Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Never Again, and Again, and Again... (part one of two)

“The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
On Feb. 12, 2015, 20 Coptic Christians were beheaded by ISIS in Libya. A 21st man was a non-Christian from Chad, who, when asked to reject Jesus, reportedly declared, "Their God is my God." The 21 martyrs have been canonized in the Coptic Church.
When learning about the Holocaust in school, I was always told that it was most horrific act afflicted on humanity. A dark, morbid event that must never happen again. We were learning about it so that it would never happen again. Except there were fifty-plus years between the Holocaust and my classroom, and it had already happened again, several times, from the post-war Sudetan Germans to the Bosniaks on the evening news at the time.

Genocide happens all the time. A group, an “other,” gets singled out as a problem. People are stripped of their individual identity; they are as guilty as the group. They are not entitled to rights or dignity. They must cease to exist for the social/political cause. There are dozens of cases in Africa, Central/South America, South Asia, and Europe since the end of World War II. Each case is different in its context, scope, and style, but they all led to the deliberate and systematic destruction of communities. People died by the hundreds of thousands. 

If my history lessons were to be believed, we had avoided the repetition of history. We were wiser now. Civilized countries didn’t do such things. The rest of the world would stand up and stop it if genocide reared its head. And the global community has worked to stop genocide when it’s happening and to bring perpetrators to justice. But we’re not doing as good a job as “Never Again” suggests.

Which gets to today, and ISIS. It’s already pretty well known that ISIS is evil. Its constant use of forced deportation, killing, rape, destruction, and desecration is celebrated in its own media. And now, several years into its campaign, the world is finally building the case that ISIS has (and is) committing genocide on religious minorities. It’s difficult to think of Christianity as a religious minority when it is the largest of the world religions and the state or de facto state religion of so many countries. But in many parts of the world, Christians are a minority and have been for centuries. So like the Yazidis, Jews, Kurds, Shebaks, and even Shia Muslims, Christianity in ISIS-controlled territory faces the threat of elimination. Basically, any non-ISIS group is in danger, but the genocide of one group does not negate the genocide of another. The Nazis were able to kill Jews and Roma. The Turks were able to kill Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks. But I’m going to focus on the Christian genocide because of the report I read, not to malign the other groups facing the same fates. It’s difficult here in the Bible Belt to picture Christians as one of the groups ISIS is silencing. They have no political voice. They have lost their homes and churches. They are losing their families and lives.

The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians have written a petition to the State Department requesting that the U.S. recognize the current genocides in ISIS territories. The petition includes a report which lists the intention and actions of ISIS to destroy Christians in their region.

The report states:
“On February 4, the Knights of Columbus co-authored a letter to Secretary Kerry requesting a meeting to brief him on evidence that established that the situation confronting Christians and other religious minorities constitutes genocides. While there has never been an official response to that letter, we were contacted by senior State Department officials who requested our assistance in making the case that Christians are victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS. Given the specificity of the information requested, our focus in this report is on the situation confronting Christians in areas that are or have been under ISIS control, primarily in Iraq, Syria and Libya. ISIS has also targeted Yazidis and other religious minority groups in a manner consistent with genocide. Thus, our contention is not that Christians should be designated as the sole group facing genocide, but rather, that given the overwhelming evidence and the international consensus on this issue, that the United States government should not exclude Christians from such a finding. Doing so would be contrary to fact.” (6-7)

In the past two years, several world leaders and religious leaders have labeled ISIS’ actions as genocide. Last month, the European Parliament voted to recognize that genocide is occurring in Syria and Iraq. Genocide carries a specific legal definition. In order to be genocide any of the following acts must be committed “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (21) 

Once this is proven, it must be acknowledged. And once acknowledged, there must be action to stop it. It has happened again. It is happening again. Despite our hopes and efforts, it will happen again. It is a dark side of humanity, the side that would treat people as obstacles to eliminate. But it is also a dark side of humanity that watches it happen again, from a distance, and says nothing.

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