President Obama says that it would be offensive to our values to make a special effort to save Syrian Christian refugees. But since when it is un-American to stop genocide?
At a press conference Monday at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, Obama denounced those who say that the United States should “just admit the Christians but not the Muslims” fleeing war-torn Syria. “That’s shameful,” he declared. “That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.”
However, for at-risk religious minorities in Syria and Iraq this is not simply a question of compassion, it is a matter of life or death. The U.S. may not impose religious tests but the Islamic State does. Muslims who remain under the oppressive rule of the caliphate may suffer, but Yazidis, Assyrian Christians, and other indigenous religious minorities are marked for extermination, with women and children sold into sex slavery.
Obama would do well to familiarize himself with the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The Islamic State may be killing individual Muslims, but it is not trying to destroy the Islamic faith. However, it is seeking out members of the small, historically rooted religious populations, many of which have lived peacefully in that part of the world for centuries before Islam ever existed. ISIS is not only annihilating them; its members proudly post videos of their atrocities on YouTube.
There are practical reasons to favor non-Muslim refugees as well. FBI Director James Comey said last month that it is impossible to prevent jihadist terrorist infiltration among the tens of thousands of refugees the Obama administration is seeking to bring to the United States. The attacks in Paris Friday, believed to have been conducted in part by a man posing as a refugee, demonstrate the deadly consequences of this irresponsible policy. Singling out proven non-Muslims for easier admission reduces the chances that those allowed inside our borders will be radical Islamist infiltrators. It is not only the ethical thing to do, but it also better safeguards American security.
Some members of Congress are already taking action. Rep. Juan Vargas, a California Democrat, introduced House Resolution 1568, the Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015. It would require the State Department to “expedite the processing of refugee admissions applications" for religious groups threatened by ISIS. The bill has 42 cosponsors from both political parties.
Imagine if similar legislation had passed in the 1930s, when Jews and others facing religious and ethnic persecution in Nazi Germany were being turned away from the United States and sent back to face near certain death. When the reality of the Holocaust was exposed, Americans felt ashamed they did not do more to help sooner. Today we already know that genocide is under way in the areas ISIS controls, so we cannot claim ignorance.
There are many other places for displaced Muslims to find sanctuary, especially countries in the region that thus far have been unwilling to bear their fair share of the refugee burden. These countries — such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE, among others — argue that they cannot admit refugees because terrorists may be hiding among them.
Tell that to France. Perhaps instead of delivering snobbish lectures on Americanism, President Obama should use his position of leadership to see to it that the refugee burden is shared equitably in the region. Directing Muslim refugees to Muslim host countries will free up resources for threatened non-Muslim minorities to find safety in the more inclusive, more welcoming, religiously free United States.
Despite what Obama thinks, that is a lot more American than watching these defenseless people be shot down in ditches by the Islamic State simply because they do not bow to Allah.
(James S. Robbins writes weekly for USA TODAY and is the author of "The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero.")
LM END ROBBINS