Facing growing pressure from their faculty members, Muslim student groups, and outside opposition, Brandeis University is rescinding its decision to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist and critic of Islam because they were “unable to overlook her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
The Somali-born activist’s work has focused on exposing the barbaric mistreatment of women under Islamic law. Known for her criticism of the ties between violence and fundamentalist Islam, she has advocated against the practice of female genital mutilation, forced marriages, honor killings, and is outspoken on issues of the refugee status of Muslim women in the West who have fled abusive patriarchal, political and social situations.
Brandeis, historically a Jewish university, has always been predicated upon the idea of free and open discourse. In fact, past commencement speakers and honorees have included playwright Tony Kushner and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, both of whom are known for making anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements.
Recent comments from Daniel Mael, a student at Brandeis and a CAMERA contributor, reflect those of many who are dismayed by the University’s double standard and who feel that the University’s actions highlight the narrow view and shallow commitment to “justice” at Brandeis. “I am appalled by the hypocrisy of the University administration and their inability to distinguish between Hirsi Ali’s view on Islam and her efforts in this world,” he says. “She was not being honored for her views on Islam, but for her commitment to women’s rights and real justice.”
The real issue here is not that Hirsi Ali’s honor was rescinded unfairly, or even why. More importantly, we should ask why Brandeis officials don’t feel that her work to improve the lives of others doesn’t reflect the core values of the University.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali established the AHA Foundation in 2007, in response to the ongoing abuses of women’s rights. Her organization is dedicated to protecting and defending the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.
Contributed by CAMERA intern Nikki Teperman.