In a pusillanimous capitulation to the jackboot enforcers of political correctness, Brandeis University President Fred Lawrence announced Tuesday that an honorary degree to be awarded to woman’s rights champion Ayaan Hirsi Ali at this year’s commencement has been rescinded. “She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world,” said the university in a prepared release on its website. “That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
Brandeis’s core values are apparently bankrupt. Ali has been a fierce critic of Islam and its mistreatment of women, which she experienced firsthand. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia and raised in a strict Muslim family, Ali endured a civil war, genital mutilation and other indignities before escaping to the Netherlands in 1992 to avoid an arranged marriage to a relative. Once there she learned the language and established a new life that included a stint as a member of the Dutch parliament. Much of her work in that country was devoted to helping non-Western immigrants assimilate into Dutch society.
Hirsi Ali made waves when, as part of her efforts to promote women’s rights, she teamed up with friend and film-maker Theo Van Gogh to make the movie “Submission,” which depicted the oppression of women under Islam. Following the showing of the film on Dutch television, both Ali and Van Gogh received death threats over the Internet. On Nov. 2, 2004, Van Gogh was murdered, shot and then stabbed several times by 26-year-old Dutch Moroccan Mohammed Bouyeri, who pinned a letter to Van Gogh’s chest.
The letter was addressed, not to Van Gogh but to Ali, calling her an “infidel fundamentalist” who “terrorizes Islam” and “marches with the soldiers of evil.” It further stated that her “hostilities,” had “unleashed a boomerang and it’s just a matter of time before this boomerang will seal your destiny.” In capital letters it said: “AYAAN HIRSI ALI, YOU WILL SMASH YOURSELF ON ISLAM!”
Shortly thereafter, Ali fled to the United States. In her book “Infidel,” she explained why. “I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and emancipation. … I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values,” she wrote.
As far as Brandeis is concerned, those fundamental values take a back seat to the values of those who invariably demonstrate that declarations of diversity, tolerance and understanding are nothing more than empty rhetoric. Bernadette Brooten, a Brandeis professor in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department, epitomizes such hypocrisy. She used her Facebook page to denounce Ali, noting that she is “deeply saddened by all that this selection has meant for Muslim students, faculty and staff at Brandeis, and for your non-Muslim allies.” Brooten further notes that a group of 86 faculty members signed a letter sent to Lawrence, “asking him to rescind the invitation.”
Aside from the phoniness, the move to rescind Ali’s honorary degree reeks of a blatant double-standard. Brandeis honored Desmond Tutu who, despite his good work on South Africa’s behalf, was an overt anti-Semite. He asserted that the Holocaust’s gas chambers made for “a neater death” than did Apartheid, regularly accuses the Jewish State of ethnic cleansing, and insists that Zionism has “very many parallels with racism.” Playwright Tony Kushner was also honored, despite his equally overt contempt for Israel. He also accused the Jewish State of ethnic cleansing, and insisted its creation “was a mistake.”
Tellingly, both men received honorary degrees despite the reality that Brandeis is a Jewish-sponsored university with historically close ties to Israel. Moreover its namesake, Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, led the American Zionist movement. Yet when Kushner’s nomination generated controversy, former Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz stood against it:
Brandeis bestows honorary degrees as a means of acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments or contributions of individual men and women in any of a number of fields of human endeavor. Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.
Over the years, Brandeis has honored hundreds of men and women of distinction whose personal views, I am sure, span the full spectrum of political discourse, and the University applies no litmus test requiring honorary degree recipients to hold particular views on Israel or topics of current political debate.
Mr. Kushner is not being honored because he is a Jew, and he is not being honored for his political opinions. Brandeis is honoring him for his extraordinary achievements as one of this generation’s foremost playwrights, whose work is recognized in the arts and also addresses Brandeis’s commitment to social justice.
TruthRevolt’s Daniel Mael, a Brandeis student, wondered why the same standard wasn’t being applied to Ali. “Hirsi Ali was not being honored for her views on Islam,” he explained. “She was being honored for her commitment to women’s rights and real justice. I am appalled by the hypocrisy of the University administration and their inability to distinguish between her view on Islam and her efforts in this world. This highlights their shallow commitment to ‘Truth, even unto it’s inner most parts’ which has been replaced with the empty buzzword ‘social justice.’”
The university has gone silent in the wake of the controversy and has refused to offer any specific justification for its decision. “We won’t be making any statements in addition to the one we published on our website,” Ellen De Graffenreid, Senior Vice President for Communications, told FrontPage. Relevant parties are apparently under strict gag orders by the university. President Lawrence, the Board of Trustees, and members of the committee that awards honorary degrees would not respond to requests for comments.
A statement from Hirsi Ali released late Wednesday reveals that Brandeis was also dishonest in its explanation to the public about its decision. In its initial press release, the university claimed they “discussed” the situation with her before making the decision. Hirsi Ali says otherwise. “I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision,” she revealed. “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.”
Supporters have rallied to Hirsi Ali’s defense, with watchdog group TruthRevolt announcing a petition drive to voice dissent against the decision. Correspondent for the Jewish Press Lori Lowenthal Marcus characterized the move as a “complete collapse of rectitude” and said that the students who campaigned against her acted acted “chillingly.”
Faculty member Thomas Doherty, chairman of American studies, refused to sign the faculty letter sent to President Lawrence, insisting that Brandeis ought to honer “such a courageous fighter for human freedom and women’s rights, who has put her life at risk for those values.” He was echoed by Bernard Macy, a 1979 Brandeis graduate. Macy had sent an email to Lawrence and other faculty members to thank them “for recognizing Ayaan Hirsi Ali for defending Muslim women against Islamist honor violence.”
Regardless, the voices of reason and genuine tolerance have been overwhelmed. As part of the aforementioned statement rescinding Ali’s honorary degree, the university attempted to cover itself. “In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.” it stated.
Ali refuses to play the game. “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.”
Once again, a university has shamefully surrendered to a mob of tolerance totalitarians. No one illuminates this travesty better than Ayaan Hirsi Ali herself:
“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.”
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