In the Yemeni port city of Aden earlier this month, Islamists attacked a Catholic home for the indigent elderly. The militants, believed to be soldiers of the Islamic State, shot the security guard, then entered the facility where they gunned down the old people and their caregivers, including four nuns. At least 16 people were murdered.
Such atrocities are no longer seen as major news events. Most diplomats regard them — or dismiss them — as “violent extremism,” a phrase that describes without explaining. On America’s campuses, “activists” are deeply concerned about “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions.” Massacres of Christians in Muslim lands, by contrast, seem to trouble them not at all.
But honesty matters — or should. And accuracy is a prerequisite to sound policymaking. Christianity was born in the Middle East. Christians have survived — not without difficulty — under Muslim empires, caliphates and dictators for more than a thousand years in the Middle East. Now they are being wiped out by self-proclaimed jihadis in the Middle East. That’s genocide.
Members of Congress have been calling on President Obama to use that term no later than March 17 — a deadline that administration spokesmen now say may not be met because a legal review has yet to be completed. The legal definition of genocide: “Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
Adding a bit of pressure, the House on Monday passed, by a vote of 393-0, a resolution condemning the Islamic State’s “genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity” targeting Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and other religious and ethnic minorities.
“ISIS is guilty of genocide and it is time we speak the truth about their atrocities,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce. “I hope the administration and the world will do the same, before it’s too late.”
A second House resolution passed on Monday calls for an international tribunal to hold the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, client of both Iran and Russia, accountable for its numerous and egregious war crimes.
It should not go unremarked that the “cleansing” of ancient Christian communities from the Muslim world follows by an historical blink of the eye the expulsion of even more ancient Jewish communities from the same lands. In the years after World War II and the Holocaust, Jews throughout the Middle East were subject to intensified persecution.
Some will argue this was a reaction to Israel’s declaration of independence. But wouldn’t the best argument against the rebirth of a Jewish state have been to demonstrate that there was no need — that Muslim-majority countries would never countenance genocide as had so many Europeans, that tolerance would be extended to Jews and other minorities?
Close to a million Jews soon fled Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other corners of the region. Before long, these Jewish refugees and their descendants constituted more than half the population of Israel — the only nation in the Middle East that today guarantees minority rights, the only nation in the Middle East that today has a growing Christian population.
Despite that (or perhaps in part because of it), Israel’s neighbors still hope to destroy it. Last week, Iran test-fired two ballistic missiles. Along the length of one was written in both Hebrew and Persian: “Israel must be erased from the face of the Earth.”
You have to give the jihadis this: They are candid about what they believe and what they intend. Osama bin Laden frequently spoke and wrote of the obligation to fight “Jewish and Christian Crusaders.”
Justifying the jihad as defensive is a clever — though hardly original — tactic. In 1996, in the first al Qaeda fatwa declaring war on the United States, bin Laden wrote of the “fierce Judeo-Christian campaign against the Muslim world,” urging Muslims to “repel the aggressive enemy that corrupts the religion and the world. Nothing deserves a higher priority, after faith, as the religious scholars have declared.”
No, America, Israel and Europe are not at war with Islam. But, yes, there are those within the Islamic world determined to kill Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Hindus, Buddhists and others — “the greater Kufr,” as bin Laden called them, a term of derision for those who do not embrace Islam as the one and only true religion.
Soldiers may fight with more zeal if they hate their enemies or at least see them as less than human. But Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and inspires Iran’s current rulers, was not alone in regarding the slaughter of non-Muslims as an act of kindness.
“If one permits an infidel to continue in his role as a corrupter of the earth, the infidel’s moral suffering will be all the worse,” he said in 1984. “If one kills the infidel, and this stops him from perpetrating his misdeeds, his death will be a blessing to him.”
So the murderers of elderly men and women, nurses and nuns in Aden — a city named for Eden — may not have despised their victims or held them accountable for such grievances as the Crusades, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the collapse of the caliphate, or the invasion of Iraq. They may have thought they were doing them — and the world — a favor.
For journalists, diplomats, academics and policymakers to recognize this reality — that would be news. For Mr. Obama to acknowledge, as Congress is urging, that Christians in Muslim lands are today experiencing genocide also would be a step in the right direction.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.