“A Letter to the President of Brandeis,” The Weekly Standard Blog (April 10, 2014), http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/letter-president-brandeis_786727.html
Jay Bergman • April 9, 2014 • Uncategorized
Dear President Lawrence:
The decision of Brandeis University not to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after first announcing that it would do so, is disgraceful.
The cowardice it reflects contrasts sharply with the courage Ms. Ali has shown in condemning aspects of Islam that she rightly considers cruel, bigoted, and misogynistic, and for which she has suffered grievously.
It is yet another example of how arrogant, closed-minded faculty, and students who believe they can prohibit anything on campus that makes them uncomfortable, can intimidate administrators such as yourself to the point where one of the principles essential to higher education — a tolerance of opinions with which one disagrees — is dispensed with in the name of preserving “a welcoming environment.” But the very essence of education is being challenged intellectually, and if students cannot endure the discomfort that that often induces, they have no business attending a college or university.
You say that you are withdrawing the award because Ms. HIrsi’s views violate what you call “the core values” of the university. But Brandeis saw nothing wrong in awarding an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, who has called the creation of the state of Israel a mistake and falsely accused it of ethnic cleansing; and to Desmond Tutu, an anti-semitic bigot who has compared Israel to Nazi Germany. From this one could reasonably conclude — since Tutu’s anti-semitism did not cause Brandeis to refrain from awarding him a degree — that anti-semitism is either one of the core values of your university or is not inconsistent with these values.
It is clear that at Brandeis University Israel can be smeared and those who do so are rewarded, but someone who properly criticizes Islam is unfairly attacked and dishonored.
In short, you have made the sorry record the university has compiled in awarding honorary degrees even worse.
And what makes your shameful capitulation especially regrettable to me is that I am an alumnus of Brandeis University, class of 1970. Your university is my university. And right now I am ashamed to call it my alma mater.
Professor of History
Central Connecticut State University
New Britain CT 06050
P.S. For your edification I include below the excellent article by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, an alumna of Brandeis, in today’s Jewish Press, and an article by Toby Young in today’s Telegraph, published in England and subtitled, appropriately: ” Cowardly Brandeis University Capitulates to Islamist Pressure.”
Lori Lowenthal Marcus
“Brandeis Caves to Pressure. Withdraws Honor to Ayaan Hirsi Ali The Jewish Press (April 9, 2014)
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.”
Ali has been extremely and indeed harshly critical of the Islamic world in which she suffered, both as a child in Africa, and also as a hunted creature, in Holland, from the angry immigrants who brought with them to Europe a profound inability to accept criticism of Islam.
And now, here in America, Ali is still being hounded by those who refuse to live by the standards of the West, of tolerance, of robust confrontations, but ones not knife-edged with intimidation.
The Facebook Page denouncing Ali and the decision to honor her at Brandeis’s 2014 Commencement decried her for her “hate speech.” The Muslim Students Association claimed that honoring her “is a direct violation of Brandeis University’s own moral code as well as the rights of all Brandeis students.”
Most chillingly, while the students acknowledged Ali had experienced “terrible things in her life,” their bottom line was “we will not tolerate an attack at our faith.”
And so they issued a fatwa: the invitation to Ali had to be rescinded. The school newspaper, The Justice (yes, the irony!) ran both a “news article” and an editorial denouncing the decision to give Ali an honorary degree.
Brandeis University president Fred Lawrence echoed the students (and a large number of faculty members, including the Women’s Studies professors) in his statement:
Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year’s commencement. 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. 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.
Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community’s focus to be squarely on our students. 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.
In other words, Ali’s decades of devotion to helping women enslaved by misogynistic practitioners of the Muslim faith – who dominate the governments of Muslim countries – was neutered by the pronunciamento by students that they “would not tolerate an attack on [their] faith.” And in still other words, on American campuses criticism of religion – which has been a fixture of campus life – is no longer permitted. What words, what thoughts will be deemed unacceptable next?
And this is a new trend. All manner of people have received honorary degrees from Brandeis, many of whom have been critical of other religions, particularly of Judaism and of the Jewish State.
Need one really trot out the many people who have received honorary degrees from Brandeis, a school founded by the Jewish community as a way to get around the strict quotas on the number of Jews who could attend high quality schools.
