Iraqi Genocide: Our Violence Got Us Here

Iraqi Genocide: Our Violence Got Us Here August 11, 2014


My spirit has been grieved in a way I haven’t experienced before as the situation in Iraq and Syria has turned for the worse as of late, and is now straight up out of control. The ISIS has made amazing strides in gaining power throughout the region, taking over whole areas, and has now begun exterminating all of the “others” who are not like them.

There’s been the ultimatum given to Christians (and other religious minorities often overlooked): leave town, convert to Islam and pay a special tax, or face the sword. The ISIS has shown they’re not kidding with the ultimatum (and that they aren’t going to honor living in peace in exchange for paying the tax). As a result, a situation that is nothing short of genocide is being presented to the world.

The atrocities facing the religious minorities in these areas are almost unspeakable.

There’s been the mass executions by firing squad.


The hanging of men.

Rape and enslavement of the women.

There’s also been a revival of crucifixions in the public square, something ISIS members have been tweeting photos of and gloating about on twitter.

I am beyond grieved over the situation and have found it to be impacting me in ways I never expected. To be honest, I’ve spent the last few days wrestling with a great deal of inner tension as this situation has radically challenged my nonviolent ethic. How can one maintain a nonviolent ethic when faced with a situation like this? The truth is, there’s not an easy answer to that– I am finding myself swimming in a sea of tension with no easy resolution.

However, as I survey the situation, I think it is important to remember this: violence is how we got here, so the idea that violence will lead us out of here is as foolish as doing nothing.

I remember being glued to CNN as a freshman in high school watching the opening days of Operation Desert Storm– Saddam Hussein didn’t comply with the deadline to leave Kuwait, so we went to war. After we succeeded in pushing him back within his own borders, we ended the conflict– something that the elder President Bush took some heat over. The pundits claimed that we needed to march all the way to Baghdad and remove Hussein from power, but the administration had some wisdom as to why that was a really bad idea: removing Saddam from power would likely create a power vacuum. The people who would potentially fill that vacuum might actually be worse than what we were removing, they claimed.

As an adult, I watched a new President Bush go back to war with Iraq, this time with the goal of using force/violence to remove Saddam from power. We successfully removed him from power, but have since experienced what the first Bush knew all along: using violence to remove him from power might backfire.

Today we have a power vacuum throughout the region, and it’s being filled by some straight up evil people– people who ironically, Saddam would not have tolerated. We can rightly look at the violence being used by these evil men with total disgust, but let us be honest about the situation: it was OUR use of violence that set the stage for this to all play out.

If the use of violence is how we got here, why would we think MORE violence would actually make things better? If history is a reliable witness, more violence will just lead to… you guessed it, more violence.

We need to reach a point where we throw up our hands and simply admit that this cycle DOES NOT WORK. We need to think more creatively, and give other solutions a fair hearing.

One reason why we don’t seek alternatives to violence is because violence comes at a huge price to them but nonviolent solutions come at a huge price to us. Too often, we’re simply unwilling to pay such a price, whatever that is.

A potential solution for this rapidly escalating genocide comes by way of saving the innocent instead of killing the guilty. Why not stage the largest airlift since the Berlin Airlift, and bring all of these religious and ethnic minorities out of their situation, and grant them asylum here in the United States? This solution would involve a minimal amount of violence (a point I concede with great tension) as we put “boots on the ground” to help safely escort them out of the their situation. We could use our troop transport planes to safely fly them out, bring them here, and help them begin a new life in peace and freedom.

If we’re going to spend billions of dollars anyway, why not invest in actually saving people and helping them escape to freedom?

I fear we’d rather shell out the money to kill and destroy our enemies a world away instead of the far more costly and personally messy work of welcoming thousands of new immigrants/asylum seekers into our own neighborhoods.

The use of violence in the middle east got us here. The use of violence in the middle east has kept us here. Thinking that “more violence” is the solution to get us out of here is short sighted– it’s time to invest in something different.

* This blog is part of a synchro-blog effort with MennoNerds to help bring an Anabaptist/Mennonite perspective on the ISIS situation in the middle east. For more voices in the discussion, search the hashtag


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  • DC Rambler

    Well said Benjamin..I too watched in horror as the bombs fell knowing that they fall without prejudice on the innocent who had the misfortune of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. I see the current conflict as another skirmish in the battle that has been waged for a thousand years with unspeakable methods and results from both sides. As you well know, when a person believes that he has God on his side, his devotion, no matter how delusional, is limitless. Peace

  • The really hard question, of course, is what we (our governments, our nonprofits, our churches, as individuals) can do instead of violence to help. We are just so used to thinking that our only two options are trumping violence with more violence or staying out of the way while people suffer that I haven’t really heard any concrete suggestions for what would work better (ditto for Israel/Palestine). We really need the expertise of groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams and Mennonite Central Committee to help guide in some very concrete action steps. Unfortunately I haven’t really seen any posts anywhere offering that, which seems to have left a lot of us pointing out how violence doesn’t work but not able to offer anything that does either.

