When Sen. Rand Paul spoke to the Values Voters Summit in Washington, the maverick Kentucky Republican told participants that the media and others are continuing to ignore "a worldwide war on Christianity."
At the annual gathering of religious leaders and conservative activists last week, Paul raised an often-neglected issue: violence against Christians in many majority-Muslim countries, sadly made worse, in part, by the revolutions of the "Arab Spring."
The facts Paul enumerated are grim. In Syria, attacks by jihadist rebels have forced an exodus from the ancient Christian enclave of Maaloula, where some witnesses claim several Christians were killed for refusing to convert to Islam. In Pakistan, the recent suicide bombing of a church in Peshawar, which killed at least 80, was followed by other attacks on Christians. In Egypt, the 2011 fall of authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak unleashed Islamist militancy, causing the Christian community to feel besieged; by some estimates, about 100,000 of Egypt's 6 million to 8 million Coptic Christians have fled. When the military ousted president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July, many of his supporters burned down or razed more than 30 churches.
In fact, the world hasn't entirely looked the other way: The European Parliament has condemned violence against Christians, as has Amnesty International. Yet critics such as Nina Shea of the Washington-based Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom argue that the reaction has been muted -- noting, for instance, that the media have ignored the destruction of one of the world's oldest Christian churches in Egypt.
One likely reason is that mainly liberal Western journalists aren't used to seeing Christians -- the majority in the West, often seen as would-be oppressors of women, gays and religious minorities -- as legitimate victims of oppression.
U.S. conservatives rightly complain about the neglect, but their approach is often counterproductive. Paul has repeatedly blamed the Obama administration for aiding Islamists in the Middle East -- playing to paranoid fantasies that Obama is a Christian-hating secret Muslim and glossing over Bush-era interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan that inadvertently aided forces unfriendly to Christians. (About half of Iraq's 1 million Christians left the country since the 2004 invasion.)
"The president tries to gloss over who is attacking and killing Christians. The media describes the killings as 'sectarian,' " Paul told the gathering. "But the truth is, there is a worldwide war on Christians by a fanatical element of Islam."
Paul also portrayed all radical Islamist terrorism, including the Boston Marathon bombing this year, as a war on Christianity. Yet the targets of terror in the West have been almost entirely secular, and its victims in Muslim-majority countries are usually other Muslims.
It is unfortunate when some on the right use bigotry toward Christians in Islamic countries to preach against Muslims -- as if a free society should respond to intolerance with intolerance. The rhetoric reinforces fears that calling attention to the persecution of Christians may stoke anti-Muslim animus.
Finally, it is not helpful when American conservatives make melodramatic claims about a "war on Christianity" in the United States -- including such brutalities as the teaching of evolution in public schools and a department store clerk saying "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."
The plight of Christians worldwide is real. Their champions should not turn it into a political weapon.Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and the website RealClearPolitics.