The Obama administration maddeningly refuses to identify Islamists’ Christian targets as such.
Recall the harrowing images preceding ISIS’s brutal slaughter of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian men on the shores of Libya. In the lengthy official statement from the White House, nowhere did the word “Christian” appear.
On Sunday at least 70 were killed in the attacks in Lahore, Pakistan. Many of those killed were children and their mothers. According to media reports, a Taliban group has claimed responsibility for the attacks and declared that their targets were Christians celebrating Easter.
The Obama State Department and National Security Council spokesmen issued statements, both condemning the attacks, but neither mentioned the very thing that made those unsuspecting people targets—they were Christian families celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. This is not the first time the administration has chosen not to call Islamists’ targets Christians.
I noted the obvious omission, and in great frustration tweeted that the Obama administration should say that these were Christians attacked for being Christians. One person replied, “What purpose would that serve?” It’s a question that warrants a response.
First, an important point of clarification: I use the label “Islamist” because it defines those who claim to be followers of Islam and who seek to force onto others their view of Islam’s dictates in all spheres of life. These individuals, who claim to be Muslim, believe they can convert whole communities of people to Islam at the point of a sword, or coerce others to become Muslim when non-Muslims see what happens to those who do not adhere to this precise brand of Islam. Individuals who adhere to this brand of Islam are not only hostile towards those they seek to convert, their worldview is inimical to a free society, and specifically the U.S. Constitution.
I am not saying all Muslims are Islamists, of course. Therefore, I am not saying all Muslims are a threat to Christians or the United States. Americans should firmly insist on the right of American Muslims who believe in pluralism and preach and live in ways that honor the First Amendment to be afforded the protections of the same. The United States of America is and should continue to be the freest place for individuals to peacefully worship and exercise their faith without fear of physical harm or government obstruction or coercion.
We Can’t Fight What We Can’t Name
Back to the question at hand: what good is it to identify Christians who are targeted by Islamists for their faith by explicitly noting they are Christians?
First, calling Islamists what they are and their Christian targets what they are communicates to the American people, our allies, and adversaries that our government is aware of the nature of the threat and that Christians, in particular, albeit not exclusively, are targets for Islamists.
Yes, the Taliban and ISIS, etc., attack anyone who does not subscribe to their particular brand of Islam, but Christians are being targeted and massacred at an alarming rate. If the U.S. government refuses to acknowledge the nature of the threat for fear of offending non-Islamist Muslims in the United States, we cannot possibly devise an effective strategy to take out these groups where the threat has metastasized.
Likewise, naming the threat and those at risk shows that the U.S. government recognizes the belief of these Islamists is what is motivating them to brutal aggression; likewise, it demonstrates the U.S. government recognizes that the beliefs of the Christian targets do not motivate them to violence.
In fact, Christians’ beliefs motivate them to peacefully and lovingly serve and protect their neighbors regardless of their neighbors’ faith. These Islamists believe they can convert by the sword, but Christians know that conversion to Christianity cannot occur by force. To the contrary, conversion to Christianity is a matter of the mind and of the heart, and therefore it is impossible for one Christian to force the conversion of another.
What the Genocide Designation Means
Humanitarian and groups have been pressuring the Obama administration for years to call ISIS’s bloody persecution of Christians what it is and to use a specific designation: genocide. Congress unanimously passed a joint resolution recognizing ISIS’s carnage as genocide, and Secretary of State John Kerry belatedly recognized the same. Genocide is defined in law, and although it does not obligate the United States to do anything, it certainly carries with it great moral and political weight. The United States has rarely used the word. The last time it did so was when the George Bush administration did so pertaining to Darfur in 2004.
By employing the genocide designation, the U.S. government could leverage it to develop greater momentum with allies to increase security efforts to protect vulnerable groups and to alter rules of engagement to more aggressively route the Islamist groups targeting Christians. However, it seems as though the Obama administration in using the designation “genocide” did so more out of political pressure and does not intend to change its strategy or tactics to better eradicate ISIS and protect Christians or other peaceful, minority communities.
Another benefit of the government identifying the aggressors and the faith communities that are their targets is that it is a precondition for the government to take appropriate security measures at home. For example, how can government officials expect to engender trust in the American people that they are up to the task of discerning among prospective immigrants (or refugees) those who pose a threat to Americans, and those who will honor our laws, if the government is unable to utter the adjectives that describe those who are dangerous versus those who are peaceful?
Nowhere are Christians slaughtering Islamists because of their proclamation to follow Muhammed. But Islamists are slaughtering Christians because of their proclamation to follow Jesus. One is a danger to Americans, the other is not. Admittedly, it is more challenging to discern among Muslim immigrants, but this means questions about how they understand Islam’s application in a free society should be fair game.
Support the Courage of Martyrs
Last, identifying those Christians by their faith acknowledges their steadfastness to the point of death. To be sure, Christians, out of their love for their Lord, cannot but follow Christ and so will do so regardless of what the U.S. government condones and condemns, and regardless of their ruling government’s hostility toward them. But highlighting the peaceful and tolerant nature of those Christian targets and identifying them for their faith, of which they were willing to risk and in some cases give their lives, shows solidarity with them and their families, and will surely give encouragement to the universal body of Christians.
Some who watched the ISIS propaganda video have reported that those 21 Coptic Egyptian Christians were calling on the name of the Lord Jesus mere seconds before ISIS fighters martyred them for their faith. Those Pakistani Christian families were willing to openly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in a dangerous land. Thousands of Christians worldwide are in hostile places yet willing to proclaim their faith and love their neighbors in peace. Is this not worth commendation?
Recognizing good for what it is, and identifying evil for what it is, are necessary conditions for a just government. If the U.S. government wants to effectively prosecute a war it claims it wants to win, we must name the enemy and its targets, or we most certainly will lose.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said the 21 Coptic Christians were killed in Egypt. They were Egyptians, but killed in Libya. We regret the error.