  • gimpi1

    When the second Iraq war began, I was so worried about this. There’s a lid on a pressure-cooker for a reason. I believed that new “strong-man” dictators would arise as soon as we backed off. I have seldom been so depressed to be right.

  • Guy Norred

    I know. I would really have loved to be pleasantly surprised. All we seem to have accomplished is to give even more people real reason to hate us.

  • Thank you so much for this piece! Being a pacifist is the hardest when atrocities are being committed against the innocent. You are right, too. Violence begets violence. Perhaps it is time we take Jesus literally when he says we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

  • Rev David R Froemming

    Thank you for the alternative ideas to more war and violence!

  • pericles9

    For what it’s worth, Israel is also a factor. Israel drives our policy in the Middle East; no one dare raise a challenge to the fact the USA is a virtual state of Israel; it’s all politics.

  • Mike

    There was no Christian holocaust in Iraq before the war because Saddam’s violence prevented it. You can all hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah because you aren’t the ones who will die for your idealism.

  • Mike

    Is there anything you anti-“Zionists” won’t blame on the Jews?

  • Lily

    “If we’re going to spend billions of dollars anyway, why not invest in actually saving people and helping them escape to freedom?” This line said it all. God Bless!

  • nabil89

    Israel controls the US’ foreign policy in the Middle East. You can’t speak of what is happening in our area without the israel factor.
    P.S: Being “anti-Zionist” is standing against the crimes being committed daily against the Palestinians. It is not a source of shame for us but a badge we wear with honour.

  • nabil89

    I love this article. I may not agree that getting the Christians out of the area is the solution but I agree that the Western violence is part of the problem and never the solution. As a Lebanese Christian (who may be next on the list as ISIS continue to spread in the region) I thank you for your honesty :)

  • Matthew

    Thanks Benjamin. I guess I too find myself “swimming in a sea of tension”. I truly want to embrace the principles of nonviolence, but I´m not certain I can completely. It´s situations like this, the Nazi´s in Germany, the genocide in Rwanda, etc. that pull me in the other direction. Also … I have heard the arguments for not violently removing Saddam from power, but I have also heard stories of the atrocities he allowed to be committed (or that he himself committed). Once again … a sea of tension.

  • Matthew

    If you are a soldier, I thank you for your service and for protecting my right to lean toward nonviolent action in my own life. If you are not a soldier, I still think you make a valid point about those who die for my idealism.

  • Matthew

    I would be interested to know why you think getting the Christians out of the area is not a good solution.

  • Matthew

    There are issues and problems on BOTH SIDES of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Neither side is doing its part to act nonviolently in my opinion. Sorry Benjamin … I don´t want to take over this discussion and turn it into an Israeli/Palestinian debate, however I really felt the need to address nabil89´s comment.

  • Lamont Cranston

    When the IDF acts violently it blows up hospitals and schools and kills over a thousand people. How many Israelis are dead? So I guess this BOTH SIDES stuff is just bullshit.

  • Matthew

    I agree … which is why I said NEITHER side is acting in a nonviolent manner in the conflict. Israel blowing up schools and hospitals AND rockets being fired into Israel´s territory coupled with an ideology that calls for the pushing of the Jews into the sea. I don´t think making it a numbers game really helps anyone.

  • Derek Wildstar

    Spare me the anti-Zionist soliloquies, will you? The Palestinians/Arabs are their own worst enemies dating at least as far back as when they participated in the tragic 1929 massacre of Jewish settlers in Hebron. There is nothing “honorable” about fomenting hatred and resentment against Israel….That seems to be all that the Palestinians amount to, and judging from media reports, many Arab countries-especially Egypt are getting tired of getting dragged into another useless conflict involving the Israel-Palestinian problem…..

  • JMartinMul

    Oh sure Saddam’s 35 year reign of cutting people’s tongues was Bush’s fault.

    Tight argument.

  • Not as tight as that straw man.

  • JMartinMul

    But from a comfy armchair or dais I can see why you might think otherwise.

  • I am retired from the armed forces. I’ve earned the right to sit in this armchair.

  • Michael Shawn Kelly

    History is always written by the “victors”. I am sure the American Indians have a slightly different view of our Godly expansion across the continent.
    As far as the Mid East, maybe if we gave Florida, especially the Miami area, back to the original inhabitants (the Seminoles) there would be a bit more understanding of the present conflict over there. Just saying…

  • JMartinMul

    “Public figures” shouldn’t overstate they’re credentials. “Early retirement” as a “professional military instructor’ in the Air Force might actually not have erned you much right to sit in the arm char.

