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.

Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More