Over the past year, Brandeis University worked on having Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak at the spring commencement and receive an honourary degree. Not surprisingly, given her outspoken criticism of fundamentalist religions that promote female genital mutilation, forced child marriages, wife-beating, and child-beating [notably Islam in many places], their decision was criticized.
Brandeis caved. What's worse nearly a quarter of their faculty members signed a letter asking that she be uninvited. I find that appalling, even unsettling.
In their most caring, open-mindedness, one person wrote,
...if I were a Muslim, I would be deeply offended by her comments against my entire religion. (Which I don't believe she has stepped away from.) Of course, she has the right to make those comments, but whether she deserves an honor like this in light of them is a different question."
Given what her former religion has done to her, I see no reason for her NOT to have made the comments she has made. And I would gladly cheer on any institution that has the, not strength or anything like that, the decency and the commitment to human rights and would invite her to be a commencement speaker. As others have responded,
"Brandeis has honored Tony Kushner and Desmond Tutu, who made similar comments about Jews, and without the factual predicate of being a victim of FGM and subject to fatwas. It wouldn't be too hard to find honorees who've criticized Christianity, I imagine. I'm deeply offended that a critic of Islam is considered beyond the pale of Brandeis."
"Would Brandeis shrink from offering an honorary degree to a prominent Western feminist who has used strong language to condemn Christianity's impact on Western society -- for instance decrying it as inherently patriarchal, racist, sexist, even fascist?"
Brandeis University, you are a bunch of illogical, disgusting, pandering, inconsistent, wimps. I hope this incident steers many good faculty members and students away from what otherwise could have been a fine institution.
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.
Just in case there is any question, the shaming is all on the shoulders of Brandeis, which should be deeply ashamed of its wishy-washy-ness and for its backhanded implicit approval of the very things Ali has challenged.