Last month, at the Values Voter Summit, a gathering of conservative activists from around the country, Senator Rand Paul gave a speech on what he called “a worldwide war on Christians by a fanatical element of Islam.”
Anti-Christian persecution, violence, and “religious cleansing” have become common in many Muslim-majority countries. The media, as Paul pointed out, have turned a blind eye. So, too, have President Obama and European leaders.
The senator was careful not to paint all Muslims with the brush of fanaticism. He stressed that only a minority of Muslims read Islamic scripture as mandating an armed struggle against Christians and other “unbelievers.” But because the global Muslim population is so large — more than 1.5 billion — even a relatively small percentage translates into tens of millions of jihad supporters.
Paul cited a few of the atrocities not making the evening news: a priest shot in the head in Zanzibar; churches bombed in Kenya; the beheading of three girls on their way to a Christian school in Indonesia; converts to Christianity murdered in Cameroon; churches burned and worshipers killed in Egypt; a pastor in Iran tortured and ordered to renounce his faith.
In the ancient Christian city of Maaloula, in what is now Syria, “Islamic rebels swarmed into town” demanding everyone convert or die, he said. “Sarkis el Zakhm stood up and answered them, ‘I am a Christian and if you want to kill me because I am a Christian, do it.’ Those were Sarkis’s last words.”
Paul added: “These rebels are allies of the Islamic rebels President Obama is now arming.
American tax dollars should never be spent to prop up a war on Christianity. But that is what is happening right now.”
Well, not precisely: Almost three years ago, Syrians began to peacefully demonstrate against Bashar Assad. The brutality of the dictator’s response sparked a civil war that was led by nationalists — not jihadists. They asked for American support and were turned down, in part because the administration saw Assad’s fall as inevitable with or without U.S. assistance.
That analysis turned out to be dead wrong — and there are now more than 100,000 dead to date. Iran’s rulers — who, as Paul noted, persecute Christians at home and, as he did not note, were responsible for hundreds of American deaths in Iraq, and who scrawl “Death to America!” on their missiles — sent Assad battalions of reinforcements, including elite fighters from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They also arranged for combatants from Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanon-based foreign legion — the murderers of 241 American servicemen in 1983 — to come to Assad’s rescue.
While this has been going on, al-Qaeda forces, decimated during the American “surge” in Iraq, were taking advantage of America’s withdrawal from that troubled country to regroup and rebuild. Volunteers streamed in from Algeria, Chechnya, and other corners of the Islamic world. They soon became strong enough to cross the border, declaring the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Syrian Christians, more properly called Syriacs, are widely believed to be pro-Assad. But that’s not quite accurate. A recent newsletter of the European Syriac Union states proudly that they were among those asking Assad for “their rights.” As a consequence, they have been seen as “the enemies” of the regime that continues to “attack, arrest, torture and imprison Syriac people.”
Syrian Christians have appealed to the U.S. government for assistance and they, too, have been turned down. Paul argues: “We must work to ensure our country, our policies, our tax dollars, are on the side of ending this violence rather than encouraging those who perpetrate it.” But he never gets around to saying who or what he has in mind.
What he says instead: “How someone could believe that killing innocent people would further one’s cause is beyond me.” Is that really so hard to fathom? Both the Nazis and the Communists killed innocent people by the millions to further their causes. By now we should understand that totalitarianism is totalitarianism — whether it is based on race, class, or religion.
“Radical Islam will end only when Islam begins to police Islam,” Paul adds. Can you imagine Churchill saying Nazism will end only when Germans begin to police themselves? Can you imagine Reagan saying Communism will end only when Russians begin policing themselves?
Paul insists that “Islam needs to remember and recreate the good in their history.” But those waging jihad believe the best in their history was when there was an Islamic empire as extensive as Rome at its zenith, dominating, and often destroying, communities of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and other “infidels.”
The presumption of radical Islam, wrote Bernard Lewis (the world’s leading scholar of the Middle East before that field of study became extensively politicized and compromised), is that “the duty of jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule.”
Western politicians have been reluctant to acknowledge this reality and act on it by developing a strategy aimed at defeating revolutionary Islam in both its Sunni and its Shiite variants. The best President Bush could do was to declare a global War on Terrorism — as if we objected only to the jihadis’ weapon of choice. President Obama insists we’re fighting “violent extremism,” a term so nebulous as to be meaningless.
Senator Paul has yet to improve on these flawed conceptual frameworks. “The ultimate answer must come from Islam itself,” he told his audience. “They will never accept us through force of arms. Somehow, though, they must come to understand that they must police themselves, that they must root out and destroy the sadists and killers who distort and contort religion to justify killing civilians and children.”
“Somehow, though, they must come to understand” is neither a policy nor a strategy. Senator Paul is to be commended for speaking out about the plight of Christians in Muslim-dominated lands at a time when so many other voices are silent. But if he would step back from the trees he’d see a deep and dark forest: Attacks on Christians are battles in a “War against the West” being waged by the 21st century’s most lethal imperialists. If Paul seriously aspires to be a world leader, he would be well-advised to begin developing a response not based on retreat, passivity, and drift.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.