Fortenberry, who represents the state’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House, and Sasse, who represents Nebraska in the U.S. Senate, authored resolutions regarding genocide.
In June 2014, for the first time in two millennia, the church bells in the city of Mosul, Iraq, fell silent.
Islamic State invaders had spray-painted blood-red symbols of the Arabic letter “n” on Christian property in the city. The letter is short for “Nazarene,” a derogatory term for Christians used by some in the region. The Islamic State gave Mosul’s ancient Christian population a choice: “Leave, convert or die.” Most fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
The expulsion of Christians was just one horrific example of the Islamic State’s ongoing brutality against ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. Its so-called “caliphate” has waged a ruthless campaign of rapes, beheadings, crucifixions and forced conversions in the territory it rules with its dark theology.
The Islamic State’s systematic and targeted attempt to exterminate innocent groups also includes Yazidis, another vulnerable people in the region.
Nebraska is home to America’s largest Yazidi community. Many settled here after working side by side with our nation’s soldiers as translators during the Iraq War, placing themselves and their families at great risk.
After the fall of Mosul, the Islamic State continued its rampage and trapped tens of thousands of Yazidis atop Mount Sinjar, a barren mountain where they faced certain death with no food and no water. There was no place to bury their dead. Yazidis in Lincoln pleaded for action.
Following the call of Congress for an international humanitarian intervention, the U.S. began an air campaign against the Islamic State, launching strikes that proved decisive in ending the siege and preventing a catastrophic loss of life.
Day after day, Christians, Yazidis and other beleaguered minorities suffer in a particularly severe way for their faith. The Islamic State has taken away the conditions for life — as well as life itself — from these peoples.
It is important to note that innocent Muslims constitute the largest number of Islamic State victims. At the same time, the number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from 1.5 million to several hundred thousand. Unless they are hiding underground, in the areas of northern Syria and northern Iraq, they have been eradicated by the Islamic State.
A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized the reality that the Islamic State is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront the Islamic State’s barbaric onslaught.
At a time of deep political division in our nation, the House of Representatives passed a resolution 393-0 condemning the genocide. The statement was clear: Genocide is bigger than any partisan divide. The House spoke with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this violation of life and order. A companion resolution was introduced in the Senate that same day.
Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department — the day of a congressional deadline to make a genocide determination — came to the same conclusion.
The horrific Islamic State violence against Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslim minorities is now called by its proper name: genocide.
We commend Secretary Kerry for making this important designation. The genocide is not only a grave injustice to these ancient communities — it is an assault on human dignity and an attack on civilization itself. The United States has now spoken with clarity and moral authority.
Recognizing Islamic State genocide has implications beyond defining the grotesque tragedy. Our stand will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of ancient minorities into their ancestral homelands. The genocide designation creates a gateway for further policy considerations regarding the necessary security settlement that must come in the region.
Christians, Yazidis and others should remain an essential part of the Middle East’s once rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity.
They now have new cause for hope.