Facing growing criticism, Brandeis University said Tuesday that it had reversed course and would not award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam, who has called the religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”…

The university said that the president of Brandeis, Frederick M. Lawrence, discussed the matter with Ms. Hirsi Ali on Tuesday, and that she “is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue.” Universities consider it important to make a distinction between inviting a speaker who may air unpopular or provocative views that the institution does not endorse, and awarding an honorary degree, which is more akin to affirming the body of a recipient’s work

“You would think that someone at Brandeis would have learned to use Google,” said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, who said he thought Brandeis had arrived at the right position: not awarding a degree, but welcoming Ms. Hirsi Ali to speak…

Even some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics say they understand her hostility to Islam, given her experiences, though they think she goes too far.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali has just released this statement in response to Brandeis University’s decision to rescind her invitation to receive an honorary degree:

“Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me—just a few hours before issuing a public statement—to say that such a decision had been made…

“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The ‘spirit of free expression’ referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.

“Not content with a public disavowal, Brandeis has invited me ‘to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.’ Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece. I have no wish to ‘engage’ in such one-sided dialogue. I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck—and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater.


A few years back, Brandeis University awarded an honorary degree to Tony Kushner. This was controversial because Brandeis is a Jewish-sponsored (but non-sectarian) university that has historically had very close ties to Israel. Indeed, the university’s namesake, Justice Brandeis, led the American Zionist movement for some time. Kushner, meanwhile, was not only known for his hostility to Israel in general, but for making inflammatory statements such as “The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community,” a direct insult to Brandeis’s many faculty, students, alumni, and donors who are strong supporters of Israel…

If it’s true that the university wasn’t aware of Ali’s well-known public statements about Islam before it decided to grant her an honorary degree, that’s rather embarrassing. Worse yet, juxtaposing the Kushner and Ali situations, it turns out that the university DOES award honorary degrees based on the potential honoree’s opinions. And apparently, while expressing hostility to Islam conflicts with Brandeis’s “core values,” engaging in vile insults against American Jews who support Israel does not.


Ignoring the whooping up of this issue by Fox News, which wouldn’t care a lick or lift a finger if Ali was railing against the Christian faith, the decision by Brandeis is appallingly hypocritical, as well as an obvious double standard…

Ms. Ali has called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death,” which riled up a lot of students and professors at Brandeis, with protests and letters rising up in condemnation of her coming honor. When you think of how women are treated by Islam around the world, the point she’s making isn’t off the mark. Punishing the woman when she is raped? Stoning a girl when she is dishonored by men?…

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been a beacon of light for women in the Islamic world, speaking truth to a patriarchy that is the foundation of this worldwide religion. If she’s “inconsistent” with Brandeis University’s “core values,” then they have none.


As much as I admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I don’t condemn Brandeis’ decision…

Giving [an] honor to someone who earned consideration through strongly expressed views (as opposed to celebrity status, political office, or large monetary contributions) implies, at a minimum, the absence of strong disagreement with those views — what the person supports, what the person denounces, and the terms in which she expresses support and denunciation.

Brandeis’ decision is not similar to the shameful decision of Mozilla to fire its CEO for having given money to a campaign against state recognition of gay marriage. CEO is not an honor bestowed or properly withheld based on one’s political views or contributions.

I happen to agree with Hirsi Ali’s hard-earned view of Islam. Thus, I criticize Brandeis for elevating its dangerous, mind-numbing naivety about Islam into a “core value.” But given that Brandeis has done so, I can’t criticize it for not honoring Hirsi Ali.


I don’t agree with Hirsi Ali’s unqualified condemnation of Islam—in the interview with van Bakel, she says “there is no moderate Islam” and calls for banning free speech about the religion—and I’m not surprised that Brandeis caved at the first sign of trouble.

There is something particularly appalling about an institution that is predicated upon the idea of free and open discourse throwing in the towel so quickly. Either the people running the school there are simply total ignoramuses or they are cowards who refuse to defend their choice. Of course, they could be both. In any case, the reputation of the school should suffer, both as a place where ideas can discussed and where smart people congregate. Who wants to be the first person to turn up far more dubious recipients of Brandeis honorary degrees?

Hirsi Ali runs a foundation dedicated to the proposition that “women everywhere, of all cultures, merit access to education and basic human rights.” It focuses especially on the issues of female genital mutilation and refugee status in the West of women fleeing the worst sort of patriarchal political and social situations. Read more about it here. One of the great achievements of Infidel, in my opinion, is its description of the brutal reality of female circumcision and the ways in which the practice is often supported by women who have been subjected to it. Infidel is a profound contribution to feminist and libertarian discourse precisely to the extent that it forces all of us in the “tolerant” West to check out assumptions about the universality of our ideas regarding pluralism and the possibility of peaceful coexistence.


How ridiculous–as if by honoring someone for their achievements, the university identifies itself with every idea that person has had, everything he or she has said or done. Does a university that grants a doctorate to President Barack Obama identify itself with the hateful teachings of Jeremiah Wright’s church, where Obama spent twenty years of his life? If not, then what nonsense is Brandeis spouting about Ali’s hard words on Islam?…

Brandeis subscribes, broadly, to the idea that the essence and goal of Jewish scholarship is “social justice,” and that Jews must not only prove themselves (in light of our history) to be the most tolerant of people, but also the first to give up any advantages, fair or unfair. In practice, “social justice” always means injustice to individuals. In this case, tolerance–in the form of moral relativism–means intolerance towards one person in particular.

Fortunately, there is a response: withdraw recognition from Brandeis. Stop going there, stop sending your children or your money there, stop taking Brandeis seriously as an academic institution. It is a failed project, one that has not adapted to new circumstances, to the new threats facing western civilization in general and Jewish survival in particular. It is an embarrassment to the academic values it once promised to uphold.


The fact is that the founders of Brandeis would have been admirers of and proud of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And current friends and supporters of Brandeis can demand an explanation. Indeed, until they get a satisfactory one, they shouldn’t support an institution that’s displayed such pathetic cowardice and moral bankruptcy. In fact, I’d say to anyone who supports Brandeis: If you continue with business as usual with Brandeis, aren’t you then complicit in Brandeis’s betrayal of the cause of true liberalism and proud Judaism? If you say nothing, if you do nothing, then aren’t you an enabler of this surrender to the enemies of academic freedom and Jewish honor?

The cowardice of a university president isn’t a surprise. The question is: Will less cowardly friends, associates and supporters of Brandeis meekly acquiesce in this shameful decision?