[UPDATE: Hirsi Ali comes back with a ringing statement, worth reading in full. An excerpt:
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…
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.
Indeed. Ali is right to call Brandeis not only on their decision, but on the misleading manner in which they described it, subtly implying that she might have been part of the process which led to it. She also is correct to point out the sanctimonious self-serving PC hypocrisy of that “engage in a dialogue” bit.]
The fact that Brandeis has bowed to pressure and canceled its plans to award Hirsi Ali an honorary degree at commencement is no surprise. It is merely a continuation of a decades-long trend in academia towards placating the left and cowardice.
It’s an interesting incident, though, because it highlights the fact that, in a choice between protecting women’s rights and protecting Islam—two causes beloved of the left—the latter apparently trumps the former in importance. Ali is a champion of women’s rights, and that’s one of the reasons she is so against Islam: because of its attitude towards women. She should know; she was brought up as a devout Muslim, born in Somalia and raised in Kenya, and subjected to genital mutilation surgery at the age of 5:
By the time she reached her teens, Saudi-funded religious education was becoming more influential among Muslims in other countries, and a charismatic religious teacher who had been trained under this aegis joined Hirsi Ali’s school. She inspired the teenaged Ayaan, as well as some fellow students, to adopt the more rigorous Saudi Arabian interpretations of Islam, as opposed to the more relaxed versions then current in Somalia and Kenya. Hirsi Ali had been impressed by the Qur’an before she could even read, and had lived “by the Book, for the Book” throughout her childhood.
She sympathised with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, and wore a hijab together with her school uniform, which was unusual at the time but gradually became more common. She agreed with the fatwa against British writer Salman Rushdie that was declared in reaction to the publication of his controversial novel The Satanic Verses.
There is no question whatsoever that Ali is a brave person. Not so the administrators of Brandeis, who in their official statement can’t even bring themselves to be specific about what it was that gave so much offense that they felt the need to disinvite Ali:
That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.
This is not only cowardly, it’s almost certainly disingenuous as well. No one familiar with Ali’s life and work could fail to notice that she has been very, very critical of Islam. The specific statements hardly matter; it’s the whole of her attitude that should have been the tipoff. Here, however, is the supposedly offending statement, uttered in the context of a Reason interview from 2007:
Once [Islam is] defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”
There is no moderate Islam. There are Muslims who are passive, who don’t all follow the rules of Islam, but there’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.
This sort of thing has been defined as “hate speech” by the anti-Ali forces, who wrote in a petition to the administration:
How can an Administration of a University that prides itself on social justice and acceptance of all make a decision that targets and disrespects it’s own students? This is hurtful to the Muslim students and the Brandeis community who stand for social justice.
Note the buzzwords “social justice,” the lack of attention to whether Ali’s statements might have been true or not, and the emphasis on how it hurt the feelings of some students. This is the way it goes at the universities these days. Note also that the petition was signed by 85 of 350 faculty members, a surprising small number to me considering the percentage of faculty who could be assumed to be on the left and dedicated to PC thought. But it was enough to convince the administration the university would be better off jettisoning its plans.
I would like to see a backlash against Brandeis mounted on the part of its donors and alums for this craven official act (as opposed to private beliefs) of the university administrators. But I won’t sit on a hot stove till that happens.
[ADDENDUM: If you want to (respectfully—in other words, skip the expletives) share your opinion with Fred Lawrence, president of Brandeis, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]