Ayaan Hirsi Ali And Brandeis University’s Shame

Ayaan Hirsi AliEarlier this year, Brandeis University announced that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born advocate for women’s rights and vocal critic of Islam, would be among those awarded an honorary degree at the spring convocation. A few days ago, in response to student protests and an open letter to university president Frederick Lawrence signed by over 80 members of the faculty, the university rescinded its offer. That letter, available here, excoriates Ali as an Islamophobe, a “divisive individual” who propagates a “triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples.”

This is merely the latest, if also the most disheartening, in a sorry trend of Western universities enforcing a narrow conformity of opinion by silencing meaningful dissent. That Ayaan Hirsi Ali, of all people, should be the latest victim will redound to Brandeis’ eternal shame. Born in Somalia, she was the victim of genital mutilation at the age of 5 before fleeing the country of her birth for the relative safety of Norway to escape an arranged marriage. After learning Norwegian, she became active in local politics, speaking out against the welfare state’s neglect of abused Muslim women. She wrote the screenplay for Theo Van Gogh’s film Submission, which criticized Islam’s treatment of women. Van Gogh was subsequently stabbed to death, punishment for his role in creating the film, and to his chest was pinned a note that intimated that Ali would be the next to die. Like Salman Rushdie, she now travels with bodyguards, but she has not allowed the bullying and intimidation to silence her. She is currently a Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, an accomplished debater and the recipient of numerous commendations for her bravery and moral courage.

In other words, you would have a hard time finding even one other person alive today who has endured more suffering and vitriol in defense of their convictions, and Brandeis has decided that she is unworthy of representing the “values” embodied by their institution. And, perversely, they are right: their cowardice is brought into stark contrast by her bravery.