Why Did the US Senate Ignore Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani?

Asra Nomani (L) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali testimy before the Senate.
Asra Nomani (L) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali testimy before the Senate. (Photo: Twitter @MohammadShouman)

Islamist ideology was discussed as a root cause driving extremist terrorism in a Senate hearing on Wednesday, but you wouldn’t know it from the questions asked by the committee.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing to discuss “Ideology and Terror: Understanding the Tools, Tactics, and Techniques of Violent Extremism.”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Asra Nomani, two brave female activists who have been at the forefront of the struggle against the dangerous ideology of Islamism, were invited to speak. Both women are from Muslim backgrounds and have extensive personal and academic experience with the intricacies of Islamism.

They told Congress that unless the political ideology of Islamism is called out, targeted and eliminated, terrorism will continue both in general and, more specifically, as a national security threat to the United States of America.

“We face an ideology of extremism from within the House of Islam,” Nomani stated. “Why, 15 years after the 9/11 attack, haven’t we found victory against terrorism? Why, after the killing of Osama bin Laden, haven’t we declared Islamic terror dead? It is because terrorism is fueled by Islamism, an ideology of political Islam, and we have wasted millions of dollars to design counter narratives without dealing with a very simple and fundamental truth. We must destroy and eliminate the narrative of Islamism.”

Hirsi Ali was just as blunt. “Political Islam is not just a religion as most Western citizens recognize the term ‘religion,’ a faith; it is also a political ideology, a legal order and, in many ways, also a military doctrine associated with the campaigns of the Prophet Mohammed,” she said.

“Political Islam rejects any kind of distinction between religion and politics, mosque and state. Political Islam even rejects the modern state in favor of a caliphate. My central argument is that political Islam implies a constitutional order fundamentally incompatible with the U.S. constitution and with the ‘constitution of liberty’ that is the foundation of the American way of life.”

She went on to make it even clearer, adding, “There is no point in denying that political Islam as an ideology has its foundation in Islamic doctrine.”

But Democratic senators on the committee didn’t want to hear it.

“Anyone who twists or distorts religion to a place of evil is an exception to the rule,” simpered Senator Claire McCaskill. “We should not focus on religion.”

Yet neither Nomani nor Asra made their testimony about religion. Both made it abundantly clear they were talking about the political ideology of theocracy, something that is by no means unique to Islam, although it is of course a particular problem “within the House of Islam” (as Nomani put it) at the moment.

Theocracy, self-evidently, has something to do with religion, since it seeks to impose religion as a system of government. But it is still a political ideology, the existence of which does not tar the non-theocratic members of the same faith (in this case Islam) with the same brush of involvement.

None of these plainly obvious facts impacted the hysteria which greeted the testimony.

Rather than ask Hirsi Ali and Nomani any questions, Democrats on the committee preferred to focus their discussion on questioning the former director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, who, coincidentally, had been invited by Democrats on the committee.

“Muslims honoring of sharia is not inherently in tangent with living in constitutional democracies anymore than it would be for Christians or Jews who also seek to honor their religious traditions while still complying with civil authority,” he said.

Clearly it isn’t. But it certainly is unconstitutional to seek to impose sharia as a system of government, which is what Islamists want.

In general, the continual denial of the existence of Islamist political ideology, which has something (but not everything) to do with religion is utterly baffling. If it were some harmless issue, like an obscure rule in golf which had incorrectly fallen into abeyance, or steadfastly insisting that “irregardless” is a word, then we could all laugh and then forget about the folly.

But this isn’t a harmless misunderstanding. It’s a very serious category error which misdiagnoses a huge and global problem. We saw the chilling effects yesterday in London. A man screaming, “I want to kill all the Muslims” rammed his van into a crowd outside a mosque, killing two.

Clearly people aren’t going to wait for the outcome of lengthy committee hearings to make a decision about what is responsible. If politicians can’t clearly delineate exactly what the ideology driving global terrorism is and explain how it is related to but distinct from Islam, fools and fanatics will assume it’s Islam in general and take the law into their own hands.

If you’re really interested in preventing that, then we have to be honest about the situation and start working to diffuse it, instead of trying to protect Islam’s reputation.

Ex-Muslim activist Yasmine Muhammed said it best on Twitter. Addressing Michael Leiter she said, “No disrespect, but you’ve been at the job a long time, and things are only worse. Maybe listen to @AsraNomani and@Ayaan.”

Indeed. As the poet and songwriter Bob Dylan said, “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin’.”

EF
Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.