April 9, 2014
Facing growing criticism, Brandeis University said Tuesday that it had reversed course and would not award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam, who has called the religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”
“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement released eight days after it had announced that Ms. Hirsi Ali and four other people would be honored at its commencement on May 18.
“You would think that someone at Brandeis would have learned to use Google,” said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, who said he thought Brandeis had arrived at the right position: not awarding a degree, but welcoming Ms. Hirsi Ali to speak.
Having drawn fire for inviting Ms. Hirsi Ali, Brandeis may now take criticism from other camps, whether for disavowing Ms. Hirsi Ali’s views, or for giving in to Muslim activists.
Even some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics say they understand her hostility to Islam, given her experiences, though they think she goes too far. 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.
In 2007, Ms. Hirsi Ali gave an interview to The London Evening Standard that was, by her own telling, the most unvarnished public expression of her views to that point, including the “cult of death” comment. She advocated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that “violence is inherent in Islam” and that “Islam is the new fascism.”
Later that year, in an interview with the publication Reason, she said, “I think that we are at war with Islam,” and said it must be defeated. “It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now,” she said. “They’re not interested in peace.”
Western leaders like George W. Bush and Tony Blair were striking a very different tone, insisting that they were at war with terrorist factions, not Islam as a whole.
Brandeis said last week that it intended to confer honorary degrees on five recipients, including Ms. Hirsi Ali. One of the recipients is Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times.