There should be little doubt that the Islamic State has committed genocide; its leaders regularly admit to that continuing war crime.
“This is genocide.” Every time I read those words, I hear them in the solemn and sonorous voice of Edward R. Murrow, who began his World War II broadcasts from England with “This is London.” But what I am referring to here are the massive killings by the Islamic State of Kurds, Shias, Sufis, Christians, Yazidis, children, journalists, those deemed guilty of apostasy, women who do not submit to being raped, and many others whom the Islamic State considers infidels or pagans.
Because the nature of most of these groups was discussed thoroughly by Steve Russell in a Rag Blog article last year, I recommend looking at what he wrote then if you have questions about who they are.
The news of the last few months has caused me to think anew about how the United States should deal with the Islamic State. Andrew Bacevich identified the folly of the United States response to Middle East dysfunction a year ago:
By inadvertently sowing instability (in the Middle East), the United States has played directly into the hands of anti-Western radical Islamists intent on supplanting the European-imposed post-Ottoman order with something more to their liking. This is the so-called caliphate that Osama bin Laden yearned to create and that now exists in embryonic form in the portions of Iraq and Syria that Islamic State radicals control.
Creation of the Islamic State is the United States’ most unintended and dangerous achievement.
Bacevich looked at what was, at the time he wrote, 13 years of United States military effort in the Middle East, reaching three conclusions: the creation of the Islamic State is the United States’ most unintended and dangerous achievement, the Iraqi army is an ineffective fighting force, and the Iraqi army’s failure is the product of an American-created Iraqi government that can’t govern.
While Bacevich’s analysis seems absolutely correct to me based on United States military and diplomatic actions since World War II, perhaps a better course of action than taking on the Islamic State, largely alone, is to follow the international protocols already in place for dealing with genocide. There should be little doubt that the Islamic State has committed genocide. Its leaders regularly admit to that continuing war crime.
The development of genocide as a concept
Even the word genocide did not exist until 1944, when it was coined to describe violence against members of a national, ethnic (termed ethnical in 1948 by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide — CPPCG), racial, or religious group with the intent to destroy such people. The International Military Tribunal, established by the Allied powers in Nuremburg, Germany after the war, indicted and tried many Nazi officials for “crimes against humanity,” which included persecution on racial, religious, or political grounds as well as inhumane acts, including genocide, committed against civilians.
Descriptions of genocide can be found at least as far back as the Old Testament
Of course, genocide did not begin in World War II. Descriptions that fit the definition can be found at least as far back as some described in the Old Testament, usually at the behest of God. For a few examples, see Genesis 6-8 — the flood; Genesis 18-19 — Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities of the plain; Exodus 11-12 — the Egyptian firstborn sons murdered during the Passover; Numbers 21:2-3, Deuteronomy 20:17, Joshua 6:17 and 21 — the Canaanites under Moses and Joshua, 1 Samuel 15 – the Amalekites annihilated by Saul; and Ezekiel 9:5-6 — “slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women.”
By 1951, the CPPCG was ratified by 130 countries, though not by the U.S. Senate until Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1988. A 1998 international statute expanded the CPPCG’s definition of genocide, applying it during both war and peace. The statute also established the International Criminal Court (ICC), which began work in 2002 at The Hague, but without the participation of the U.S., China, or Russia. While there are international disputes about the application of the concept of genocide, recent years demonstrate a growing international consensus to punish (and perhaps prevent) the atrocity of genocide.
The denial of genocide
In the Middle East, the targeted groups are well-distinguished for the most part. The Islamic State brags about the atrocities it is committing, but few countries have called for taking action against it for the genocide to which it readily admits.
In a briefing paper prepared by Gregory Stanton for the U.S. State Department in 1996, he identifies bystanders’ denial as one of the stages of genocide. It assures that genocide will continue. It is time for the U.S. and other countries throughout the world to demand the formation of an International tribunal on Islamic State Genocide to hear the evidence and punish the perpetrators.
Such a tribunal will not in and of itself stop the Islamic State, but it will focus the attention of the better actors in the international community on the need to work together to stop this latest genocidal group from continuing its rampage through the Middle East. It might, also, combat much of the Internet propaganda used by the Islamic State to woo new fighters to its cause, which is the creation of a Middle East caliphate to establish its version of Sharia rule in that part of the world.
Focusing on Islamic State genocide will also isolate some of the most brutal regimes.
Focusing on Islamic State genocide will also isolate some of the most brutal regimes and groups in the Middle East, notably the Saudis, Iranians, Pakistanis, and the Taliban (along with other smaller or less organized states and groups) and begin to help people around the world see the violations of human rights, which are often justified by their perpetrators on religious grounds, as outside the norms of acceptable conduct. Even some of those regimes that have committed the same atrocities as the Islamic State, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, oppose the Islamic State for their own reasons.
In the early part of World War II, the United States and other countries denied Nazi genocide committed against Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals until Hitler’s intentions for worldwide power were plain for all to see and could no longer be ignored. The United States should never again allow such denial to control its foreign policy.
Responding to Islamic State genocide
In March of this year, the United Nations, through its Human Rights Office, announced its conclusion that the war crimes, including genocide, committed by the Islamic State (particularly against Yazidis) should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution.
Writing in the Washington Examiner a month ago, Gregory Stanton called for prosecution of the Islamic State for war crimes:
Members of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, representing the world’s largest organization of experts on genocide, have called upon the U.S. Congress to declare that the crimes committed by the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, constitute genocide in violation of the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The UN Security Council must refer the Islamic State to the ICC for investigation & prosecution.
To initiate prosecution, the UN Security Council, of which the United States is a permanent member, must refer the Islamic State to the ICC for investigation and prosecution. Stanton suggests that “The Arab League, Turkey, NATO and national police forces should act swiftly and firmly to arrest Islamic State leaders.” It seems likely that this will require defeating the Islamic State on the battlefield. But the United States should not lead the fighting on the ground if we hope ever to cease being a target of Muslim extremists.
While it might seem like a good practice for the U.S. to kill Islamic State leaders through the use of drones, such killings do nothing to thwart the growth and direction the group is taking, nor do they achieve the cooperation of significant parts of the international community to stop the Islamic State before tens of thousands more people are killed and displaced by their atrocities.
Andrew Bacevich wrote last year,
[E]ven as the United States persists in its determination to pacify the Greater Middle East, the final verdict is already in. U.S. military power has never offered an appropriate response to whatever ails the Islamic world. We’ve committed our troops to a fool’s errand.
With only a couple of exceptions, the 62 countries now making up the so-called coalition against the Islamic State are doing little to none of the fighting. It is time to forge a real fighting coalition of Arab states, the world community, and our usual allies in the Middle East to stop the Islamic State’s hegemony and bring its leaders and those responsible for atrocities, particularly genocide, to justice. While this would be no easy task, it is the only effective way to stop the Islamic State.
A coalition partner who will not take direct military action against this enemy is not really a partner. Anything less, to use Bacevich’s words, is “a fool’s errand” and will maintain the appearance that the United States is a Christian nation at war against Islam.
It is past time for countries identified closely with Islam to share the burden of eliminating the extremists in their midst before they become extremists in everyone’s midst, a condition that has already developed to an alarming extent. For the United States to continue as it has been doing in the Middle East is to accept genocide and become complicit in crimes against humanity.
Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.
[Rag Blog columnist Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, City Attorney, also blogs at Texas Freethought Journal. This article © Texas Freethought Journal, Lamar W. Hankins.]