Brandeis’ decision to rescind the honorary degree to Somali-Dutch Islamophobe Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been met with celebration and the to-be-expected condemnation from rightwing quarters. Brandeis finally released a statement which read: “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
Brandeis’ statement has been met with almost unanimous celebration from Muslim community members and also many Jewish community members.
It shouldn’t be. But not for the reason one might think.
Let’s step out of the bizarre world in which we live—which we create—and ask a parallel question:
Would Princeton give an award to an activist who talks about Judaism as the religion devoted to worshipping an evil “fire-breathing” deity that commands Jews to violently destroy the world?
Would Notre Dame recognize an award to someone who talks about eradicating blacks? Or Christians? Or Hispanics?
This is exactly the parallel of what Ms. Hirsi Ali has said, and repeatedly so, about Islam and Muslims for many years.
In their statement about rescinding their honorary degree, Brandeis stated: “For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of” Ali’s offensive statements.” How can that be? There is this thing called Google. You might have heard of it.
And while we are at it, another tool called Wikipedia. Here is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayaan_Hirsi_Ali See? Not very hard to find. Before a university, or a corporation, awards an honor to a person, wouldn’t you think they would google them? Look them up on Wikipedia?
This is not about Hirsi Ali’s criticism of Islam. It’s a free country, and people are allowed to hold whatever views they have. Criticism of religious interpretations and practices is also allowed. Some of us, who are engaged in the re-imagination and reform of Islam, are known to routinely critique particular interpretations and practices. What this is about is hate-mongering, blanket characterization of an entire religious tradition and an entire block of humanity as evil. And what we have to question is this: what business does a university have honoring someone who holds a view like that? Would similar views about African-Americans, Christians, Jews, Gays/Lesbians, Hispanics have been tolerated? Rewarded? Or is it only in the case of Islam that the comments can be justified?
Here are direct quotes from Ayaan Hirsi Ali that are easily found through the Wikipedia page:
*Hirsi Ali blames not Muslim terrorists or radicals, but rather all of Islam itself:
It is not “a fringe group of radical Muslims who’ve hijacked Islam and that the majority of Muslims are moderate. […] Violence is inherent in Islam – it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.”
*And here is the full context of her interview with Reason magazine. Note how the Reason interviewer tries repeatedly to add nuance to what Hirsi Ali is saying, but she refuses, wishing to cast aspersion on all of Islam, calling for defeat of all of Islam and eradicating Muslims:
Reason: Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?
Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.
Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?
Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.
Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. (emphasis added.)
Hirsi Ali on one hand portrays herself as a classic liberal and an atheist, but it is clear that she is not an equal opportunity atheist. The God of Christians and Jews (as if it’s a separate God than the God of Muslims) she has no quarrel with. Here’s more from her views on the “God of Islam”, easily found on the Wikipedia page:
“Jews should be proselytizing about a God that you can quarrel with. Catholics should be proselytizing about a God who is love, who represents a hereafter where there’s no hell, who wants you to lead a life where you can confess your sins and feel much better afterwards. Those are lovely concepts of God. They can’t compare to the fire-breathing Allah who inspires jihadism and totalitarianism.”
Let’s be clear about this. This is not a freedom of speech issue. Ayaan Hirsi Ali can get on Fox News anytime she wants, or speak at the Neo-conservative place of her employment, American Enterprise Institute, neither of which has any issue with her demonization of Islam and Muslims.
No, this is about a university finally doing what they should have done in the first place—their homework—and deciding not to honor a well-paid professional hate-monger.
Presumably Hirsi Ali came to their attention as a “champion of Muslim women’s rights.”
One cannot save Muslim women by destroying Muslims.
So, here’s the question we need to be asking: Did Brandeis do their due diligence before awarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali?
If they did not, that’s a sign of incompetence.
If they did, it’s unconscionable.
Brandeis did the right thing. Eventually. But perhaps rather than applauding the decision to rescind this offer, we should be asking another question: how could Brandeis have chosen such a hateful person whose views are easily exposed through a simple Google search in the first place?
That is the real, and as of yet unanswered, question.