Self-avowed liberal and Islamic reform activist Asra Nomani defended her vote for President Donald Trump and her position on Islamic extremism in Copley Formal Lounge on Wednesday.
The event, co-sponsored by the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition and the Georgetown Review, came under scrutiny after students on social media called Nomani an Islamophobe.
The Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition and The Georgetown Review both defended their decision to invite Nomani ahead of the event. The Georgetown Review said in an editorial posted Tuesday evening that Nomani has the right to voice her opinions.
“While the arguments associating Ms. Nomani with the ‘soft Islamophobia of Western expectations’ are entirely debatable and tenuous at best, the case for disinviting her is almost indefensible,” the editorial reads. “Disagreement is at the heart of a university’s intellectual culture, and Georgetown should be no exception to this rule. Speakers should not be banned from a university community, even if some find them offensive.”
Nomani, a former Georgetown journalism professor from August 2008 to May 2012 and Wall Street Journal reporter, described herself as pro-abortion rights, pro-LGBT rights and pro-gun control. She voted twice for former president Barack Obama and her first choice in 2016 was Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. However, she said she was driven to support Trump by what she called the failure of Democrats to call out radical Islam.
“I am a Muslim who has fought for the last 15 years against the ideology of radical Islam,” Nomani said. “It was my real sadness under an administration and a Democratic party that has failed, in my eyes, to call out the ‘Islam’ in Islamic extremism, the ‘Islam’ in Islamic State.”
Nomani said Trump’s response to the June 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., in which he blamed radical Islam for the attack and condemned Obama and his then-opponent Hillary Clinton for failing to do the same, won her support.
“That’s when I knew there was a candidate there who was willing to go to that place that had become so politically incorrect,” Nomani said.
Nomani faced scrutiny from the moderator, Center for Jewish Civilization Director Jacques Berlinerblau, and students in the audience during a question-and-answer period over Trump’s statements and policies. Nomani said she does not believe Trump is Islamophobic, and his statements should not be taken literally.
Trump temporarily banned citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, and the United States’ refugee system for 120 days, on Jan. 21, before the Ninth Circuit Court invalidated the order Feb. 9.
“I reject the assumption that Donald Trump is an Islamophobe. And I reject the assumption that he’s racist or sexist,” Nomani said. “His communication model is absolutely not the one we’re used to from politicians.”
Nomani said Trump could never use Islamophobic language.
“What is Islamophobia? I mean Islamophobia is supposed to be an irrational fear of Muslims, right, according to this model that’s put out there. And, so, if he was to do things that would not happen in this — I mean, nothing is possible that he could possibly do,” Nomani said. “They recognize that this is a problem of Islamic extremist ideology, it’s not a problem of all Muslims.”
Among Nomani’s vocal supporters in the audience was former Reagan-administration Department of Defense official and prominent conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney (SFS ’75). In the past, Gaffney has suggested Obama is secretly Muslim, and suggested top Clinton aide Huma Abedin had infiltrated the U.S. government as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gaffney’s D.C.-based think tank, the Center for Security Policy, has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group.
The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Gaffney was advising the Trump transition team on national security issues, a report that the Trump team denied.
During the question-and-answer period, Gaffney praised Nomani for speaking out against what he called the “demons” within Islam. He introduced himself only by name and as a Georgetown alumnus.
“I am so impressed in your courage, not only in taking on the demons within your faith tradition, but also in terms of calling out hypocrisy, because it’s enabling them in this country,” Gaffney said.
Nomani thanked Gaffney for his question and for attending. She appeared familiar with Gaffney and his background, noting sympathetically that they had both been a target of the “honor brigade” — her term for academics, activists and others who defend Islam against public critics.
Georgetown Review Editor-in-Chief Kevin Toohers (COL ’17) said the event was open to all members of the public.
This post has been updated.
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