People such as Tony Kushner, who flatly stated that the creation of Israel as a Jewish State “was a mistake,” who regularly accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing and of savagery and who blames the existence of the state of Israel for the “terrible peril in the world.” Kushner received an honorary degree in 2006.
Then there is Desmond Tutu – a man widely revered for the work he did on behalf of South Africans, but who also is a rank anti-Semite. Tutu has compared Israel to Hitler, attacked the “Jewish lobby” as too “powerful” and “scary,” he has sanitized the gas chambers of the Holocaust which he said made for a “neater death” than one under Apartheid, and he complained of the “Jewish monopoly of the Holocaust.” He also insists that Jewish Holocaust victims should forgive the Nazis. Bishop Tutu received his honorary degree from Brandeis University in 2000.
The school administration buckled under to the Brandeis contingent of an increasingly entitled and belligerent faction on U.S. campuses who believe diversity, tolerance and justice only apply to positions and people whose views are consistent with their own. This goes not only for the students, as Bernadette Brooten, a Brandeis professof in the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department explained on the Facebook page denouncing Ali, “a group of 86 faculty members has signed a letter to President Lawrence, asking him to rescind the invitation.”
I was shocked to learn that Brandeis University, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, has withdrawn its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken critic of female genital mutilation and a campaigner on behalf of Muslim women.
“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement released yesterday, just eight days after announcing that Hirsi Ali would be awarded an honorary degree.
The change of heart was prompted by a well-organised campaign by various pro-Muslim groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations which sent a letter to Dr Frederick Lawrence, the President of Brandeis, referring to Hirsi Ali as a “notorious Islamophobe”.
“She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America but worldwide,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group, said in an interview with the New York Times.
In addition, a Muslim student at Brandeis started a petition at change.org accusing Hirsi Ali of “hate speech”. By way of evidence, the petition cited an interview she gave to the Evening Standard in 2007 in which she described Islam as “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”. In the same interview, she also said that “violence is inherent in Islam” and that “Islam is the new fascism”.
This is an act of extraordinary cowardice on Brandeis’s part. To accuse Hirsi Ali of “hate speech”, which is defined as “any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which… may incite violence or prejudicial action against… a protected individual or group”, is almost comically ironic. She was raised as a Muslim in Somalia, underwent circumcision at the age of five and was later forced into an arranged marriage with her cousin. She only escaped this fate by running away to Holland where she subsequently became a member of the Dutch Parliament.
As an MP, she highlighted the hypocrisy of the European Left for aggressively defending the rights of Muslims while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to the disregard for women’s rights within Muslim communities. She started to receive death threats for her outspoken views from 2002, culminating in a note pinned to the corpse of murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh saying she would be next. “Ayaan Hirsi Ali, you will break yourself to pieces on Islam,” the letter said. “You, oh America, will go down. You, oh Europe, will go down … You, oh Netherlands, will go down … You, oh Hirsi Ali, will go down.”
Defenders of Brandeis’s decision will say that Hirsi Ali is guilty of tarring all Muslims with the same brush and that there’s nothing inherently violent about Islam. Needless to say, she has often answered that charge. “People who ask me that question assume that geography is more important for Muslims than what is contained in the holy Quran,” she says.
Of course the circumstances in which people live in Turkey are different from those in Morocco or Somalia. But when it comes to the relationship between men and women, in all these countries there is a red line of the woman being subordinate to the male. And most Muslim men justify this subordinacy with the Quran. There are so many meanings Europeans miss. We Muslims are brought up with the idea that there is just one relationship possible with God – submission. That’s Islam: submission to the will of Allah.
Whether you agree with Hirsi Ali’s Manichean view of Islam, she’s entitled to express it without being bombarded with death threats or accused of “Islamophobia” which, in this context, amounts to “hate speech” since it’s precisely that charge that has led to threats on her life. You would think that an American university would be a staunch defender of Hirsi Ali’s right to free speech and wouldn’t capitulate to a mob of politically correct Muslims at the first sign of trouble. If the same institution had offered an honorary degree to Richard Dawkins, it’s simply inconceivable that it would change its mind after being attacked by Christians.
Everyone involved in this cowardly decision should be ashamed of themselves. As a liberal arts college, it should be a beacon of light. Instead, it has sent a clear message to everyone in the academic community that vigorous criticism of Islam won’t be tolerated.