The decision made by Brandeis University to cancel the conferral of an honorary degree on Ayaan Hrsi Ali, a fierce critic of radical Islam, has drawn the ire of free speech enthusiasts who believe Brandeis succumbed to political correctness in service of religious fundamentalism.
Hirsi Ali was raised as a Muslim in Somalia, and survived mutilation and an arranged marriage by escaping to the Netherlands. She was a member of Dutch parliament, and wrote the screenplay for “Submission,” a film that criticized Islam. The film’s director, Theo van Gogh, was assassinated by an Islamic fundamentalist. Since coming to the U.S. and joining the American Enterprise Institute as a research fellow, Hirsi Ali has worked to bring attention to the plight of women in Islamic countries.
Brandeis initially chose to honor her work by giving her an honorary degree at its spring commencement. But leftist and Islamic factions — both on campus and external — objected to the degree, insisting that it would be offensive to Muslims. (RELATED: Brandeis U. rescinds honorary degree because recipient is anti-Islam)
The university backed down, rescinded the degree invitation and issued a statement expressing that upon further investigation, Hirsi Ali’s past statements violated the “core values,” of the university.
Free speech enthusiasts are outraged.
“Brandeis’ reversal of its decision to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a shameful and hypocritical act of cowardice on the part of the university,” Samantha Harris, director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told The Daily Caller. “The university’s statement that it only just learned of Hirsi Ali’s earlier criticisms of Islam strains credibility to say the least; it seems far more likely that the university simply does not want to admit that it caved in to pressure from students, faculty, and outside interest groups to rescind the award.”
The university is named for Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice. He was also a strong supporter of First Amendment rights, and an early backer of the notion of a Jewish state. For an institution bearing his name to humiliate Hirsi Ali is shameful, said David Bernstein, a professor of law at George Mason University at contributor to the Volokh Conspiracy.
“Brandeis is sending the message that either it was too incompetent to have figured out before inviting her that Ali was a strong critic of Islam, or that it did know, but capitulated to political correctness,” Bernstein told TheDC. “Brandeis is a Jewish-sponsored university, and there’s a maxim from the Talmud that embarrassing someone publicly is like murdering them. Through some combination of incompetence and cowardice, Brandeis has murdered Ms. Ali.”