- - Monday, July 27, 2015

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, my colleague and the president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee keeps a close watch on the changing landscape of religious freedom here in the United States and around the world. As such, she listens to those who are leading in the discussion, those who seek to increase awareness of where religious liberty is under greatest assault.

One leader in this conversation is her friend, the former Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf. Last week, Mr. Wolf and an organization he helps lead called The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, called on President Obama to call a spade a spade and define the Islamic State or ISIS as an agent of genocide.

I asked Ms. LaBerge to join in with the conversation that Mr. Wolf began last week and to pen a column for us, to explain why these things matter and what we can be doing about them ourselves. What follows is Ms. LaBerge’s reflection on these things.

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When we first declared war on terror after 9/11, the current major social media platforms did not even exist. Facebook launched in 2004, YouTube in 2005, and Twitter in 2006. Now, the Islamic State advances its message and recruits Americans and other people to its cause through these platforms. In February, the State Department admitted we are losing the war with ISIS on the social media front. But instead of fanning a counter-flame of a grassroots social media effort, the U.S. and her allies instead set up a command-and-control headquarter that doesn’t even yet have a website or a YouTube page.

While the U.S. and her allies work on drafting what they want to say and how they want to say it so as not to offend anyone, ISIS continues to spew and spread its murderous ideology around the globe — on free-speech platforms created and launched by Americans.

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

 One side believes in a decent and orderly bureaucratic system, complete with checks, balances, and compliance with union regulations.

The ISIS cohort, however, believes in strict allegiance to a set of religious rules that govern individuals who are then free to act and post on social media without specific direct “orders.” It is a fully radicalized diaspora seeking to do murderous harm to any and all who do not see the world as they see it.

It’s time to openly acknowledge that what the U.S. administration likes to euphemistically call “a different narrative” is actually a religiously motivated ethnic cleansing of all those who do not follow the particular brand of Islam advocated by ISIS.

It is time to start speaking the truth and doing so plainly. What we’re witnessing is genocide, and at least one leader is willing to say so.

Last week, former Virginia Rep. Frank R. Wolf and the religious freedom group, 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, sent a letter to President Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that stated:

“Genocidal intent can clearly be seen in Islamic State’s ideology and mission which is directed towards the creation of a global caliphate that has been purged of every man, woman and child deemed to be an ‘unbeliever’ through either forced conversion or death. In Iraq, this has manifested most clearly in the insurgency’s actions against Christians and Yezidis. They have been killed, tortured, kidnapped, raped, sold into slavery, and forcibly removed from their homeland.

 Lou Ann Sabatier, communications director for the Wilberforce group, shared how their team spent five days in January traveling through Iraq on a fact-finding mission. They interviewed dozens of displaced Christians and Yezidis. They met with senior Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials, religious leaders and humanitarian organizations on the ground. Upon their return, they issued a report titled “Edge of Extinction,” warning that Christians, Yezidis, Shabak, Turkmen and other religious and ethnic minority groups face a looming genocide.

So, is it genocide or not?

Article II of the United Nations 1948 Convention says that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:


  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”


Knowing what you know about ISIS and their religious motivation to eradicate all infidels who do not follow their strict brand of Islam, is ISIS intent on “destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group?”

Right down the list, the answer is: Yes.


  • Do we know that ISIS is killing people who can be identified as Christian or Jewish or Shiite Muslim? Yes.
  • Do we know that ISIS is causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of those groups? Yes.
  • Do we know that ISIS is deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction? Yes.
  • Do we know that ISIS is forcibly transferring children of the group to another group? Yes.


Knowing all this, what more do we need to know in order to act? Even the United Nation’s High Commissioner on Human Rights acknowledges that ISIS equals genocide. In March, the U.N. released a report on the human rights situation in Iraq that states, “It is reasonable to conclude that some of the incidents, considering overall information, may constitute genocide.”

Both the genocidal intent of the Islamic State, as well as its systematic fulfillment of it through killing, kidnapping, slavery, infliction of bodily and mental harm, the prevention of births and the transference of children have been obvious to the global community for more than a year.

So, knowing what we know, what will we do?

While our administration dithers over the precise messaging for social media platforms that are driven by the immediate, what will we do?

Well, how about this? What if we all started calling ISIS “genocidal” on all our social media platforms? What if instead of waiting for state actors to work through notably boggy bureaucratic processes, we just started hashtagging #ISIS=Genocide?

Why are we waiting for the government to tell us what to think about the narrative ISIS is advocating? We know how social media works. So, why have been waiting for the government to man the social media front in this war when the truth is, the front line of social media has never been and will never be state actors?

If this is genocide — and by definition we all know it is — then the 1948 Convention demands immediate action to stop the destruction of human life and the desecration of religious freedom.

So, are you looking for something to tweet out about ISIS?

First, read for yourself the “Edge of Extinction: The Eradication of Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Iraq” report at https://www.21wilberforce.org.

Then, start by using the hashtag: #ISIS=genocide

 Possible Tweets:


  • We all know that #ISIS is set on the destruction of human life and the desecration of religious freedom.
  • #ISIS=Genocide and I’m not afraid to say so.
  • #FreedomWins (then link to any post that you have found informative or provocative in terms of what ISIS is doing).


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