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The university backed down, rescinded the degree invitation and issued a statement expressing that upon further investigation, Hirsi Ali’s past statements violated the “core values,” of the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.”
Other national commentators that denounced Brandeis include Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker and British writer Andrew Sullivan. Pinker called Brandeis’s decision shameful and dishonest. Sullivan wrote that that extreme PC left, together with Muslim fundamentalists, were working to discredit Hirsi Ali.
“She runs a foundation that aims to protect girls and women in America from being abused at the hands of Islamic traditionalists,” observed Sullivan. “It’s worth noting that for the hard left, none of this really matters. Or perhaps it matters more. Because her credentials are so strong, the attempt to mark her as a bigot is that much more strenuous.
Hirsi Ali dd not respond to a request for comment. However, she did release a statement:
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.