Jordan Candler / Mar. 1, 2016

Admin Won’t Call Cleansing of Syrian Christians ‘Genocide’

Semantics matter only when they put the administration’s credibility at stake.

“Is the Islamic State carrying out a campaign of genocide against Syria’s Christians?” That was one of the questions asked of Obama spokesman Josh Earnest during yesterday’s press briefing. His meandering reply —"Well, we have long expressed our concerns with the … tactic employed by ISIL to slaughter religious minorities in Iraq and in Syria,“ which he added is "an affront to our values as a country” — prompted a followup reiteration of the query: “You’re not prepared to use the word ‘genocide’ yet in the situation?” Here’s how Earnest finally responded:

> My understanding is, the use of that word involves a very specific legal determination that has at this point not been reached. But we have been quite candid and direct exactly about how ISIL’s tactics are worthy of the kind of international, robust response that the international community is leading. And those tactics include a willingness to target religious minorities, including Christians.

This is yet another instance in which the Obama administration resorts to semantics to avoid making an uncomfortable admission. Last November the charity group Aid to the Church in Need released a report called “Persecuted and Forgotten?” on the plight of Christians across hostile areas of the world. The report found, “In parts of the Middle East — particularly in Syria and Iraq — the crisis is so severe that barring significant interventions on the part of world powers, the Christian presence may disappear completely within a decade or even sooner. For example, there may be as few as 275,000 Christians left in Iraq, down from 1 million 12 years ago.” Not all of them have been murdered, as many have fled to surrounding countries as refugees. But there’s no question that thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands? — have been killed by Islamic terrorists whose stated goal is to ethnically cleanse the region. If that’s not genocide, what is?

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