I was shocked to learn that Brandeis University, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, has withdrawn its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken critic of female genital mutilation and a campaigner on behalf of Muslim women.
“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement released yesterday, just eight days after announcing that Hirsi Ali would be awarded an honorary degree.
The change of heart was prompted by a well-organised campaign by various pro-Muslim groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations which sent a letter to Dr Frederick Lawrence, the President of Brandeis, referring to Hirsi Ali as a “notorious Islamophobe”.
“She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America but worldwide,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group, said in an interview with the New York Times.
In addition, a Muslim student at Brandeis started a petition at change.org accusing Hirsi Ali of “hate speech”. By way of evidence, the petition cited an interview she gave to the Evening Standard in 2007 in which she described Islam as “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death”. In the same interview, she also said that “violence is inherent in Islam” and that “Islam is the new fascism”.
This is an act of extraordinary cowardice on Brandeis’s part. To accuse Hirsi Ali of “hate speech”, which is defined as “any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which… may incite violence or prejudicial action against… a protected individual or group”, is almost comically ironic. She was raised as a Muslim in Somalia, underwent circumcision at the age of five and was later forced into an arranged marriage with her cousin. She only escaped this fate by running away to Holland where she subsequently became a member of the Dutch Parliament.