Ayaan Hirsi Ali Denied Honorary Degree At Brandeis University

Author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali won’t be appearing at the May 18 Brandeis University commencement ceremony as the school has withdrawn her honorary degree.

Ali is well known for her outspoken criticism of Islam both in her publications, particularly a best-selling memoir called Infidel, and her many public appearances. In a statement about pulling the planned honorary degree for Ali in social justice, the university said that “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

Some portion of the university community protested against the plan to award Ali and honorary degree, and a Change.org petition to rescind the honorary degree has 6,000 signatures. The Council on American-Islamic Relations chimed in, claiming that Ali is a “notorious Islamaphobe.”

Ali, now an American citizen, was born in Somalia, and previously was an elected official in Holland: “A native of Somalia, she has written and spoken extensively of her experience as a Muslim girl in East Africa, including undergoing genital cutting, a practice she has vigorously opposed, and her family’s attempts to force her to marry a man against her wishes. She moved to the Netherlands as a young woman, and she was later elected to the Dutch Parliament. She wrote the screenplay for Submission, a 2004 film critical of the treatment of Muslim women. Shortly after its release, the director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered on an Amsterdam street by a radical Islamist, who pinned to the victim’s body a threat to kill Ms. Hirsi Ali as well.”

Responding to the news that Brandeis pulled her honorary degree, Ali explained in part:

“… When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history…I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. 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. 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 of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way… What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis… 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.”

At Rutgers University, a group of progressive/liberal professors launched a protest over former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivering the school’s May commencement address. The Rutgers president, however, announced that the Rice address will go forward as planned.

[Image credit: Steve Jurvetson]