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Can Isis’ Acts Be Labeled as Genocide?

March 19, 2016

Brooke Matthews ‘19 – Women in Leadership Participant

-The Meaning of This Designation and How It Could Affect the Presidential Election-

Recently, the Obama Administration has been challenged by lawmakers and religious activists to label the attacks carried out by ISIS in Iraq and Syria as genocide. Genocide is defined as the systematic and deliberate killing of a large group of people who belong to a specific nationality or ethnic group. Advocates for religious freedom desire that the United States classify ISIS’ acts as genocide, based on the brutal attacks that ISIS has carried out on the Yazidis in Iraq and the horrific beheadings they have carried out on Christians. The Yazidis are a religious and ethnic group in Iraq, who descend from the region’s most ancient roots. They face executions by ISIS members for a reputation as “devil-worshippers.” Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious group have been brutally attacked by members of ISIS, including one man who shared how ISIS killed his father, his uncles, and kidnapped 25 of his relatives including the women. Many other Yazidi victims have claimed that the reason the Islamic State targeted them was because of their religious affiliation. ISIS has also, on many occasions, threatened victims to either convert to Islam or be killed. Yazidis are not the only victims however, many Christian advocacy groups claim that Christians are victims of ISIS killings as well. There have been many horrific beheadings of Christians from Ethiopia and Egypt, and ISIS propaganda has explicitly proclaimed waging war on Christians.

There is no doubt that the various beheadings, crucifixions, and murders committed by ISIS have been utterly atrocious, but are their actions considered genocide? There has been a lot of discussion, both inside the White House and the State Department, about the moral and legal consequences that could come with labeling these killings as genocide. One positive that would come with the label “genocide” is that it would increase the ability for the United States to grant asylum for the victims of ISIS. This is because the victims would easily be able to argue that they are clearly being targeted based on their religion. However, this designation could also become very complicated, because it would raise questions about what the United States and other nation’s obligation it is to give refugees from Iraq and Syria a home. It would also spark questions about a possible increase in U.S. military engagement in the region, since genocide would require not only military involvement but humanitarian aid as well. Classifying ISIS’ acts as genocide would not only create these complications, but will also affect the 2016 presidential election.

If the White House and the State Department decided to come out and distinguish these acts as genocide—during the last year of President Obama’s term—the repercussions that will occur will fall in the hands of the following president. This is crucial because if the next President is a Democrat they will have a very different way of handling the situation than if the next President is a Republican. If we take the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for example, she would most likely support granting thousands of refugees asylum in the United States, while also diplomatically negotiating with other countries concerning the amount of refugees they could take in. It would also not be surprising if she eventually called for military action in the region to help protect victims and safely transport them to areas of asylum. On the other hand, if we take Republican candidate Donald Trump for example, his plan for handling the ‘genocide’ caused by ISIS in Iraq and Syria would be very different from Hillary Clinton’s plan. He would most likely disregard the idea of diplomatic negotiations and would instead immediately place full-force military action in the region. He would rather view the immediate problem as getting rid of ISIS all together with acts of war, instead of granting new homes and peace for the thousands of victims. This is because Donald Trump has a stringent immigration policy consisting of building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants and also ISIS victims that could be a potential threat to our nation. Therefore under his policy, the United States would not grant asylum to the refugees of Iraq and Syria.

Although these are only two of the current presidential candidates, it is still easy to say that each party, in general, would tackle the issue of the ISIS genocide differently. Not only would labeling ISIS’ repulsive acts as genocide make an impact for the victims who are desperately seeking asylum, but it would also make an impact on our country’s involvement in the situation. The biggest impact comes from whom our citizens choose to elect as our next president, because depending on their party’s—as well as individual—policy platform, our country may either gain thousands of new members or be engulfed into another war.

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