Why is a feminist summit hosting a woman who helped cage migrant children?

Arwa Mahdawi
Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Kirstjen Nielsen, Donald Trump’s former homeland security secretary, became a household name by separating migrant children from their parents and sticking them in unsanitary cages. This should make her a pariah. Instead it has garnered her a speaking gig at Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women summit – an event that apparently convenes female leaders for “wide-ranging conversations that inspire and deliver practical advice”. Like, you know, how to get a good night’s sleep after ripping a crying toddler away from their mother.

Nielsen’s invitation to the prestigious conference has sparked a backlash and caused other prominent speakers such as Hillary Clinton, the film-maker dream hampton and the singer Brandi Carlile to drop out. (Clinton, rather cowardly, cited a scheduling conflict, but a source told Slate she withdrew because of Nielsen.) Nevertheless, the conference organisers have persisted in having Nielsen appear. “We sought out an opportunity to bring the woman who was effectively responsible for [the US’s immigration] policy to ask her tough questions, publicly,” a Fortune spokeswoman explained. To make it clear this wasn’t going to be a softball interview, the organisers changed the name of the event from “Conversation” to “The Hard Questions”. I’m sure that left Nielsen quaking in her boots.

One of the most insidious trends of our time is the liberal obsession with debating obviously awful people. There seems to be a ridiculous delusion that if you ask Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Steve Bannon or Nielsen a few hard questions they will suddenly see the error of their ways. You will meet them on the intellectual battlefield and, thanks to your incredible interviewing skills, their extreme views will be dealt a deadly blow. How many times do we need to repeat this charade to realise that debating people with zero respect for the truth does not work? All you are doing is giving them a platform and helping to normalise their actions. Forget meeting them in the marketplace of ideas; the likes of Nielsen need to be consigned to the dustbin of history.