Yale’s Buckley Program Under Fire for Inviting Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Campus

by Ryan Lovelace

Yale’s Muslim Students Association has written a letter criticizing a decision made by Yale’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program to bring Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist for women’s rights in Islamic societies, to campus as part of the program’s speaker series. MSA’s letter, co-signed by 35 other campus groups and student organizations, says its concern is that Hirsi Ali “is being invited to speak as an authority on Islam despite the fact that she does not hold the credentials to do so.”

Hirsi Ali, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, fled an arranged marriage in her home country of Somalia and immigrated to the Netherlands in 1992, as recounted in her AEI bio. Once there, she served as a member of Dutch parliament and later made a film about the oppression of women in Islamic cultures—the director of the film was assassinated after it appeared on Dutch television. At AEI, Hirsi Ali has researched a number of issues related to women’s rights and religious freedoms in Islamic societies.

Yale MSA board member Abrar Omeish told the Yale Daily News that he condemns the Buckley Program’s decision because Omeish thinks Hirsi Ali’s past statements included hateful comments that were libelous and slanderous. Omeish met with Rich Lizardo, Buckley Program president, last week and reportedly asked for a second speaker to be featured after Hirsi Ali to refute her message.

“If the principle is freedom of expression and freedom of speech, then having someone there to correct her views, which is essentially what MSA would like to happen . . . would only hinder the principle or idea further of free speech,” Lizardo told the Yale Daily News. He also said the Buckley Program was motivated to invite Hirsi Ali after Brandeis University decided to disinvite her from their campus earlier this year. Brandeis’s decision came after the Council on American-Islamic Relations reportedly pressured the school’s administration to rescind the invitation to Hirsi Ali.

Yale university chaplain Sharon Kugler and coordinator of Muslim life Omer Bajwa issued a joint statement to the Yale Daily News saying, “We are deeply concerned . . . by Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s long record of disparaging, and arguably hateful, comments about Muslims and Islam,” and asked for the event to include “concerned students” in order to create “a more nuanced conversation.”

Lizardo told the Yale Daily News that Hirsi Ali’s appearance would be especially important given the university’s special attention to the freedoms of speech and expression, and the Buckley Program’s desire to bring a diversity of thought to Yale. Thus far, the Muslim Students Association and its 35 supporting groups have not achieved any readily apparent result from their attempts to intimidate the Buckley Program. Hirsi Ali is scheduled to speak on Monday, September 15, in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall.

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