You don’t have to agree with the right-leaning politics of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani to understand why they were upset about last week’s Senate hearing called “Ideology and Terror: Understanding the Tools, Tactics, and Techniques of Violent Extremism.”
They are two people working to reform Islam. They have first-hand knowledge about how the faith can lead people in a radical direction. They also care deeply about civil rights for people who are Muslim. Yet Senate Democrats didn’t seem to give a damn about what they had to say. Maybe they felt it would be too mean to even suggest a link between Islam and terrorism no matter how much evidence suggests there is one.
Hirsi Ali and Nomani describe what happened in a piece for the New York Times:
… We were there to testify about the ideology of political Islam, or Islamism.
But [the tough questions] never came. The Democrats on the panel, including Senator [Kamala] Harris and three other Democratic female senators — North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill — did not ask either of us a single question… In the end, the only questions asked of us about Islamist ideologies came from Senator Johnson and his Republican colleague, Senator Steve Daines from Montana.
While more questions weren’t asked, you can still read their written testimonies for yourself. Here’s a portion of what Hirsi Ali said:
Insisting that radical Islamists have “nothing to do with Islam” has led US policy makers to commit numerous strategic errors since 9/11. One is to distinguish between a “tiny” group of extremists and an “overwhelming” majority of “moderate” Muslims. I prefer to differentiate among Medina Muslims, who embrace the militant political ideology adopted by Muhammad in Medina; Mecca Muslims, who prefer the religion originally promoted by Muhammad in Mecca; and reformers, who are open to some kind of Muslim Reformation.
It is the job of Congress to find the right balance in the face of this specific threat between our rights and freedoms and a policy package that is effective in combating the threat. Protection of the religious rights of the members of the Muslim minority who are not engaged in Islamist dawa should be an integral part of that package.
Congress must give the president in this war the tools he needs to identify and dismantle the infrastructure of dawa in the United States: the network of radical Islamist centers, associations, and mosques that perpetuate political Islam in its most radical form, even if they themselves do not perpetrate the violence that they so often preach.
And here’s Nomani:
For both Ayaan and me, the trajectory of our lives was transformed by the murder of our colleagues and friends by adherents to radical Islam. We bear witness to the very real ideologies of Islam that not only motivated the killers of our friends, but also motivated the three men who spilled blood on London Bridge just last weekend.
As a Muslim, I testify before you that the link between the ideology of Islamic extremism and terror is real. It breaks my heart that it exists in the world today. I, along with the other founders of the Muslim Reform Movement, see it as our duty, as Muslims, not to make excuses or protect the “honor” of Islam, but make sure that Muslims act honorably in this world with an Islam of grace. Alas, the ideology of Islamism is growing. It must be confronted with urgency and purpose. It must be defeated.
The point isn’t whether or not you agree with their conclusions. That’s a separate discussion. But were Senate Democrats avoiding the issue completely by not asking any questions of two witnesses who gave up their time and energy (and, arguably, safety) to be there? Hirsi Ali and Nomani certainly think so, and they say that’s a serious problem for liberals who have no idea how to confront radical Islam because they don’t want to insult peaceful Muslims:
… what happened that day [in the Senate hearing] was emblematic of a deeply troubling trend among progressives when it comes to confronting the brutal reality of Islamist extremism and what it means for women in many Muslim communities here at home and around the world. When it comes to the pay gap, abortion access and workplace discrimination, progressives have much to say. But we’re still waiting for a march against honor killings, child marriages, polygamy, sex slavery or female genital mutilation.
Defending universal principles against Islamist ideology, not denying that these conflicts exist, is surely the first step in a fight whose natural leaders in Washington should be women like Kamala Harris and Claire McCaskill — both outspoken advocates for American women.
Is there any defense for the Democrats’ silence on the matter? Sure, and the women don’t mention this at all in their article.
It’s not that Harris and McCaskill and Hassan don’t care about issues like honor killings and FGM. But this hearing was ostensibly a way for Republicans to boost support for their unconstitutional Muslim travel ban. The Democrats wanted no part in lending any credibility to it. Any hint that they agreed with Hirsi Ali and Nomani on the destruction political Islam can cause could theoretically be used to justify further encroachment on the civil rights of all Muslims. Hirsi Ali and Nomani were essentially being used by Republicans to justify policies that were far removed from fighting back against anti-women ideologies.
That makes a lot of sense, even if the Democrats didn’t say it out loud.
But by not asking any questions of the women testifying, it was still a missed opportunity to get more details — on the record — about ways religion can seriously hurt women.
If and when Democrats ever regain power in the Senate, it would be wise for leaders like Harris and McCaskill to call for a real discussion on how religion hurts women and what policies can be implemented to minimize extremism.
One last thing. Hirsi Ali and Nomani wrote of the Democrats that dismissing them “not only silences us, it also puts beyond the pale of liberalism a basic concern for human rights and the individual rights of women abused in the name of Islam.” That’s an unfair attack. Both of them had their say in both written testimonies and their answers to the Republicans’ questions. No one was silencing them. The Democrats may not have asked questions, but they did listen to their responses.
You can see the full hearing right here.