Brandeis University Faces Backlash Over Cancelled Islam Critic Degree

Boston-area Brandeis University is facing widespread backlash over its decision to cancel an honorary degree for well-known Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The author, a native of Somalia and former victim of a forced marriage, is author of the book Infidel.

Brandeis University had said it would give her an honorary degree for the university’s 2014 commencement. She was among a number of other speakers including Geoffrey Canada, Jill Abramson, Malcolm Sherman, and Eric Lander. They cancelled their decision earlier this week.

The backlash for the decision by Brandeis to take Ali off the commencement roster has resulted in harsh criticism from the media.

An opinion article published by Fox News, by Zev Chafets, slammed Brandeis for bowing to pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to disinvite Ali to the university campus.

Chafets writes in the piece entitled Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Victim of an honor killing, Brandeis-style:

“She had dared to criticize Islam and Muslim behavior in the same way other religions and other human behaviors get criticized in an open society. In America you can’t get killed for this (yet), but you can be dealt with.”

David Bernstein, in the Washington Post, wrote that Brandeis was exercising an embarrassing double-standard through the incident. In the past, playwright Tony Kurshner (who is known for making anti-Israel comments), was still invited to speak at commencement despite his political views.

Though Bernstein wrote he thought Ali shouldn’t have been offered an honorary degree to begin with, Brandeis University should have stayed the course to be consistent with their past practices of giving such degrees to other similarly controversial figures.

Bernstein wrote in part about the university options:

“…once Brandeis announced that Ms. Ali was to get an honorary degree, it should have stuck by that decision, especially given the Kushner precedent.”

In its defense, Brandeis leadership had issued a statement two days ago about the decision:

“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,” stated the University press release.

Others have spoken out against the university for their decision.

In a letter to the editor at the New York Times, Anne Lee, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said the founder of the university would be more than shocked.

Lee’s letter said in part:

“Justice Louis D. Brandeis would be turning over in his grave. The university named after the former Supreme Court justice has illustrated the depths of small-minded bigotry and intolerance that now represent the culture on many campuses. In rescinding an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Brandeis University has abandoned academic freedom and responsibility. Disinviting a controversial figure for fear of student backlash and upset sensitivities sends a perverse message that a college education must never dare offend.”