Editorial: What's in a name?

As we close the book on another calendar year, the plight of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East continues to be dire. Hundreds of thousands of Christians, threatened by the Islamic State, have fled Syria and Iraq in recent years and, in July, a memorable New York Times Magazine headline asked, “Is this the end of Christianity in the Middle East?”

Christians aren’t alone. Displaced Iraqis consist mostly of Sunni Muslims. Other religious minorities, including the Northern Iraqi native Yazidis, are under considerable threat. For several months, efforts have been underway to more appropriately identify the atrocities happening against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. House Concurrent Resolution 75, introduced in September, urges that the United States government define them as “war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.” Such a definition holds more weight within the international community, according to Gregory H. Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, and would underscore the necessity of taking immediate action.

Positively, according to news reports this fall, the State Department currently is considering using the “genocide” label when referencing attacks by the Islamic State — but only where Yazidis are concerned. While such a definition for any such persecuted group is critically important, it is unthinkable that Christians — who have been beheaded, crucified, abused, chased from their homes and generally terrorized by Islamic militants — be omitted from a similar distinction.

Stanton, who testified during a subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in mid-December, said the State Department’s reasoning for the omission of Christians ostensibly is due to the jizya, or tax, that the Islamic State allows Christians to pay to avoid death. However, as Stanton rightly testified, such taxes are “an ISIS lie” — often so exorbitantly high that Christians are unable to pay and are killed anyway.

At the same hearing, Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, also strongly supported the use of the term “genocide” to describe the eradication of Christians in the Middle East. “Like the region’s other refugee communities, the vulnerable Christian minority is striving to survive devastating conflicts — in which, it should be noted, the Christian communities have not taken up arms for any side,” Anderson said. “They are being specifically targeted because they put their faith in Jesus Christ.”

The Knights have become a worldwide leader in assisting persecuted Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and recently launching the donation and news website, ChristiansatRisk.org. As of Anderson’s testimony, the Knights have donated more than $5 million to the cause.

Such an effort should be widely praised and supported. But the Knights of Columbus and a select few individuals cannot do it alone. Parishes and individual Catholics can offer their support for Christians in the Middle East by asking their representative to support Concurrent Resolution 75 and the implementation of the word “genocide” when it comes to all persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East — but especially to Christians.

While in Bolivia this summer, Pope Francis himself used the word then referencing our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end,” he said.

Calling it by its proper name is a good place to start.

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor