Brandeis University reneges on honorary degree for Muslim critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

BOSTON (RNS) Brandeis University is accused of caving in to Muslim pressure after school officials reneged on awarding an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali at its May 18 graduation.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Photo courtesy of Ayaan_Hirsi_Ali_2006.jpg: Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA derivative work: Cirt, via Wikimedia Commons

Brandeis University is accused of caving in to Muslim pressure after school officials reneged on awarding an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, pictured here in 2006, at its May 18 graduation.

“Brandeis caved to these thugs,” wrote Pamela Geller, an anti-Muslim activist, at her blog Atlas Shrugs, referring to Muslim groups who lobbied against honoring Ali. At The Jewish Press, Lori Lowenthal Marcus accused Brandeis of a “collapse of rectitude.”

But many Muslim and Jewish leaders welcomed the decision by Brandeis, founded by Jewish leaders in 1948, calling it a victory against hate speech.

Ali, who was born in Somalia and underwent female genital mutilation, is a passionate advocate for women’s rights. She is also a fierce critic of Islam, and has called the religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

“When you advocate for Muslims to be forced to convert to Christianity, and you frame your argument as ‘Islam is evil,’ then Ayaan is an Islamophobe. No ifs and buts,” said Ani Zonneveld, president of Muslims for Progressive Values, an advocacy group. “If Brandeis wants to honor a women’s rights activist it should have honored someone else.”

Ali, now a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said there is no such thing as moderate Islam. She has also said Muslim schools in the West should be closed, and in 2007 told Reason Magazine, “we are at war with Islam.”

“Her anti-Islamic rhetoric and toxic writing undercut any work she may have done calling attention to human rights abuses occurring among Muslim populations,” said Anas Coburn, managing director of the Sakinah Project, an anti-domestic violence group focused on Muslim communities.


About the author

Omar Sacirbey

Omar Sacirbey is a Boston-based correspondent for Religion News Service and other publications.


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  • Amazing how freedom of speech can so easily be squelched by labeling something as “:hate speech” so that no one need analyze or think about the issues raised and how right or wrong the information is..
    The dynamic in this case is never extended to Catholics. Hundreds of times I’ve heard or read grossly insulting things about Catholics or the Catholic Faith in the media. But when someone raises an objection they are told to stop complaining because the one doing the insulting grew up Catholic and thus his words are based on inside experience–just as Ali’s words are based on her experiences in Islam.

  • She was never told to “stop complaining”. Get your facts straight.

    And yes this is hate speech, go look up some Hitler speeches and you’ll see. If that was hate speech, this is hate speech.

    Quit trying to create the Third Reich in the United States.

  • To set up an honor for a person of courage (read her bio sometime) and then yank it away is not just saying to stop complaining –it is to say: “Shut Up!” we decided we don’t like what you said even though you are an eyewitness and victim. (Although to encourage Brandeis -which is next to Boston- to dump Ali, Brandeis may have gotten some typical threats and fatwas issued to people who dare criticize any aspect of Islam–the Boston Marathon, after all is only a week or so away.)
    This censorship is becoming a staple of those on the political left and those who fear an honest examination of Islam and how horribly women are treated in Somalia and other Islamic areas. A woman who had worked with Ali professionally was murdered by terrorists according to one mainstream news account. It takes immense courage to speak out critically– as Ali has- on issues involving Islam and women. But no one needs to fear possible physical violence from those defending Ali. And those throwing verbal bricks at her know this.

  • Oh, please. “Hate speech” analogous to Hitler? I don’t even know where to begin. Wisdom says you can’t berate a fool. This is so beyond the pale of reasoned debate and this from an institution of “higher learning”. Shame on you!