Whilst the rest of Washington was focused on the shutdown and the debt ceiling, Senator Rand Paul took it upon himself to lay out what he sees as a “worldwide war on Christianity,” perpetrated by Muslims. In his recent address to the Value Voters Summit, Paul painted a starkly dichotomous picture of the relationship between Islam and the West.
Paul supports his case with a litany of anecdotes and questionable interpretations of survey results. But far from providing a solution to what he sees as a pressing issue, Paul seems content with allowing “Islam to police Islam,” that is, hoping that Muslim countries will find a way to better manage the most violent and extreme segments of their populations. Or, as Sarah Palin put it more succinctly, “let Allah sort it out.”
History is not on their side. Time and again, we see that American reticence to involve itself in the affairs of the Muslim world creates spaces for extremists to thrive. Take Syria. Paul says that the Obama administration’s decision to fund moderate elements of the Syrian opposition “doesn’t make sense.” But the lack of US involvement in the Syrian crisis over the past two years is precisely what opened the door for Qatar and others to fund the elements of the opposition that Paul rightfully decries. Absent US involvement in Syria, over 100,000 people have died and al-Qaeda linked groups have begun to purge the moderates from the ranks of the opposition. Had America shown leadership earlier, it is unlikely that the extremist elements of the opposition would have gained such power.
Take Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of whether one supported or condemned our military involvement in these countries, American disengagement is a net gain for the extremists. July 2013 represented the bloodiest month in Iraq since the implementation of the surge, with much of the violence perpetrated by a newly-resurgent al-Qaeda in Iraq. Despite some recent American gains in Afghanistan, many believe that the Taliban and other groups are simply waiting for America to withdraw in 2014 before regaining lost ground, and neighboring countries are increasingly worried about the threats that they may face from indigenous Islamist groups absent an American presence in Afghanistan. So much for “Islam policing Islam.”
It’s ironic that Rand Paul is using religious fervor to decry others for doing the same thing to further their aims. And it’s interesting to see him attempt to re-direct such fervor into support for his isolationist tendencies. But what’s missing here is an appreciation for the importance of American engagement with its allies. Abandoning friends in their time of need brews distrust. It validates the arguments of our adversaries and sows the seeds of future problems that will inevitably require a US response to solve. It also begs the question of whether we should simply only be friends with Christians—if so, where would that leave our relations with Indonesia, Japan, or India?
Toward the end of his speech, Paul calls on Muslims to “remember and recreate the good in their history.” Rand Paul would be wise to remember the good that has come from America’s involvement with the world, even the parts of the world that happen to be Muslim.