Reports that the White House will declare that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has committed genocide against Iraqi Yazidis, but not against Christians, are of grave concern. Omitting Christians would be a strategic mistake because ISIS’ spiritual legitimacy depends on their promise to cleanse the “Caliphate” of infidel Christians. The U.S. must name Christians in a genocide declaration in order to protect the innocent, to undermine ISIS’ ability to project strength through terror, and to weaken its global recruiting efforts.
What is Genocide?
Genocide has two parts: the perpetrator’s mental state and the acts. According to the legal definition of genocide, the perpetrator(s) must have “special intent” (dolus specialis) to destroy a particular group, in whole or in part, and commit genocidal acts: (1) killing, (2) causing serious bodily or mental harm, (3) inflicting conditions of life to bring about physical destruction, (4) preventing births, and (5) forcibly transferring children. The mental state of the perpetrator is extremely difficult to prove.
Propaganda and Genocide
In the only two successful prosecutions for genocide, against Rwanda and Serbia, propaganda was crucial evidence that the perpetrators had special intent to commit genocide. The Rwandan government used radio to great effect by telling Hutu citizens where to find and kill their Tutsi neighbors. The Serbian government used both radio and TV to demonize Bosnian Muslims and Croatians.
Genocidal propaganda demonizes “the other” and morally justifies one’s own cause. This propaganda eventually leads to more acceptance of genocide by both fighters and civilians. United Nations special advisors have already warned that ISIS’ “speeches and media dehumaniz[ing]… Christians and call[ing] for their conversion, or death” are inciting violence through “religious hatred.”
The Caliphate and Genocide of Christians
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph of ISIS, rose to power based on a promise to eliminate Christians from the Caliphate through “holy war” (jihad). In a May 2015 video, Al-Baghdadi stated “coexistence with Jews and Christians” is impossible according to the Quran and the “explicit statement” of Allah. ISIS’ ability to “cleanse the Caliphate” of infidels is crucial to its moral superiority over al-Qaeda and, therefore, to its recruiting efforts.
In videos of the decapitation of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya, ISIS stated that killing them was revenge for the historical grievances of the “Crusades.” In one of the videos, an ISIS spokesman “swear[s] to Allah” and promises the Christian community that “[you] will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam. We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women…. If we do not…, then our children and grandchildren will… sell your sons… at the slave market.”
ISIS’ theology emphasizes Christians far more than any other group. In the “Last Days,” Muslims, led by their Messianic figure (the Mahdi), will vanquish Christians on the battlefield of Dabiq, a word so powerful, that it “is the name on the lips of ISIS recruiting sergeants.” Though ISIS kills people of other faiths, it trumpets “attacks on Christians… because these are…