Yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on Sean Hannity's radio program to talk about "Islamophobia" in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. According to the transcript by the National Journal's Emma Roller, Paul said
"I haven't seen any Christians or Jews dragging people of the Islamic faith through the streets, but I am seeing the opposite. I'm seeing Christians beheaded. I'm seeing people who say anything about Islam being shot," Paul said. "And so, yeah, should the rules always protect everyone's rights? Yeah. But I'm not too worried right now that we've infringed on their rights. I'm worried that Christians and Jews are being killed around the world."
Vox notes that when Hannity asked if a New York Times editorial urging people to not smear all Muslims with "a terrorist brush" made sense, Paul replied, "I think they must be totally deaf and dumb."
"You've got to secure your country. And that means maybe that every Muslim immigrant that wishes to come to France shouldn't have an open door to come." [Rand] continued: "It's also my concern here. I think our border is a danger to attack, as well as our student visa program. Several of the attackers on 9/11 were here on student visas they had overstayed."
It's not clear to me exactly what Paul means by "our border" in this context. Is it a dig at the U.S.-Mexico border, which so far has contributed zip to Islamic terrorism in America? Or is he talking more figuratively? As Joel Mowbray pointed out in an award-winning 2002 article for National Review, the most amazing thing about the vast majority of the 9/11 hijackers was that they came into the country through a fully legal "visa express" program under the old Immigration and Naturalization Service and State Department rules.
In any case, thought it's not reflected in the quotes above, Paul actually noted that many of the issues dealing with Muslims and assimilation in France are tied to that country's colonial legacy and policies that stymie integration into social mainstream. He didn't note that the accused gunmen are not immigrants themselves but the children of immigrants of who spoke French well and reflect a sort of second-generation disdain for the very cosmopolitanism that might have lured their parents to Paris in the first place. Islamic terrorism, at least in the U.K., Europe, and the U.S. seems to mostly executed by residents of cities such as London, Paris, and Hamburg, not backwater villages in Afghanistan.
In a large sense, Paul still needs to come up with a fully coherent stance on immigration, one that is clearly separate from fears about terrorism. He wavers between a "secure the border" mentality that flirts with xenophobia toward Mexicans and the phantom menace of large numbers of Islamic terrorists sneaking into the country (to the extent that's a legitimate problem, it's exactly what national intelligence agencies should be covering) and an open borders mentality. If Paul really wants to stand apart from other Republicans and reach the independents and moderates who dig his stances on limited government, criminal justice reform, and devolving drug and marriage issues to the states, he's far better off keeping his immigration talking points like these: "If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you." (And if he wants a slate of proposals that go toward that popular goal, he should read Shikha Dalmia's article in the new issue of Reason).
The discussion with Hannity is much more nuanced and interesting than the more bombastic quotes cited by Vox and National Journal suggest. After Hannity invokes the radical cleric Anjem Choudary (who insists that Muslims have an obligation to kill those who blaspheme Mohammed), Paul responds:
We need to call for and there needs to be members of civilized Islam who will step forward and not only militarily but verbally as well as, you know, throughout their demonstrations, show that this is not part of Islam….Civilized Islam really does need to stand up. Saudi Arabia needs to have soldiers on the front lines fighting ISIS. So do the Qataris, so do the Kuwaitis….If that happened, they would wipe out ISIS in a matter of months. If it doesn't happen, I wouldn't fund these countries.
Paul then discusses his bill to end aid to the Palestinian Authority because of its alliance with Hamas, stressing that he pushed similar legislation a year ago. There's no question that Paul has switched positions regarding foreign aid. He once called for a ban on aid to everyone, including Israel, the largest recipient of U.S. money on that score. Now he's targeting Palestinian aid, in a pretty clear attempt to woo Republican interests. As Brian Doherty noted, Paul's foreign policy causes some consternation among libertarians, who remain his most ardent supporters both in the GOP and in the general population.
One of the reasons for that support is his willingness to talk specifics on cutting the size, scope, and spending of the federal government. He tells Hannity that he is committed not just to ruling with the new GOP congressional majority, but actually cutting government.
I'm not just for restricting Obamacare spending or immigration spending. I'm for having thousands and thousands…of instructions on how we spend money, so we spend it wisely…. It's a short leash for Republicans. Yes, we won, but if we don't do the right thing, if we add more government programs, and we add to the debt, [voters] will throw Republicans out as easily as they threw Democrats out.
He also pledges to insist on working through all 12 appropriations bills.
Listen to the program yourself by clicking here (Rand Paul comes on around 17.30 minutes).