You can be honored at Brandeis University – one of the country’s major Jewish institutions of higher education – if you are sharply critical of any branch of Christianity. You can be honored by Brandeis if you make statements that are openly anti-Semitic in the pursuit of an anti-Zionist agenda. You can be honored by Brandeis if you are anti-American or sharply critical of any particular political ideology. Students and faculty may complain and state that they feel unwelcome and discriminated against, but the university will stand for academic freedom and robust debate as the function of a university.
In a complete collapse of rectitude, Brandeis University’s president Fred Lawrence issued a statement on Tuesday evening, April 8, announcing the withdrawal of women’s and human rights champion Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a recipient of an honorary degree from the school at this year’s commencement.
For two days Muslim students and supporters raged against the decision to honor Ali because, they claimed, she is Islampohobic.
Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. In 1992 she escaped an impending arranged marriage to a relative, running to the Netherlands, where she learned the language and established a life. She rose to become a member of the Dutch parliament, where she worked to further the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society.
In 2004, Ali made a film with her friend, Theo Van Gogh. That film, “Submission,” is about the oppression of women in conservative Islamic cultures.
After “Submission” was aired on Dutch television, an Islamic extremist murdered Van Gogh who was enraged by the portrayal of Islam. A letter pinned to his body contained a death threat to Ali. She eventually fled Holland and Ayaan Hirsi Ali now lives in the United States.
Ali evolved from being a devout Muslim to one who questioned her faith, to ultimately and resolutely rejecting it.
“I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values.” That is a quote from Ali’s book, “Infidel.”
It is a sad reality that Islam has, in recent years, become characterized by a fundamental rejection of modernity, human rights, and the norms of civilized behavior. While most Muslims in this country are decent people, that does not negate the parade of horrible that we have seen perpetrated in the name of that faith. And now we find that it is unacceptable for an accomplished woman of color – one whose life has been repeatedly marred by victimization and persecution in the name of Islam – to receive honors for her work lest she offend those who embrace the malignant ideology against which she has spent her adult life fighting. In other words, the worst aspects of Islam are winning – with the full support of the liberal opinion leaders of this country.
And worst of all, Brandeis University issued a false statement which sought to speak for this heroic woman who has long been a hero of mine. I therefore present her words, so that she may have her voice fully heard.
“Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me—just a few hours before issuing a public statement—to say that such a decision had been made.
“When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students. I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings,’ and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.
“What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis. Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.
“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The ‘spirit of free expression’ referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.
“Not content with a public disavowal, Brandeis has invited me ‘to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.’ Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece. I have no wish to ‘engage’ in such one-sided dialogue. I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck—and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater.
“I take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported me and my work on behalf of oppressed woman and girls everywhere.”
Those are the words of a brave woman who deserves the admiration of every decent person. May the cowardice of the leaders Brandeis University lead to its rejection by every person who believes in human rights, women’s rights, and the full and free exchange of ideals.
UPDATE: Just read this excellent piece by my fellow member of the Watcher's Council Rob of JoshuaPundit.