Brandeis University — an institution named after Supreme Court Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, a famed defender of free speech — has canceled plans to award an honorary degree to scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is known for her scathing criticisms of Islam and its treatment of women.
Brandeis students and faculty — including many in the Arab American studies department — had balked at the idea of the university bestowing an honorary degree on such a notable critic of Islam. Faculty urged administrators to consider the feelings of the Muslim community, according to The Justice, Brandeis’s student newspaper.
“She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America but worldwide,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesperson for the council on American-Islamic Relations, in a statement to The New York Times. “I don’t assign any ill will to Brandeis. I think they just kind of got fooled a little bit.” (RELATED: Berkeley prof forces students to tweet pro-Islam views)
In response to a change.org petition, concerns from faculty members sympathetic to Muslims’ feelings and The Justice’s editorial judgment, administrators reversed course.
Brandeis University did not say specifically why it changed its mind about giving Hirsi Ali a degree, only that “we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to whether obedience to Islamic teaching was a core value of the university. His statement did stress that “free expression” is central to Brandeis — except for expression that offends Muslims, it would seem, based on the rejection of Hirsi Ali.
Hirsi Ali grew up Muslim in Somalia, where she overcame genital mutilation and an arranged marriage. She emigrated to the Netherlands and eventually joined Dutch Parliament. She now lives in the United States and is a visiting fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. She considers herself a classical liberal and an atheist, and has worked to call attention to the plight of women under oppressive Islamic regimes. She wrote the script for the Dutch film “Submission,” which resulted in the assassination of the film’s director, Theo van Gogh, by a Muslim extremist.
Hirsi Ali has called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”
Lawrence’s statement made clear that Hirsi Ali was welcome to visit campus and present her views, but she would not be receiving an honorary degree as initially planned.
Louis Brandeis, for whom the university is named, is widely regarded as one of the most important First Amendment jurists in U.S. history. He vigorously defended Americans’ rights to free speech and free expression. He was raised in a secular home, and was the first Jew to serve on the Court. He later became involved in the Zionist movement.
Lawrence was asked whether he thought it odd for a university named after a free speech advocate and secular Jew to decline to recognize a critic of radical Islam, but could not immediately be reached for comment.