By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Some panelists at a Sept. 9 forum on Islamic State atrocities want the United States and United Nations to declare the Islamic State’s actions in the Middle East a genocide.
”We failed with the Armenian genocide in Turkey. We failed in Srebrenica,” Bosnia-Herzegovina, where 8,000 boys and men were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb nationalists 20 years ago, said former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, now a distinguished senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.
”Will we fail again in the Middle East?” Wolf asked.
Some panelists referred to genocide as "the g-word."
”The evil of the past is upon us,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. ”The indifference and the willful inability to hear is something my own family endured,” she added. Her father, the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, was a Holocaust survivor.
”No religious group has been free of ISIS’ depravations,” Swett said. Christians, Yazidis and even Muslims who do not subscribe to the Islamic State’s ideology and worldview, have been killed, and women raped and taken as slaves. ”Silence is no option, nor was it even an option, for men and women of conscience,” she said.
Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour of Brooklyn, New York, although not a panelist, was invited to stand and offer remarks.
”There has to be an us-vs.-them,” Bishop Mansour said. For the Islamic State, he added ”the ‘us’ isn’t just Christians. It’s anybody who thinks differently. … These totalitarian regimes have it in for everybody.”
”We need to bring ourselves together to talk about the crime” and not merely the concept of genocide, said Catholic University of America law professor Robert Destro. ”To do an effective military prevention of genocide, you have to surround the targets and keep the bad guys from getting to them.”
Destro said, ”We need a court” to determine whether genocide has occurred, suggesting the creation of an Arab court of human rights as one possible judicial vehicle. ”I don’t want us to be 10 years down the road and say, ‘We don’t have any convictions,”’ he added.
Aram Suren Hamparian, head of the Armenian National Committee of America, warned of Islamic State’s power during the panel discussion, ”ISIS,
Genocide, and an International Response,” held at the National Press Club. The Islamic State is also known as ISIS.
”The perpetrators of genocide know that if they have sufficient power and sufficient strength, they’ll be able to get the West to back off,” Hamparian said. ”As long as we treat genocide as a political commodity, we’ll fall silent again and again.”
Genocide Watch founder Gregory Stanton, a research professor in genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University in Virginia, said the Islamic State resembles communism in that it serves as an alternative to disaffected young people in a materialistic society. But the Islamic State’s desire to return to a "golden age" of Islam is reminiscent of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge trying to restore an 11th century system of governance to the Asian nation -– and wound up killing 25 percent of its people in the process.
”We have to somehow undermine their ideology,” Stanton said of Islamic State, adding that even ”Russia and China are at last as afraid of ISIS as we are” and would not veto a U.N. Security Council resolution against the Islamic State.
”We have to start using the g-word. This is genocide,” Stanton said.
”We need to be the leaders on this issue,” said Kirsten Evans, executive director of In Defense of Christians, sponsor of a Sept. 9-11 summit in Washington that included the panel discussion. As for governments and international organizations, Evans said, ”they will have to follow.”
The issue of military intervention to stop Islamic State militants, Evans added, is ”one that governments are going to have to weigh, and weigh heavily.”
Using citizen action to convince governments to stand up to the Islamic State has little precedent, although panelists cited the effort led by American citizens to boycott and divest from the apartheid state of South Africa in the 1980s as a notable example.
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