Friday, June 23, 2017
June 22, 2017
Democratic California senator Kamala Harris. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
Last week, Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, made headlines when Republican senators interrupted her at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee while she interrogated Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The clip of the exchange went viral; journalists, politicians and everyday Americans debated what the shushing signified about our still sexist culture.
The very next day, Senator Harris took her seat in front of us as a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. We were there to testify about the ideology of political Islam, or Islamism.
Both of us were on edge. Earlier that day, across the Potomac River, a man had shot a Republican lawmaker and others on a baseball diamond in Alexandria, Va. And just moments before the hearing began, a man wearing a Muslim prayer cap had stood up and heckled us, putting Capitol police officers on high alert. We were girding ourselves for tough questions.
But they never came. 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.
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.
How to explain this experience? Perhaps Senators Heitkamp, Harris, Hassan and McCaskill are simply uninterested in sexism and misogyny. But obviously, given their outspoken support of critical women’s issues, such as the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria and campus sexual assault, that’s far from the case.
No, what happened that day 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.
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 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 other words, when we speak about Islamist oppression, we bring personal experience to the table in addition to our scholarly expertise. Yet the feminist mantra so popular when it comes to victims of sexual assault — believe women first — isn’t extended to us. Neither is the notion that the personal is political. Our political conclusions are dismissed as personal; our personal experiences dismissed as political.
That’s because in the rubric of identity politics, our status as women of color is canceled out by our ideas, which are labeled “conservative” — as if opposition to violent jihad, sex slavery, genital mutilation or child marriage were a matter of left or right. This 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.
There is a real discomfort among progressives on the left with calling out Islamic extremism. Partly they fear offending members of a “minority” religion and being labeled racist, bigoted or Islamophobic. There is also the idea, which has tremendous strength on the left, that non-Western women don’t need “saving” — and that the suggestion that they do is patronizing at best. After all, the thinking goes, if women in America still earn less than men for equivalent work, who are we to criticize other cultures?
This is extreme moral relativism disguised as cultural sensitivity. And it leads good people to make excuses for the inexcusable. The silence of the Democratic senators is a reflection of contemporary cultural pressures. Call it identity politics, moral relativism or political correctness — it is shortsighted, dangerous and, ultimately, a betrayal of liberal values.
The hard truth is that there are fundamental conflicts between universal human rights and the principle of Shariah, or Islamic law, which holds that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s; between freedom of religion and the Islamist idea that artists, writers, poets and bloggers should be subject to blasphemy laws; between secular governance and the Islamist goal of a caliphate; between United States law and Islamist promotion of polygamy, child marriage and marital rape; and between freedom of thought and the methods of indoctrination, or dawa, with which Islamists propagate their ideas.
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.
We believe feminism is for everyone. Our goals — not least the equality of the sexes — are deeply liberal. We know these are values that the Democratic senators at our hearing share. Will they find their voices and join us in opposing Islamist extremism and its war on women?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (@ayaan) is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and founder of the AHA Foundation. Asra Q. Nomani (@asranomani), an author and former Wall Street Journal reporter, is a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement.
A proposed law would force the NYPD to publicize the details of its surveillance technology.
June 18, 2017
A bill in New York’s city council would require the New York Police Department to reveal crucial details about every surveillance technology that the department uses to detect terrorism and crime. Ninety days before the NYPD intends to implement a new surveillance technology, it would have to post on the Internet a technical description of how the new tool works, and how the department plans to use it. The public would have 45 days to comment on the proposed technology; the police commissioner would then have 45 days to respond to the public comments before he could actually start using the new capacity. Existing technologies would also have to be retroactively submitted to public review.
Perhaps aware that this moment may not be ideal for promoting what would be, in effect, a terrorists’ manual on how to evade discovery in New York City, the bill’s supporters have hilariously taken to casting it as a pro-illegal alien, anti-Trump gesture. New York is a “sanctuary city, now in open resistance to the Trump administration,” two members of the Brennan Center for Justice wrote in an op-ed advocating for the so-called Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act. (The Brennan Center wrote the POST Act for council members; the center has pushed similar bills across the country, including in Seattle and Oakland, two cities that have been particularly vulnerable to “anti-fascist” violence.) The city council press release claims that the bill “strengthens New York City’s commitment as a sanctuary city . . . as the Trump administration seeks to increase surveillance across America.”
In fact, the proposed law has nothing to do with New York’s deplorable status as a sanctuary city. Criminal illegal aliens avoid lawful deportation in New York because city and police officials release them back to the streets in defiance of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests, not because of sophisticated surveillance technologies. But though the bill would have no effect on the city’s campaign to thwart immigration enforcement, it would impede the city’s ability to stay one step ahead of terrorist planning. Memo to the council: counterterrorism is not a leisurely activity compatible with lengthy public review and administrative red tape. It requires nimbleness and speed in the face of a rapidly evolving threat. And disclosing to the enemy the extent of, and details about, your surveillance capacities provides an invaluable blueprint for foiling those capacities.
Supporters of the bill are playing the race card as well, claiming that the bill is necessary to counter the NYPD’s historic tendency to oppress minorities. The managing director of the Bronx Defenders claims, without evidence, that the NYPD has illegally surveilled Black Lives Matter activists. Council members Dan Garodnick and Vanessa Gibson argue that “Surveillance technology often has a disproportionate, harmful impact on communities of color.” This claim is ludicrous. The radiation detectors that ring the city looking for nuclear threats, say, or the network of public cameras that protect critical infrastructure and sensitive buildings, have no disproportionate impact on minorities or any other group, other than on someone looking to do the city harm.
As for privacy concerns, the anti-surveillance Left has never grasped the constitutional principle that the Fourth Amendment has no bearing on activities conducted in the open. A police officer does not need a warrant to observe a suspicious individual on a street casing a target; the police department does not need a warrant to erect a camera in a public space capturing activities visible to other members of the public. The NYPD does need to persuade a court that it has probable cause to surveil any activity involving a legitimate expectation of privacy, such as a cell-phone conversation, and the department complies with those warrant requirements. Any surveillance that could implicate political activity already is subject to extensive judicial and civilian oversight.
Pretending to have expertise on terror tactics, the Brennan Center declares that none of the information disclosed through the POST Act will be of value to a potential terrorist or criminal. The chance that Brennan Center lawyers understand better than the NYPD’s counterterrorist experts how terrorists leverage information is zero.
The council press release frankly acknowledges that the bill is just a “first step” toward “limiting the unchecked use of surveillance technologies that . . . feed into a broader national surveillance state.” In other words: If we get this bill, we’re coming for more. Many of the law’s supporters, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, oppose all government secrecy, no matter how essential to public safety. But the agenda of the POST Act is broader even than shutting down lawful surveillance. It is the latest outgrowth of the movement to eviscerate all policing, a movement that encompasses the council’s ongoing effort to end public-order enforcement (also known as broken-windows policing). That movement now drapes itself in anti-Trump fervor. If it succeeds, the public will have much more to fear than the fictitious “national surveillance state.”
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops.