Activists Pushing for Reform in Islam: Kamala Harris Silenced Us

Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) / Getty
June 22, 2017

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Q. Nomani, both advocates for a Muslim reform movement and outspoken critics of Islamic law, wrote an op-ed Thursday in the New York Times arguing that Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) silenced them during a Senate committee hearing.

Hirsi Ali and Nomani testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last Wednesday. The hearing focused on "violent extremism."

The two women—who oppose honor killings, child marriage, and female genital mutilation in the Muslim world—described their personal experiences with those issues in relation to Islam in their op-ed.

Sitting before the senators that day were two women of color: Ayaan is from Somalia; Asra is from India. Both of us were born into deeply conservative Muslim families. Ayaan is a survivor of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Asra defied Shariah [Islamic law] by having a baby while unmarried. And we have both been threatened with death by jihadists for things we have said and done. Ayaan cannot appear in public without armed guards.

In the article headlined "Kamala Harris, Speak Up. Don't Be Silent on Women’s Rights," Hirsi Ali and Nomani said the Democratic senators on the committee ignored and did not ask them any questions.

"The Democrats on the panel, including Senator 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," Hirsi Ali and Nomani wrote.

The authors said they were "invisible" to the Democratic women on the committee.

This wasn't a case of benign neglect. At one point, Senator McCaskill said that she took issue with the theme of the hearing itself. "Anyone who twists or distorts religion to a place of evil is an exception to the rule," she said. "We should not focus on religion," she said, adding that she was "worried" that the hearing, organized by Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, would "underline that." 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.

Just as we are invisible to the mullahs at the mosque, we were invisible to the Democratic women in the Senate.

Hirsi Ali and Nomani criticized the Democratic lawmakers for continuing a pattern among progressives.

"There is a real discomfort among progressives on the left with calling out Islamic extremism," the pair wrote. "Partly they fear offending members of a "minority" religion and being labeled racist, bigoted, or Islamophobic."

Hirsi Ali and Nomani then called on Harris and other Democrats in Congress to stand up for universal values and oppose "Islamist ideology."

"Will they find their voices and join us in opposing Islamist extremism and its war on women?" the authors asked, concluding their piece.