Hat tip: Eric Dondero of Libertarian Republican
After announcing that it would honor author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary doctorate, Brandeis University has withdrawn its offer, partly due to statements she made during a 2007 Reason interview.
Born in Somalia and raised in Kenya, Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands and became an outspoken critic of the treatment of women under Islamic law. She wrote the screenplay for the 2004 short film "Submission" (watch online). The film's director, Theo Van Gogh, was stabbed to death on the streets of Amsterdam by an Islamic fanatic and Hirsi Ali ultimately fled Holland for the United States.
Various student and faculty groups at Brandeis protested and a petition posted at Change.org quoted from Rogier van Bakel's 2007 Reason interview with Hirsi Ali. The petition, which garnered 6,802 signatures as of this morning, argued that Hirsi Ali engages in "hate speech" and as such is not worthy of an honorary doctorate.
Rogier van Bakel quotes her as follows: "Jews should be proselytizing about a God that you can quarrel with. Catholics should be proselytizing about a God who is love….Those are lovely concepts of God. They can't compare to the fire-breathing Allah who inspires jihadism and totalitarianism." Van Bakel notes religions' ability to bring about change for good: "Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?" Ms. Hirsi Ali responds, "Only if Islam is defeated." Van Bakel asks, "Don't you mean defeating radical Islam?" To that she responds, "No. Islam, period." (Reason, 11-07)
How can an Administration of a University that prides itself on social justice and acceptance of all make a decision that targets and disrespects it's own students? This is hurtful to the Muslim students and the Brandeis community who stand for social justice.
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.
Yeah, whatevs. Try learning about this brand-new resource called the Interweb. You can download a "browser" for it for free from a company called Mozilla. Obviously, a university is fully within its rights to give awards or not to whomever it chooses, just as Mozilla is free to promote or not whomever it wants to CEO. And the Heritage Foundation is free to quickly accept the resignation of policy scholars who are attacked in the liberal media. As I wrote about the Brendan Eich affair, this sort of controversy is only going to become more common as technology empowers more actors to create pressure groups and as our economic and social interactions become more and more symbolic. That's a mixed bag, for sure, but just like Internet piracy, it ain't going away any time soon.
I don't agree with Hirsi Ali's unqualified condemnation of Islam—in the interview with van Bakel, she says "there is no moderate Islam" and calls for banning free speech about the religion—and I'm not surprised that Brandeis caved at the first sign of trouble.
There is something particularly appalling about an institution that is predicated upon the idea of free and open discourse throwing in the towel so quickly. Either the people running the school there are simply total ignoramuses or they are cowards who refuse to defend their choice. Of course, they could be both. In any case, the reputation of the school should suffer, both as a place where ideas can discussed and where smart people congregate. Who wants to be the first person to turn up far more dubious recipients of Brandeis honorary degrees?
Hirsi Ali runs a foundation dedicated to the proposition that "women everywhere, of all cultures, merit access to education and basic human rights." It focuses especially on the issues of female genital mutilation and refugee status in the West of women fleeing the worst sort of patriarchal political and social situations. Read more about it here. One of the great achievements of Infidel, in my opinion, is its description of the brutal reality of female circumcision and the ways in which the practice is often supported by women who have been subjected to it. Infidel is a profound contribution to feminist and libertarian discourse precisely to the extent that it forces all of us in the "tolerant" West to check out assumptions about the universality of our ideas regarding pluralism and the possibility of peaceful coexistence.
And check out Reason's interview with Hirsi Ali, which is relentlessly interesting and provocative. Here's a snippet:
Reason: George Bush, not the most conciliatory person in the world, has said on plenty of occasions that we are not at war with Islam.
Hirsi Ali: If the most powerful man in the West talks like that, then, without intending to, he's making radical Muslims think they've already won. There is no moderate Islam. There are Muslims who are passive, who don't all follow the rules of Islam, but there's really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There's nothing moderate about it.
Reason: So when even a hard-line critic of Islam such as Daniel Pipes says, "Radical Islam is the problem, but moderate Islam is the solution," he's wrong?
Hirsi Ali: He's wrong. Sorry about that.
Reason TV presents "Tax Day is Coming: Game of Thrones Edition":