International terrorism and the threat of genocide: A new dimension of genocide study

Shakhawan Shorash

By Shakhawan Shorash:

The crime of genocide is the destruction of a targeted people due to differences in religious faith, ethnicity, or other factors that the perpetrators do not tolerate. Perpetrators of genocide attack their victims with the intent to destroy. This intention of destruction is old in history, going back to the first time one group of people regarded the existence of another group as a threat to its interests or existence, and dealt with this by annihilating the unwanted group. There were mass killings and destruction of unwanted groups during religious wars before and after the birth of Christ, throughout the Middle Ages, during the colonial period, throughout the twentieth century, and in the current days of the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Indeed, the risk of the crimes of ethnic cleansing or genocide will continue to exist as long as extreme and intolerant faiths, ideologies, and leaders exist.

There were several genocidal crimes during the twentieth century, including the killing and destruction of the Armenians by the Young Turks in 1915, the Dersim massacre by the Turkish Kamalist regime in 1937, the Jewish Holocaust by the German Nazis during the Second World War, the Anfal campaign against the Kurds by the Baath regime in Iraq in 1988, the killing of Muslims in Srebrenica by the Serbs during the ethnic war in the aftermath of the fall of Yugoslavia, the killing of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, and the systematic killing of the people of Darfur in 2004. These crimes of genocide are just some of the mass killings that occurred due to ethnic differences not being tolerated by the perpetrators.

Most of the genocidal crimes in the twentieth century were committed by state authorities against unwanted ethnic groups. In many cases, for instance in Turkey, Germany, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia, extreme ethnic and nationalist ideologies were behind the ethnic cleansing and genocide. The extreme Communist ideologies in the former Soviet Union, Indonesia, China, North Korea, and the former Yugoslavia also resulted in crimes against humanity and perhaps genocide. During the last 40 years, radical Islamism and Islamic faiths have led to crimes against humanity or genocide against unwanted minorities, for instance the Bahai and the Kurds in Iran and the Darfur people in Sudan. In all of these examples, the perpetrators were the ruling ethnic group or an extreme political party that held the power of the state. Often, the ruling ethnic group is the majority ethnic group that has state power and supports these crimes.

During modern history, we have witnessed colonial powers and states committing the crimes of ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the last few decades, we can find further examples of crimes against humanity, such as mass killings and ethnic cleansing, committed by terrorist or rebel groups inside a state suffering from internal war, for instance the ethnic cleansing in Nagorno Karabakh in 1988, in Kashmir in 1991, in Chechnya in 1996, and so on. We have also seen that the genocidal thinking and faith of radical Islamist groups has resulted in mass killings of innocent people, such as the suicide attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan, and on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.

However, we had never seen an international terrorist organization commit the organized and systematic killing of a definite religious minority in a specific territory, with the intent to destroy, until the attacks on the Kurdish Ezidis in the Shengal area, committed by jihadists belonging to the Islamic State (IS), on August 3, 2014, and over the following days and weeks.

When the IS terrorist organization managed to occupy a huge area in Iraq in the summer of 2014, it persecuted and attacked religious minorities such as the Shia, Christians, Kurdish Shabak, and Kakaiys and Ezidis in northern Iraq, especially in the disputed areas of Mosul. The IS, due to its fanatic Islamic faith, does not tolerate other religious or ethnic groups and therefore pursues and attacks them. Nevertheless, the attack on the Ezidi community differed from the attacks against the other ethnic groups in that it was more comprehensive and destructive. The IS regards the Ezidis as Kufar and as devil-worshipers, and their destruction is a duty of IS jihadists.

On August 3, 2014, these jihadists attacked the Ezidi people, killing the boys and men who refused to convert to Islam, taking the girls and women as sex slaves, and destroying temples and other holy places. Fortunately, tens of thousands of the Ezidis escaped and fled to the Shengal Mountains, where they became trapped without water and food. There is no doubt that all of the Ezidis would have faced the same brutal treatment if they had ended up in the hands of the IS.

The members of the IS are from many different nationalities and countries, and joined this terrorist organization in order to participate in holy jihad against nonbelievers and to create an Islamic caliphate in the Muslim world. The IS differentiates itself from the well-known terrorist organization of Al-Qaida, which also has members of different nationalities. Al-Qaida has committed crimes against humanity in different times and places, but has not yet committed the systematic killing of an ethnic minority due to religious differences, and it does not concentrate on a definite Muslim territory or the creation of a single united Islamic caliphate. The terrorist attacks of Al-Qaida have been quite scattered throughout different countries, and the attacks have been mainly aimed at harming Western interests. Thus, there are differences between the aims and strategies of these two international radical Islamist organizations. Other extreme Islamist organizations, such as al-Shabab in Somalia, Abu Sayaf in the Philippines, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and tens of other Islamist groups in Muslim countries, operate in specific states and consist of local individuals. They do not bear multiethnic and international characteristics.

The systematic killing of the Ezidis by the IS with the clear intention of destruction illustrates that a radical terrorist organization is capable of committing the crime of genocide under the right circumstances, if the organization has an extreme and intolerant ideology and attains enough political and military power in a specific territory with unwanted minorities living nearby.

This is the first time in history that humanity is witnessing this type of perpetrator implementing genocidal thinking and initiatives against the people of a definite religious minority. It is incredible that a fanatic religious faith referring back to a holy jihad in the seventh century is able to gather individuals of different nationalities from all over the world and make them believe that the destruction of a certain defenseless group of people is a vital duty in order to achieve religious and political aims. This is the first time we are witnessing the destruction of the Kurdish Ezidis as a different religious community and as a people, as a “duty” for Islamist individuals from Egypt, Chechnya, Tunisia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and other Muslim countries, as well from Western nations. According to some sources, the members of the IS come from 40 different countries.

Whether the killings of the Ezidi Kurds meet the legal conditions of the crime of genocide is in the hands of an independent court; however, many social scholars regard the systematic attacks and killings, with the existence of a clear special intent to destroy, as genocide. This is a tough discussion and there are quite large differences between legal and social scholars, as well among genocide scholars, concerning the definition and understanding of the genocide concept.

In any case, this is an alarming development concerning the destructive capability of fanatic international Islamists. Their ultra-extreme religious faith, which forms the basis of genocidal thinking, will lead to the continuation of this destructive policy as long they have sufficient power and capability, and their oppressive and destructive crimes will increase with an increase in their political and military power. They do not hesitate to kill and destroy people who refuse to obey them or who stand in their way. They do not hesitate to use any weapon to reach their military and political aims. The previous suicide attacks and now the systematic killing of the Ezidis, as well the regular killings of other innocent people, indicate how dangerous these jihadists are to ethnic minorities and to regional and international peace and order. The international community has failed to deal with these radical Islamist groups, and now the world pays the price for this failure. I am afraid that we have not seen the end of mass killings committed by fanatical Islamists. Therefore, more studies and analyses are indispensable to understand this new international threat and to identify methods to prevent the further killing and destruction of innocent people.

Shakhawan Shorash was born in Hawler in Southern Kurdistan. He is a freelance writer with a BA in political science from Southern University of Denmark (Odense) and a Masters degree in political science from the University of Copenhagen.

There are no comments yet. Be the first and leave a response!

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?

Trackback URL