Genocide, empty political rhetoric and college campuses
Just days ago, the terrorist group ISIS captured somewhere between 70 and 150 Assyrian Christian hostages in Syria. Recently, ISIS beheaded 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and Ghanaian Christians held hostage in Libya. The horrific crimes are but the latest episodes in a genocide against the region’s Christian minority.
ISIS militants have also labeled homes and businesses with the Arabic letter standing for “Christian,” bringing reminders of the “Jude” badge from the Holocaust.
“We are witnessing the end of the Christian presence in the east,” activist Habib Afram told the Guardian earlier this week.
It would be great if we could talk about the terror befalling Christians, Muslims and everyone else oppressed by the cruel rise of ISIS. Instead—sadly and predictably—our political leaders are debating (in no particular order): the level of evil inherent to Islam, how it compares to the evil of Christianity and how much President Barack Obama loves America.
These disputes are driving us further from the cause of saving human life and closer to yet another boondoggle of a war. A recent CBS News poll found that 57 percent of Americans now support sending ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS.
We must have forgotten that our previous involvement in the region led to the vacuum in power that has facilitated the group’s ascent. According to the competing narrative, it is because we left too early that ISIS has unleashed its terror, and only through (another) protracted military engagement will the U.S. be able to destroy radicalism in the region. Many forwarding the latter argument stand in genuine solidarity with the victims of ISIS’s genocide.
Yet war, if the last 14 years have been any evidence, is not the solution to protecting the lives at risk. Truly, it hasn’t been a solution for the U.S. for the 70 years since World War II. It has also come with a cost of about $2 trillion for the United States since 2001, with a Harvard University professor projecting that the total price tag will end up around $6 trillion when factoring in health care and other costs.
Unfortunately, there’s also no powerful force stopping war from being seen by politicians as the only solution and thus enacted as such. College campuses like Washington University, once sources of resistance to wayward and destructive militarism, are complacent after over a decade of war in the Middle East.
One primary reason is bothersome but impossible to duck away from recognizing: without mandatory conscription, most college students face little direct impact of war. It is true that even college students during the Vietnam War served at a much lower rate than their peers due to deferment, but they were still subject to the draft. Therefore, an active interest in U.S. foreign policy was necessary as a matter of self-interest at the very least.
Today, less than 0.5 percent of Americans join the volunteer army. If students are provided with a choice of whether to fight for the U.S. abroad, we will most likely opt out. By extension, we can also opt out of thinking that much about the military and protesting wars.
Meanwhile, preventing war seems impossible when a workable definition for what war is barely even exists anymore. Our presidents have the ability to forego Congress in entering armed conflict, order drone strikes to their pleasure, and keep military and surveillance actions covered under the veil of national security interests.
While we know that militarism isn’t a solution, we are far away from finding one—or more accurately, multiple. We definitely should not advocate on college campuses for a return to the draft, which could bring more resistance to war but would not be socially, politically or morally productive.
We need a movement for humanism that recognizes and actually helps the victims of ISIS’s brutality without entangling them in another misadventure of American nationalism. Students at Wash. U. can play a role in centering the voices of activists like Afram, which are being crowded out in our political climate of gridlock, Islamaphobia and hunger for more war. What that role looks like is up to students, if we have the will to push back against the current paradigm of militaristic foreign policy.