “child transference” clause. ISIS repeatedly and systematically kidnaps children from Yazidi and Christian families and subjects them to intimidation, brainwashing, and forced conversions in order to radicalize and train the next generation of insurgent fighters. Recent reports from Iraq have shown abducted Yazidi children forced to behead dolls as part of their “re-education.”
Section C of Article II also stipulates “deliberately inflicting upon the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” is an act of genocide. How could the order to “convert, pay, leave, or die” not fit this description? ISIS has precipitated the worst multinational refugee crisis since the Second World War.
As of June 15, 2015, there are an estimated 4 million internally displaced persons wandering Iraq and living in refugee camps – many with nowhere to go due to ongoing warfare or being turned away from safe areas due to ethnicity or religious affiliation. These people need a safe refuge, or at least an increase in humanitarian aid, because the scale of this humanitarian crisis is staggering. People living in refugee camps are in dire need of food, shelter, and medical help. Many escaped prisoners of ISIS are in desperate need of medical and psychological help.
Finally, one of the largest determinants in international law regarding a declaration or ruling of genocide is proof of the intent to commit genocide. This was the hinge-point in International Criminal Court rulings on recent cases such as Bosnia, Sudan and Rwanda. Simply put, the group accused of genocide must have shown clear intent to destroy the afflicted group(s) in order for their crimes against humanity or war crimes to be recognized as genocide.
The Apocalyptic Ideology Fueling ISIS
The intent to destroy other groups who do not conform to its view of “pure” Islam is clear from the group’s official documents and publications, as well as the public statements of “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi is heavily influenced by the “intellectual godfather” of radical Islam, Sayyid Qutb. Qutb asserts that it is the imperative of Muslims everywhere to topple every government that is not based on a strict, medieval form of Sharia Law. This is part of an apocalyptic ideology meant to impose a cosmological order, in which the culmination of Allah’s view for the world is fully realized.
Put simply: every execution, every raid, every mass grave is born out of a pre-modern, non-secular desire to bring about the apocalypse.
In order for this to happen, the world must be purged of “heretics,” “devil-worshipers,” “unbelievers,” “moderns,” and “apostates.” The group has proven that it intends to continue this path through either forced conversion or absolute destruction and “drive the Khilāfah to continue expanding until it takes Constantinople and Rome from the Crusaders and their allies by Allah’s permission.”
Furthermore, while previous perpetrators of genocide often tried to cover up their actions, ISIS has proudly advertised its atrocities. A quick scan of the group’s social media campaign clearly illustrates this. No one today can claim that they are ignorant of the systematic destruction of human life and religious freedom occurring in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS. Yet the United States and United Nations have both fallen short of officially declaring genocide in the region.
How dare anyone say that the death of “only” a few thousand people (and the displacement of millions more) does not merit international indignation and action? Just how many would it take? Thirty-thousand? Fifty-thousand? Three million?
How long are we expected to delude ourselves before we acknowledge the truth of what ISIS is doing?
Why The International Community Should Intervene
When genocide was taking place in Darfur, the United States took a firm moral stand on behalf of those who needed the protection of the international community. Secretary of State Colin Powell realized the necessity of not only an official declaration of genocide, but immediate action and assistance. In testimony before the Senate Relations Committee, he said, “These people [in Darfur] are in desperate need and we must help them. Call it civil war, call it ethnic cleansing; call it genocide; call it ‘none of the above.’ The reality is the same. There are people in Darfur who desperately need the help of the international community.”
Now, as then, there are people who need the international community to take quick and decisive action.
Yet we are repeating the callous indifference of our forebears by failing to recognize this slaughter of innocent lives for what it is. Put simply, it is genocide. How can an ongoing genocide not warrant the assistance of the international community? Are we afraid that it might be too difficult or complicated to intervene? Will we acknowledge the nature of ISIS, and the true end of their ideology? Will the world continue to stand idly by until “enough” people have been killed? Must we submit the dictates of our conscience to some unspoken and unknown quota?
Just as in Darfur, the international community must realize that these people are in dire need of help. It is imperative that the international community declare the atrocities of ISIS are a genocide, and immediately act to stop them before vulnerable people living on the edge of extinction are completely eradicated.