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.
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.
This, after all, is the woman who entered social activism and politics to protect helpless refugees from endemic abuse. This is the woman who built a foundation to mobilize support for those in despair. This is the woman who has, for many years, faced murderous threats for the simple sin of speaking her mind.
In short, this is a woman who has risked much for noble ideals. And with the balance of her actions assessed, few individuals are more deserving of an honorary degree.
But the Brandeis scandal isn’t just about a denial of justice. In equal measure, it highlights the growing challenge of Islamist-focused censorship in American society.
Be under no illusions: This censorship project isn’t localized in Wahhabi puppets like the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It also finds fervent support among activists and journalists too. Together, these zealots for subjective silence want Americans to believe that stifled speech is an acceptable price for insipid politeness. That insults are a more grievous crime than the ordained knifing of genitals. That the empowerment of voiceless breeding chambers (a.k.a. millions of women in parts the Islamic world) is less important than the risk that an American student might feel offended.
This is a deeply serious issue. With every victory this lunacy achieves, American social discourse is pushed farther into a chilled wilderness.
Ultimately, even the censors themselves aren’t winners here. Sure, they might claim that they’ve protected “social justice,” but in the end, the opposite is true. Facing political challenge with gags and slander, those who disagree with Hirsi Ali have shown themselves for what they are — the enemies of free thought and the implicit supporters of grave injustice.
Today they, and Brandeis, stand in shame.