    Early retirement is usually given for medical reasons, unable to do the work any longer or for significant misffits.

  • Not an overstatement, and I’m pretty sure the decorations sitting in my shadow box, the short tours, the long tours, the TDY’s, give me every right to speak out on violence.

    But even if that were not the case, one need not be prior military to speak out against war or violence. This is a blog about theology, Anabaptist theology to be exact– which happens to be pro-Jesus and anti-violence. If that’s not your thing, carry on.

  • And, I’m thinking you obviously don’t know what a straw man is. Never said that Saddam’s behavior was Bush’s fault– just that our violence created the power vacuum. That’s just a historical fact.

  • I don’t think anyone is denying that Saddam was a brutal ruler, but his presence had help maintain stability in the region. His time as a leader was numbered, and I doubt his sons could have held onto power. When we look at our interference in the business of other nations, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, we cannot sit by and assume we have clean hands in all of it.
    While I doubt a mass removal of citizens to our soil is the ultimate answer, I do think Benjamin is on the right track. More bombs, guns, and bullets is not going to help a region awash in them.

  • I remember thinking on 9/11, that the death toll was going to be much bigger before it was all over. That realization made me weep even harder than the crying I had done with the knowledge of so many senseless deaths on that fateful day. Thirteen years later, tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands of military personel on both sides of the conflicts have perished. For what?

  • JMartinMul

    The military is one means of national power to pursue the good.

    We seem to forget about and/or poorly align the other means of national power. economic, diplomatic, information (as in information operations), humanitarian, social media.

    These should be smartly employed, within a coherent (and stable, predictable) policy to pursue the true good of others.

    Obama’s foreign policy is so bad Hagel is complaining about it today.

    To call what we did in Iraq militarily as mere “violence” undifferentiated from the violence that ISIS is doing is laughable. To claim our military actions as causative to ISIS’s actions is even more laughable.

  • If we hadn’t been interfering in Afghanistant during the nation’s conflict with Russia, we wouldn’t be trying to oust the people we’d formally armed. If the Brits, later with our assistance hadn’t continually interferred in the workings of the region that later became Iraq, Turkey and the Kurdish region. If we hadn’t backed the unpopular and increasingly corrupt Shah in Iran…

  • JMartinMul

    We were correct to try to disrupt the invasion of Afghanistan. To call it a “conflict” denies the deeper and more substantial truth. The rights of a sovereign people…a whole nation…were trampled upon by a now thankfully defunct government.

    It would really give progressive Christians more intellectual credibility if they didn’t sweep over crucial differences. We have a whole generation of people who superficially skid across the top of topics.

  • JMartinMul

    The depth of the pacifism of people is revealed when they are personally assaulted. Ideas go out the window.

  • Again, you don’t have a clue who’s house you’re trolling in.

  • JMartinMul

    I think it’s whose. And just because you can’t counter my point with a substantial point doesn’t make me a troll. Bullies and trolls are people who don’t make substantial points. Counter the point made.

  • JMartinMul

    To be more precise and rigorous it was the rapid removal of our troops in Iraq that created a power vacuum, now filled by ISIS.

    Every 3 star or above general told Obama not to publicize the schedule. But he needed it for his re-election talking points.

  • JohnH2

    I agree that asylum and rescues should be done for those that wish that. There are some dangers in allowing radical elements into countries via asylum, and potentially encouraging more attempts at genocide; but the first is already something that we need to deal with and the second is not the fault of those seeking to save people.

    However, perhaps as an American, perhaps as a lot of reasons, I don’t know that you understand the connection to place and history that these people experience and have. Forced migration (see: trail of tears, Missouri executive order 44, etc) are themselves really bad things, and to people with other values than you they can be considered as worse than death itself.

    We move around so much that we don’t know, and can’t know what it is like to know that you are living in the same house that direct ancestors were living in thousands of years later. I know of an archeological site where the original inhabitant of the housing complex was buried under the floor of the house and there is evidence that votive offerings were being done to the same guy for over two and half thousand years. That isn’t something that one can really leave and remain the same, and whether ones life or ones heritage is more important isn’t always easy to answer. In Iraq, we are talking about communities that have lived in those places and practiced those religions in that place for many generations.

    Many of them don’t want to leave. There are many that are willing to face death to protect their families and heritages but do not have the weapons to do so. If they want to leave then we should help them leave, but if they want to stay then it is my opinion that we have a moral obligation due to our past violence in the region to provides the means for them to defend themselves as best they can. It is our weaponry that the IS is using and is our policies that kept weaponry out of the hands of those being slaughtered by a monster we are responsible for creating.

