Brandeis, Unlike Hirsi Ali, Surrendered to Intimidation

by Mona Charen

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s fiery denunciations of Islam were supposedly too much for Brandeis University to tolerate. Explaining its abrupt decision to rescind the offer of an honorary degree, the University explained that while it admired her work on behalf of women, “we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

It’s nice to think that people are guided by their core values. But Brandeis’s explanation is rubbish. Hirsi Ali, who has been on the receiving end of credible, not to say gruesome, death threats her entire adult life, understands exactly what happened. Brandeis was intimidated. They feared some sort of violent attack by Islamic radicals and chose self-censorship instead.

How do we know? Because Brandeis has never before now demonstrated such a delicate sensibility about strong opinions. The university said that it regretted it did not know earlier about some of Hirsi Ali’s comments, for example, her statement in an interview that Islam is a “death cult.” For what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s fair or true of Islam (though it clearly applies in force to Islamists and Islamic terrorists). But Hirsi Ali suffered genital mutilation, beatings, hateful indoctrination, and an attempted forced marriage at the hands of Muslims. She has earned the right to be heard.  

She has also devoted herself to improving the lives of women around the world, especially those who suffer repression and worse at the hands of religious authorities and cultures.

Brandeis has had no qualms about conferring honorary degrees on Harry Belafonte (1991), Andrew Young (1978), and Desmond Tutu among others. All were known for intemperate comments from time to time. One was a Stalinist. That would be Belafonte. Handsome, charming, velvet voiced Belafonte was a die-hard communist. A passionate supporter of Fidel Castro, he never met a communist government he didn’t like, including the genocidal regime of Mengistu in Ethiopia. And he detested America.

That award was consistent with Brandeis’s core values. 

Andrew Young has a tendency to pop off. When he was UN ambassador, he said the U.S. had “hundreds, maybe thousands” of political prisoners in our jails. He said that American foreign policy was “part of the apparatus of repression in many places on the face of the Earth.” Speaking to the Los Angeles Sentinel, Young had offered these thoughts about people who own businesses in black neighborhoods: “Those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs.”  

That award was consistent with Brandeis’s core values.

Desmond Tutu has trafficked in classic anti-Semitic tropes. He said: “Whether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people. They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people.” He has encouraged the boycott of the State of Israel. He has accused Israel of “Zionist apartheid” and charged that Israel has treated the Palestinians worse than whites treated other races in the old South Africa. He has also compared Israel with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

That award was consistent with Brandeis’s core values. 

But Hirsi Ali’s strong condemnation of Islam is disqualifying. 

When she lived in Amsterdam, Hirsi Ali joined with Theo Van Gogh to make a brave film about the treatment of women in Islamic countries. Van Gogh was murdered for it. His killer, after nearly severing Van Gogh’s head with a knife, took the trouble to impale a note on the dead man’s chest. It was a message to Ayaan Hirsi Ali – “You’re next.”

Most ordinary people would fall silent. Not Hirsi Ali. When Holland would no longer provide security for her, she came here. But she didn’t stop speaking, writing, and agitating to free women and girls from repression. She is one the most remarkable and courageous figures of our time. 

Was she guilty of one or two heated overstatements? Sure. But she can be proud that unlike Brandeis University in this instance, she has never shown an iota of cowardice.