The Corner


Rand Paul’s Distortion of History

Senator Rand Paul speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., December 4, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

I agree with Senator Paul on a great many issues, including his view that the unconstitutional U.S. involvement in the war in Syria needs to end. But the wildly false historical claim he has used to justify his position calls for a correction.

On Twitter yesterday, he proclaimed, “Sunnis have been killing Shia since the massacre at Karbala in 680 AD. If we wait until they stop killing each other, we will stay for a thousand years or more.”

Shi’ism as a religious doctrine had not been established by 680. The victims of the massacres at Karbala were the Ahl-ul-Bayt (the family of the Prophet), who are venerated by Sunnis and Shi’is alike. The murderers have been reviled throughout Sunni history. Indeed, many of the most important figures in the Sunni tradition, particularly the great mystics such as ‘Abdul-Qadir Jilani or ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad (and into the present day), are descendants of the victims of Karbala. Senator Paul’s categorization does not hold, by any stretch.

The senator’s implicit claim that Sunni-Shi’i massacres are a regular occurrence of history is also false. While tensions exist between the religious sects, communal violence has been the exception, not the rule, throughout the centuries since they came into being. And where violence did occur, it was generally in the context of geopolitics between Sunni and Shi’i polities, such as that between Saladin and the Fatimids of Egypt.

Ironically, Senator Paul’s (incorrect) suggestion of an ongoing thousand-plus year armed conflict probably gives ammunition to his purported opponents, the interventionists who claim that any U.S. withdrawal must result in mass violence. Rand Paul is not only dealing in bad history here, but bad politics as well.

Jibran Khan is the Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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