WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks at a full Committee hearing on ISIS.
“Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. And thank you, as always, for calling this important hearing.
“And let me also thank our witnesses for joining us today. We are very appreciative that you’re here.
“This Committee has taken a hard look at the brutal campaign ISIS is waging in Iraq and Syria. We’ve learned about the broader threat ISIS poses across the Middle East and around the world. We know how dangerous this group is. We’ve heard how many people have lost their homes and their livelihoods, and their lives in the wake of this violence.
“And today, we will focus on the heartbreaking struggles of Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims who have defied the barbaric perversion of Islam espoused by ISIS. We will hear about the dangers that these communities face every day—how ISIS has killed, raped, and enslaved those who don’t fall in line with their fanaticism. And I hope their stories will remind us and our partners and allies around the world that we must do everything possible to help these people.
“We will also hear about the attempt by ISIS to erase the history of these communities. We’ve all seen videos and reports of ISIS destroying ancient sites and historical artifacts in the territories they control. These are not random acts of vandalism. ISIS is deliberately targeting cultural property for two reasons: firstly, to loot and steal cultural artifacts to fund their violent campaign; and secondly, to destroy what is left in a calculated effort to eradicate minority cultures.
“This is a form of psychological warfare against Yazidis, Christians, Muslim minorities, and anyone else that refuses to bow to their oppression. From the Tomb of Jonah in Mosul to Yazidi shrines in the Sinjar region and the historical site of Hatra, ISIS is trying to rewrite history.
“We have seen this tactic before: the Bamiyan Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Nazi destruction of Jewish religious property during World War II. We cannot allow another vicious group to reshape our record of the past. We need to cut off the profits ISIS gets from trafficking looted artifacts, and to ramp up our efforts to save cultural property from destruction.
“A few weeks ago, this Committee unanimously passed the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, which I introduced with Representative Smith, Chairman Royce, and Representative Keating. This bill would help save cultural property from ISIS’s campaign and we need to get this bill to the President’s desk.
“We also need to stay focused on bringing relief to those living under the yoke of ISIS. I hope our witnesses can shed some light on what religious minorities living under ISIS control need the most.
“The Administration’s response to degrade and destroy ISIS is a good start, but it’s a start. The United States has worked to cut off financial support to IS, to stem the flow of foreign fighters, to deliver robust humanitarian assistance, to provide military support to our partners, including through US and coalition airstrikes, and to push back against the violent ideology promoted by ISIS.
“But as we will hear today, people are still suffering in ISIS-held territory. And I hope today’s testimony will underscore for my colleagues the need to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force—or AUMF. I have said this before, and I will say it again, and again, and again until Congress acts on its responsibility and passes a new authorization.
“And finally, I would like to say that some of us are wearing red today. I’m wearing a red tie; my good friend Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is wearing a red blouse. We are doing this because we want to focus on the girls who have disappeared under Boko Haram. While Boko Haram is not ISIS, it is certainly affiliated. The attacks are just as brutal, and it’s terrorism all around the world, and we need to stand up in this Congress and show that we will thwart it in any way possible. I hope my colleagues will also wear red.
“Once again, I thank our witnesses, and I look forward to hearing your testimony. And thank you Mr. Chairman for your leadership as always.”
Watch Rep. Engel's opening statement here