Brandeis Bows to Islamic Pressure, Yanks Honorary Degree From Women's Rights Advocate

By Patrick Goodenough | April 9, 2014 | 11:32pm EDT

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AP Photo, File)

( – Brandeis University’s decision to withdraw an honorary degree from a Somali-born naturalized American scholar who stands up for women abused in Islamic societies came on the same day that the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) wrote to the institution’s president to complain about the plan to award the degree.

The Muslim lobby group, whose letter to Frederick Lawrence described Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a “notorious Islamophobe” and “promoter of religious prejudice,” on Wednesday welcomed Brandeis’ decision, calling it a “victory over hate” and attributing it to “a unified community response.”

In her reaction to the announcement, Hirsi Ali said she had not been surprised by the protests by CAIR and others, but had been surprised by Brandeis’ decision.

“For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings,’ and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating,” Hirsi Ali said. “Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.

“What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis,” she continued. “Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement [on May 18], the university yesterday announced that it could not ‘overlook certain of my past statements,’ which it had not previously been aware of.

“Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.”

In its statement Tuesday announcing the decision to withdraw the honorary degree, Brandeis said Hirsi Ali’s name was withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient “[f]ollowing a discussion today” between Lawrence and her.

“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,” the statement said.

“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.”

Hirsi Ali took issue with what she saw as an implication in the university statement that she had in some way been “consulted about this decision.”

“On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me – just a few hours before issuing a public statement – to say that such a decision had been made.”

“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming,” she said. “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.”

Appearing on Fox News’ Kelly File on Wednesday night, Hirsi Ali said Brandeis was “not doing their students any favors,” especially Muslim students, since “to become American is to accept the idea that you can have a robust debate,” and there was no better place to have such a debate than on university campuses.

‘No moderate Islam’

CAIR, which describes itself as “America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization,” has long been campaigning against scholars and others whose critical writings on Islam and Islamism it finds offensive.

CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said Wednesday his organization – which earlier put out an action alert urging protests against the planned honorary degree for Hirsi Ali – “would like to thank all those who took part in the effort to expose Ali’s extremism and to convince the university to take corrective action.”

“This victory over hate was achieved because the American Muslim community joined with interfaith partners in presenting a unified front to challenge Ali’s intolerance,” he added, citing various Muslim associations, a Brandeis professor of Islamic studies and a liberal Jewish blogger among others.

Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, was brought up as a Muslim and as a young child was the victim of female genital mutilation. In 1992 she fled an arranged marriage and went to the Netherlands, where she later studied and became a member of parliament.

After she wrote the script for a short movie dealing with the oppression of women in Islamic societies, the film’s director was stabbed and shot to death on a street in Amsterdam street in 2004. A note left pinned to his body with a knife threatened to kill Hirsi Ali too. (The confessed murderer, who is serving a life sentence, told the court during his 2005 trial he had acted purely in the name of Islam, and voiced no regret.)

Hirsi Ali later moved to the U.S., and became a naturalized U.S. citizen last year.

According to her Belfer Center bio, she “has to live with round-the-clock security. Her willingness to speak out and her abandonment of the Muslim faith have made her a target for violence by Islamic extremists.”

In  its letter to Lawrence CAIR quoted from a 2007 interview with Reason magazine in which Hirsi Ali said, “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.”

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