    The IS has shown itself to be as pure evil as one can get. This isn’t hidden death camps that if one knows about it one doesn’t speak of it for fear, this is video taping their depravity and destruction and sharing proudly with the world. There are legitimate grievances between the Sunni’s in Iraq against the central government, but the IS is hoping to both be seen as solving those and being too terrifying for the Sunni’s to get rid of.

    In helping the Kurds defend themselves and helping the various groups on the Nineveh plain our violence can help solve those problems and they are pleading for our help. In solving the larger problems in Iraq airstrikes won’t do any good and boots on the ground turns us into the iron fisted dictator; and the larger problems in Iraq are less specifically the US’s causing, except for removing Saddam. I am not under any illusion that violence will solve all of the problems in Iraq, or that it is the final solution to the Islamic State and its causes; but to say that the Kurds and Christians and others need to just leave Iraq and their heritage, history, and pride in their accomplishments to become refugees, or alternatively become Anabaptists and renounce all violence and that the IS won’t just slaughter them all and upload video and pictures of themselves doing it for the whole world to watch is an illusion.

    Jesus appears to have celebrated the festival of lights, and he did throw moneychangers out of the temple. That is a festival that celebrates those that in violence and without an angel to guide them took back the temple and stopped the evils that were being perpetrated in terms equal to what the IS is doing.

  • nabil89

    Matthew, Christians have been living in this area since the dawn of Christianity. It would be a loss to the cultural and religious diversity of the area to see them all shipped off. Furthermore, Christians in the past decades have been leaving the area for a multiple of reasons. I think we need to work to keep them here rather than ship them off :)

  • nabil89

    I did not speak of hatred against Israel. I am speaking for standing for justice (as happened, for example, in the South African case). Disregarding present-day Arab politics (which, being an Arab, I can tell you change every few months) the issue is one of justice. The zionists stole the land of the Palestinians in 1948 (including both my grandparents).

  • nabil89

    Matthew, I think that we can’t equate both sides. One side (the Palestinians) are fighting to regain their lands (though their weapons are basic and they do not have a world power – USA – giving them money every day to buy more weapons) and the other side is seeking to solidify and protect its illegal gains of land. Blessings…

  • nabil89

    Here is one picture (out of a million other) to prove my point. My heart cries out for justice not just in this case, but also for the Armenians who faced the Turkish genocide and myriad other oppressed people groups.

  • Matthew

    Thanks so much.

  • Jordan

    The cause of ISIS goes back farther than G. W. Bush. In the 80’s, Reagan assisted Afghan “freedom fighters” in fighting the Soviet Union. These freedom fighters eventually formed the Taliban. One of the freedom fighters, Osama bin Laden, founded Al Qaeda, from which ISIS originated.

    Going ever farther back in time, the Soviet Union would likely have never existed had it not been for the USA assisting Lenin’s revolution in Russia in WWI. Oh the deadly webs we weave with the sword of the state.

  • Derek Wildstar

    Uh, maybe the Israelis are a lot better in protecting their people because it matters to them whereas Hamas gets plenty of propaganda value when “innocent” Palestinians get killed or injured…..Unfortunately for them, even Abbas is blaming them for “prolonging the war.”

  • Derek Wildstar

    So “Nabil89,” what of the 1929 massacre of Jewish settlers by Arabs in Hebron? They were not “stealing” land because the Balfour declaration had promised them a “homeland.” They gained it “fair in square.” The Jews did not steal anything outside of recognized international agreements whereas you Palestinians do not acknowledge your own murderous crimes…..

  • Nice

    excuse me can I ask you a question?

  • Gloria Davis

    I was hoping that you would’ve asked the question by now !
    It’s a beautiful morning, the sun is out.
    Have a great afternoon.

  • Gloria Davis

    With a smile.

  • Gloria Davis

    Whatever are you so angry about?
    Lighten up and give God thanks for this wonderful world he has created!

  • Gloria Davis

    Well said!

  • Gloria Davis

    Why bothered to give all that expiation?

  • Gloria Davis

    I hope you don’t live in the USA.

  • Gloria Davis

    Wow Wow! Can we ask for some blessings? Instead of the bashing.
    Look out side and see what’s out there.

  • What bashing? This is history. This is how the decisions made in the past can influence the present, especially when such decisions do not consider long term ramifications, or all the parties that may be impacted.

    We are having to deal with what our predecessors wrought. I wish we could stop repeatedly making the same bad decisions when comes to our policies in the region, but I’m doubtful

  • The Russians attempted to take advantage of a ongoing shift in power in the Afghan government, following a coup. RUssia and the west’s butting in resulted in a shift in the balance of local power from the moderates who’d held power for decades to the ultra conservatives we know as the Taliban. The civil war that followed Russia’s exit and the results of the group’s rise to power has been catastrophic to that nation. Our ongoing presence has not helped all that much.

  • Gloria Davis

    All I wish to add is hope we all had a great day!