Rick Santorum Speaks on Islam, Iran, and the War on Terror

![Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) drew interest and controversy as he spoke at Stanford’s Kresge Auditorium. (Tom Stilson/The Stanford Review)](/content/uploads/SantorumPhoto.jpg)
Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) drew interest and controversy as he spoke at Stanford’s Kresge Auditorium. (Tom Stilson/The Stanford Review)
Former Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum came to Stanford on March 2, at the invitation of The Stanford Review and Stanford College Republicans, to speak on “The Gathering Storm in the Age of Obama: Challenges and Opportunities.” The senator’s talk focused primarily on the ongoing conflict between the United States and its allies on one side and radicalized Islam on the other. Sen. Santorum began by criticizing the country’s current single-mindedness vis-a-vis the economy, asking, “What would a nuclear bomb on the continent do to this economy?” The economy is important, the senator readily admitted, but he argued that “we are at a very critical time in our country’s history,” and, put simply, we are taking our eye off the ball.

Unlike many commentators, such as Mark Steyn and Robert Spencer, who warn of the threat that radical Islam as a whole poses to the developed world, Sen. Santorum focused primarily on the threat from what he termed the “mullahcracy” of Iran. “I am concerned about Iran because of their eschatology,” he explained. The senator then related the entire history of Shi`a Islam, from the time of Muhammad to the present day, highlighting the various messianic elements within the sect. He made sure to point out that, while the Ayatollah Khomeini (the leader of the Iranian Revolution) and others in previous years had believed that the messiah (the so-called “Mahdi” or Twelfth Imam) would come on his own at the end of times, the current crop of Iranian leaders believes that they must actively work to bring about Armageddon and thereby cause the return of the Twelfth Imam. This makes the Iranian threat fundamentally different from that of the USSR, for instance: “Mutually Assured Destruction doesn’t apply.”

Sen. Santorum then lambasted the Bush Administration for letting political correctness trump the necessity of being honest with the American people about the nature of the threat it faces. The senator argued that the “War on Terror” is a pernicious term, since in fact the real enemy is a specific group of people who actively promote “aggressive, expansionist Islam.” “We need to be straight about this,” he argued: “You need to know who the enemy is.” Since “the President mis-defined the enemy from the beginning, […] we’ve been convinced we’re not at war with [the jihadists], […] and most Americans have no idea who these people are,” he continued. The senator dismissed the claim that the former president was correct and we are in fact fighting terrorists who “just happen to be Muslims.” “They just happen to be Muslims?” he asked incredulously. “That’s false! It has everything to do with Islam,” he responded forcefully.

Next, the senator attempted to explicate the motivation of those who are inspired by Islam to commit acts of violence. “The problem with Islam is the way the text has been interpreted for the past 900 years,” he asserted. Unlike Jesus, for example, Muhammad was a ruler of a state and is believed to be the ideal human being. These two factors make reform and reinterpretation much more difficult in Islam than in Christianity. Many Muslims also believe, according to Sen. Santorum, that they “need to get back to the 700s,” since that is when they were winning wars, conquering territory, and expanding rapidly. These Muslims believe that the reason for their failure is that they have strayed from Islam. The senator went on to explain that since the Islamic Caliphate’s defeat at the gates of Vienna in 1683—which marked the end of Muslim incursions into Europe—Muslims have been “fuming,” with little ability to exact revenge. The vast inflows of oil money into the region changed all that, however, and made defeating the West not a dream but a very real possibility.

Sen. Santorum then briefly discussed the danger of “creeping Shariah” (Islamic law) in the United States and Europe—e.g. the implementation of Shariah-compliant finance, honor killings, and so on. The senator declared these cultural elements “antithetical to Western culture” that must be opposed if at all possible.

After this in-depth examination of Islamic history and theology, the senator opened the floor to questions. It was during this portion of the evening that Sen. Santorum addressed the issue of foreign policy in more general terms, criticizing President Obama’s appearance on al-Arabiya TV shortly after his inauguration. Rather than defending the past actions of the United States, President Obama placed the responsibility for the Middle East’s problems squarely on the shoulders of the country he now leads and offered a somewhat groveling apology to the region and even Islam as a whole. Senator Santorum viewed this as counterproductive at best. “When dealing with these radical Muslims, we have no reason to be humble,” he said. In response to another question, the senator severely castigated the State Department and its similarly over-apologetic handling of affairs, labeling the entire department “a disaster” and “the worst bureaucracy in the government” that far too often “does not defend the interests of the United States.” He then suggested firing all of its employees and replacing them with people from Nebraska who truly believe in America.

Despite some dubious claims—for example, that Jesus created the concept of separation of church and state—it was overall an informative, productive event. Far too few people know the in-depth history of Islam that Sen. Santorum outlined, and such knowledge is critical to understanding the current situation in the region and efforts to find workable solutions to its problems. Some may argue that the senator is overly harsh and uncompromising in some of his views, but there is no arguing that the ideological front is an important one in the current war, and one that the West is currently losing. There is a long road ahead.

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