The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing Campaign

Director of international charity says there’s urgent need for strategic response

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This article is provided by Sarkis Boghjalian, director of the US branch of Aid to the Church in Need.

I would like to start with this quotation from Dabiq — the online publication of ISIS addressing the Christian world—which says: “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women, by the Permission of Allah…”

Abu Bakr Naji, one of ISIS’s intellectual architects, published a book online outlining its strategy and vision. He writes: “Jihad is nothing but violence, crudeness, terrorism, frightening people, and massacring.” This is the blueprint of ISIS to execute its grand plan—this translates into religious and territorial cleansing of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East. 

There is no doubt that the Middle East has been set on fire; while the international community is watching, Christians and other religious minorities suffer human rights violations and religious persecution of the worst kind.

Are we witnessing a Christian genocide?

Article 2 of the UN Convention (on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)) defines genocide as «any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group and causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group…”

The acts of ISIS show clear intent – violent and brutal executions targeting Christians and Yazidis who represent distinct “national, ethnic, racial and religious groups” in Iraq. The intent of ISIS goes beyond destruction; It aims to erase the past, present and future of the Christians and Yazidis.

Of course, the International community faces a problem in terms of prosecuting a genocide case against ISIS. ISIS is not a country, and does not abide by any international law. The international community has not yet figured out how to deal with ISIS.

When the time comes, should ISIS be prosecuted by an “International court”?  This question creates a bigger problem for the international community, because it will require the investigation of certain countries that can be considered as “complicit to genocide” because they allow passage of fighters and weapons and provide other forms of support to ISIS, including funding.

It is also important to keep in mind that ISIS is deploying a kind of war that targets the collective psyche (the imagination and the emotion of the human beings), which also fits the parameters of genocide. This technique goes beyond the brutal physical force. It creates fear; it wages a war fueled by fear.

For the Christians in the Middle East, fear and a sense of abandonment is among the greatest crosses they have to bear. «We feel forgotten and isolated. We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?» Such was the prophetic plea by Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako I of Iraq, even before ISIS swallowed chunks of Iraq and Syria.

ISIS is waging an uncompromising war that amounts to religious and territorial cleansing of Christians and other minorities from the Middle East, and the recent event in Texas reminds us that ISIS is not just a regional threat.

The world must respond. We must not allow the annihilation of Christianity in the Middle East!

Sarkis Boghjalian is executive director of Aid to the Church in Need-US. This text is excerpted from his presentation at a May 7, 2015, conference in New York that was sponsored by the Hudson Institute, under the banner: “The Islamic State’s Religious Cleansing and the Urgency of a Strategic Response.”

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