If you are looking for the Washington Post story about the remarks on ISIS and "genocide" by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, don't look through the 50 or so stories promoted on the front page of the newspaper's website. This story wasn't that important.
You're going to need a search engine to find it. To save time, click here to get to this headline: "Kerry declares Islamic State has committed genocide."
But that headline doesn't capture the real news, since no one has been debating whether the Islamic State had committed "genocide" against the Yazidis. That was settled long ago. So the real news in this story was the declaration that that the word "genocide" also applied to members of the ancient Christian churches in this region, as well as other religious minorities.
Why did this step take so long? And why wasn't this an important story to the editorial masters of Beltway-land? Actually, you can see clues in a crucial passage way down in the Post story. Hold that thought, because we will come back to that.
First, here is some key material up top:
After months of pressure from Congress and religious groups, Kerry issued a finding that largely concurred with a House resolution declaring the Islamic State guilty of genocide. The resolution passed 393 to 0 on Monday night
Kerry said a review by the State Department and U.S. intelligence determined that Yazidis, Christians and Shiite groups have been victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by the radical al-Qaeda offshoot, a Sunni Muslim group also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, its Arabic acronym.
“The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yazidis because they are Yazidis; Shia because they are Shia,” Kerry said in a statement he read to reporters at the State Department. “Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”
So this action follows actions by Congress, controlled by Republicans, and "religious groups," which are almost by definition "conservative" to our foreign-policy elites. Note that, in this context, that makes Pope Francis a conservative.
So Kerry spoke these words, according to this report far inside the Post. But they have no real meaning or importance. You can tell that because of this statement:
Kerry’s declaration, while forceful as a statement of moral principles, has little practical impact on U.S. policy or military strategy. State Department officials said that the finding imposes no new obligations beyond what is already being done but that it could “galvanize” other countries to step up the battle against the Islamic State.
Who, precisely, said that there are no new obligations? That would be "State Department officials." Note the lack of specific attribution.
Here is a journalistic question for you. Are there human-rights activists and other political leaders who disagree with these all-but anonymous claims by the current foreign-policy establishment? Wait! You mean this story might need to quote critics on the other side of this issue?
Might the word "genocide," as has been implied in previous debates, have some relevance to American efforts to deal with refugees from this region? Last I heard, debates about refugees from this region was a hot-button topic.
Might it now be easier for Christians fleeing this genocide to seek asylum in the United States, in light of this persecution and clear threat to their lives? This is a very explosive political question in this election year and there are strong voices on both sides of the argument (see this New York Times op-ed for one take on this).
So where are the voices of those who believe the word "genocide" is crucial in these discussions? And why not quote State Department officials by name, as they argue the opposite?
You can see this same pattern in this crucial passage later in the Post report:
The formal finding of Islamic State genocide is important to some Christian conservatives in the United States. Many political television ads and statements by members of Congress highlighted the importance of acknowledging the genocide of Christians.
In his statement, Kerry went to great lengths to mention atrocities committed against a broad swath of religious and ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Shiites and Turkmens as well as Christians. That was because he does not want to fuel perceptions that the United States is engaged in a modern-day Crusade, a so-called clash of civilizations between Muslims and Christians, aides said.
So, while ISIS has made it clear that it is involved in a war against "crusaders" and "Rome," American diplomats have been hesitant to discuss this reality.
This is crucial info. And who made this argument? Once again we have paraphrased material from anonymous State Department insiders -- as in "aides said."
At least this article stated one obvious political reality that loomed over that 393-0 vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.
How would you like to be a Democrat running for reelection to Congress in, oh, Kansas or somewhere else in flyover country and face ads -- featuring images of ISIS atrocities against Christians -- saying that you voted against a resolution affirming that this was "genocide"?
Where are the voices discussing this single sentence -- which had no attribution -- in the Post report?
So why was this statement from the U.S. State Department considered so controversial? And if it was so controversial, why is this statement now considered such a low-key, unimportant story in terms of its placement in the newspaper?
Meanwhile, over at The New York Times, Kerry's "genocide" statement did receive a tiny plug out on the website's front page. Here is how the Times stated the political equation:
The Islamic State’s “entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology,” he said.
The statement by Mr. Kerry, made in response to a deadline set last year by Congress for the Obama administration to determine whether the targeting of minority religious and ethnic groups by the Islamic State could be defined as genocide, is unlikely to change American policy. ...
Even if the practical impact of Mr. Kerry’s declaration is negligible, it carries important symbolic weight, and the Obama administration has been under growing pressure from some Christian groups and Republican and Democratic lawmakers to label the actions of the Islamic State as genocidal.
One final point: Note, once again, that the American powers that be insist that the Islamic State as an "ideology," as opposed to a "theology" that drives its actions. I reality, ISIS has a political ideology that is based on its radical interpretation of Islam, a version of the faith that is, of course, rejected by the majority of the world's Muslims.
Still, the powers that be in diplomacy and elite journalism remain very uncomfortable when it comes to talking about the religious element in this terrorist movement, especially in comparison to the ISIS leadership.
To its credit, the Times report did note that Kerry said the following:
The Islamic State “castigates Yazidis as, quote, ‘pagans’ and ‘devil-worshipers,’ and we know that Daesh has threatened Christians by saying that it will, quote, ‘conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,’” he said. “Shia Muslims, meanwhile, are referred to by Daesh as, quote, ‘disbelievers and apostates,’ and subjected to frequent and vicious attacks.”
So what happens next in this story? Where will the updates?