On paper, Brandeis is one of America’s finest universities. Small and academically rigorous, it aims to cultivate intellectually curious citizens — graduates who will expand the frontiers of knowledge in their pursuit of “emet” (the Hebrew word for “truth”).
On Tuesday, however, by canceling the award of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali — a prominent campaigner for female rights in the Islamic world — Brandeis shamed its reputation.
Brandeis claims that it issued the revocation after finding out that Hirsi Ali had made “statements” about Islam that are “inconsistent” with the university’s “core values.”
Let’s be clear: Hirsi Ali’s sentiments are no mystery. Indeed, her public profile is defined by her critiques of political Islam. So we’re left with two possible explanations for Brandeis’s decision. Either the university’s leadership is unbelievably ignorant and could not perform two minutes of Internet research (not ideal for an institution of higher learning), or Brandeis buckled under pressure from Hirsi Ali’s detractors.
I’m going with the latter option. This isn’t the result of delayed due diligence, it’s the consequence of bullying and appeasement.
Of course, the censorship crowd claim that Hirsi Ali’s award would have been un-American, rewarding prejudice with academic legitimacy. But they’re wrong — badly so.
Yes, Hirsi Ali has, on occasion, made aggressive statements. In an interview with the Evening Standard, for example, she once described Islam as “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” I suspect I’m not alone in finding this statement both unpleasant and unjust.
Nevertheless, as British peer and IRA victim Norman Tebbit elucidates, anger is a natural human reaction to assault. As a corollary, Hirsi Ali has every right to be angry. Yet even then, Hirsi Ali is no Pamela Geller. On the contrary, for her whole life, Hirsi Ali has used anger as a catalyst to great good.