Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: It Is Genocide

Mar 4, 2016
Fort Report

I happened to be in the room on an extraordinary occasion when Pope Francis was given a small cross, a Christian crucifix. The crucifix belonged to a young Syrian man. He had been captured by jihadists and then given a choice: convert or die. He chose his ancient faith tradition. He chose Christ. And he was beheaded.

His mother was able to recover his body along with the crucifix and bury him. She then fled to Europe, encountered a priest who gave her support, and gave him the cross in gratitude. This series of events resulted in the profound moment when the cross came into the possession of the Holy Father.

ISIS murders, rapes, and crucifies. Day after day after day, Christians, Yezidis, and other beleaguered religious minorities suffer in a particularly severe way for their faith. Although they have as much right as anyone else to remain in their ancestral homelands, ISIS systematically targets them for extermination. ISIS has taken away the conditions for life—as well as life itself—from these innocent communities. This is genocide, the systematic attempt to exterminate an entire set of peoples because of their beliefs. If a group of people can succeed in killing off another group because they have the power to do so, because they do not believe in another’s religion, they violate that sacred space that is essential to all persons and, therefore, to the conditions of genuine freedom that are necessary for civilization itself.

Thankfully, vulnerable faith communities in the Middle East have a new cause for hope. A growing international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. Over 200 Members of the United States Congress have cosponsored a resolution which I introduced to name and decry ISIS’ genocide. The International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the European Parliament, among many others, have also made the declaration in the hopes aiding the ecumenical alliance standing against ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.

Last week, I urged Secretary of State John Kerry if he would join in recognizing this reality. The Secretary expressed his “huge sense of revulsion over these acts” and said he is carefully reviewing “the legal standards and precedents” to make a judgment. 

Click here to view the video of my interaction with Secretary Kerry

Earlier this week in a sign of trans-partisan unity, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed the resolution and it now moves to the full House for consideration. A declaration of genocide will set the preconditions for what must miraculously happen in the Middle East—a proper settlement of security, political, economic, and cultural arrangements so that the religious minorities who once made up the rich tapestry of that region will have their rightful place restored.  

In 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell came to the United States Congress and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He declared that the violence in Darfur in Sudan was genocide. In making that simple declaration, he helped stop the grim reality. The implications for recognizing genocide go beyond defining the grotesque tragedy. It is a call to the entire community of responsible nations to act, to say that we will not allow ISIS’ warped theology to wipe the map clean of other peoples. This is wrong, it is unjust, and the hope of restoring civilized order is at stake.