Beliefs Culture Ethics Politics

Save persecuted religious minorities first (COMMENTARY)

Islamic State documents seized by U.S. forces reveal religious rulings justifying slavery, rape and pillage of antiquities. Yazidi refugee women protest their treatment. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Umit Bektas
Yazidi refugee women hold a banner as they wait for the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie at a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp in the southern Turkish town of Midyat in Mardin province, Turkey, on June 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Yazidi refugee women hold a banner as they wait for the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie at a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp in the southern Turkish town of Midyat in Mardin province, Turkey, on June 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Umit Bektas

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.

READ: Welcome to my state, Syrian refugees

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.

READ: ISIS, ISIL, Daesh — explaining the many names for terrorists

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.

READ: After Paris: Christians, don’t forget that we too have killed in God’s name

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.”)


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James S. Robbins


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  • How about we stop taking shortcuts in our Refugee/Asylum program and laws for the sake of political convenience and expediency and let it do the job as intended.

    The US should not be turning ANYONE away from its borders seeking refuge from persecution and war. It is a duty of all developed nations to offer sanctuary in this form. Moreso for the only superpower.

    The way it works now is, we let them in and then to stay, the applicant has to demonstrate they have a well reasoned fear of imminent death/or substantial harm if sent back due to political persecution. We judge them by the individual, not by blanket assumptions, stereotypes and political brownie points.

    The author is making a strawman point to make that we are turning away ethnic minorities from Syria to make room for Muslim refugees. We are taking whomever can come here in the #’s we believe we can process. Btw most of the people are coming from refugee camps in Muslim countries. The author is simply ignorant of…

  • “James S. Robbins … is the author of ‘The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero.'”

    Some genocides are better than others, I take it.

  • Considering there has already been found evidence that among the genuine refugees there will be embedded terrorists coming in bent on bloodshed makes that risky for American families Indeed, bringing huge numbers of such unvetted people here will be a death sentence for some Americans like those French in the Parisian restaurants.
    But food, shelter. and clothing can be provided overseas (say in Saudi Arabia) until a genuinely functioning vetting system can be set up here. Yet the attitude seems to be that any sort of middle way between all in or none in can’t even be rationally debated and that you are evil if you don’t want all in no matter what.

  • That’s a load of bull! What evidence? A fake Syrian passport on the bodies of the European nationals who perpetrated the terror attacks in Paris?

    There IS a vetting process! It is largely ignored by people like yourself and opportunistic politicians looking to score nativist/sectarian bias brownie points.
    Due to geography, they can’t come here directly from Syria. These refugees are vetted in refugee camps abroad before coming here.

    France btw is taking in MORE refugees after the attacks. They know that the best way to combat the terrorists is not by dooming people to murder and enslavement by Islamicists. You are doing the PR work for Islamic State with such nonsense.

    What kind of debate is possible with people who aren’t even aware of the relevant facts? At no point have the critics of taking in the refugees shown an inkling of knowledge here. Its just panicking for its own sake. Just another nonsense dig at the current government by the opposition party.

  • I stopped reading this piece of racist propaganda when it made the absurd claim ISIS wasn’t trying to wipe out other Muslim groups. The author exposes their ignorance of middle East conflicts with that absurd statement. And what happened to that bible verse that calls for welcoming immigrants? I’m pretty sure the bible didn’t say to only welcome Christian immigrants.

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