It is genocide

By 
  • February 22, 2016

Speaking on Ash Wednesday Cardinal Thomas Collins said the start of Lent was not a day that Christians in Syria could line up for the blessing of ashes. Instead, the ashes in their lives are what remains of the churches and homes they fled at gunpoint.

These forsaken people are victims of a campaign that threatens the very existence of Christianity in the Middle East. Along with others in the region, they face nothing less than genocide as jihadists fight to purge Christians from lands they’ve inhabited since the time of the Apostles.

So the European Union Parliament should be commended for a unanimous resolution declaring that the brutal cleansing of Christians across northern Syria and Iraq constitutes genocide. And Europe’s association of bishop conferences should likewise be applauded for endorsing that declaration, which came many months after Pope Francis first invoked the g-word to describe the situation.

There can be little argument that the scorchedearth methods of Islamic State fundamentalists constitute a genocide. Less clear is why it took so long to acknowledge and why the United Nations and individual states, including Canada, are still shuffling their feet on the question.

The UN describes genocide as wilful acts intended to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. These acts encompass more than killing. They include causing serious physical or mental harm, creating conditions that result in a group’s destruction and forcibly removing children from the group. Islamic State fighters have murdered thousands and been particularly merciless towards Christians as these militants systematically carve out a self-proclaimed caliphate by means of torture and slaughter of men and older boys, kidnap and sex enslavement of women and girls and destruction of churches and monasteries. Death squads also target non-Christians, but the disproportionate and methodical cleansing of the region’s once-robust Christian population, eradicating entire communities, is a textbook case of genocide.

Yet the Canadian government, among others, continues to tip-toe around attaching the term genocide to these horrors. Why the reluctance can only be guessed. But it must change. The region is in such desperate need of sweeping political, military and humanitarian support that, morally and practically, the situation cries out for proper designation. That designation is genocide.

Even if declaring a genocide fails to deliver a quicker end to fighting or speedier trials for perpetrators, it should be done to encourage Canada and other nations to rethink their refugee resettlement programs in order to give priority to those in greatest need, the Christians. That doesn’t mean abandoning persecuted Muslims or non-Christian minorities, but it does mean offering safe havens to those at greatest risk.

Beyond that, it’s the right thing to do. It’s genocide. Call it what it is.

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