Wishful thinking about the peaceful tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off, women still stoned and enslaved, just as the Prophet Muhammad decided centuries ago.
~ Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is, despite the fact that I disagree sharply with her on some important issues, a remarkable woman. Born in Somalia in 1969, she is a women’s rights activist, an atheist, a former member of the Dutch Parliament, and a former Muslim.
Having been born and raised in Somalia, in 1992 she escaped an arranged marriage to a distant cousin which had been set up by her father, went to Germany for a short time, then on to the Netherlands where she requested political asylum and was granted a residence permit within a few weeks. By 2000, Hirsi Ali had also earned a Master of Science degree in political science from Leiden University. Becoming disillusioned with Islam, especially after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, she renounced Islam completely and became an atheist in 2002, and won a seat in Parliament where she served from 2003 until 2006.
In 2004, she collaborated with Theo van Gogh by writing the script and narrating a film he produced called Submission, which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic society. On November 2nd of that year, van Gogh was killed by Mohammed Bouyeri, a member of the Hofstad Network, an Islamic terrorist organization of Dutch Muslims primarily of North African ancestry. During the attack on van Gogh, he was stabbed approximately 28 times, and left with a note pinned to his chest by the knife threatening Hirsi Ali’s life. Although she was serving in the Dutch Parliament, it became necessary to surround her with security due to the death threat against her.
In early 2006, Hirsi Ali was forced to move from her residence in The Hague after a court ruled she was endangering her neighbors. That, coupled with a dispute involving false statements she had given on her application for asylum over her real name (Hirsi Magan), her birthdate, and the country she arrived from when applying for asylum prompted her to move to the United States, where she currently lives. She has written a number of books, among them The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman’s Cry for Reason, and an autobiography, Infidel. She speaks six languages, including English, Dutch, and Arabic. Recently, Hirsi Ali appeared in the film Honor Diaries, another film about the treatment of women in Muslim societies which focuses on genital mutilation, honor killings, and forced marriages.
Until Tuesday, Ayaan Hirsi Ali was to have participated in the commencement exercises and also was to have been awarded an honorary degree from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts until the university posted the following statement on their website:
“Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms.Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year’s commencement. She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.
Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community’s focus to be squarely on our students. In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.”
Ms. Hirsi Ali, by all rights, should be honored for the attention she has brought to the plight of Muslim women, so just why was the offer from Brandeis University withdrawn? Because of a protest petition signed by about 85 of the 350 staff members, and “thousands of signatures from inside and outside the university.” I’m not sure if there were thousands, whether from inside or outside the university gates, but the last count I could determine as of Tuesday, the day the statement was issued, was about 600 signatures – and it remains unclear whether those included the signatures of the 85 or so faculty members.
In addition to that, I think one of the most bald-faced lies I’ve ever read in my life is written in the statement from University President Lawrence. Look at it again as he says, “In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history”… let’s just cut it off right there. President Lawrence, in bowing to pressure from a mere petition, not only proved himself a liar and a hypocrite, but a moral and intellectual coward to boot. Those flowery words are empty, meaningless, and anyone with the mental capacity of a trilobite can see through him.
And who started this petition? That’s right, you guessed it – a Muslim. A Muslim doing what Muslims do best – taking offense. According to Sarah Fahmy, the creator of the petition and also a member of the Muslim Student Association, “This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students.”
Really, Ms. Fahmy? A slap in the face? I suppose we Americans haven’t shown your religion the gratitude it deserves for giving us not a slap in the face, but hijacked airliners flown at high speed into the sides of tall buildings. Incidentally, killing thousands in the process. But this tower of intellect, Sarah Fahmy hasn’t finished. She goes on to say, “But it’s not just the Muslim community that is upset, but students and faculty of all religious beliefs. A university that prides itself on social justice and equality should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic.”
I suppose Sarah Fahmy, epitome of erudition that she is, would be just as quick to defend Christians, Jews, Mormons, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, or any other religion, hmm? Or in this particular case, atheists. No, you bet she wouldn’t – only Muslims are worthy of being outraged and offended. Bless their sensitive little hearts…
Being young and probably idealistic, Sarah Fahmy no doubt hasn’t a clue that Ayaan Hirsi Ali could easily destroy her arguments and reasoning because Hirsi Ali has lived it, been through it, been affected by it, and most importantly, got out of it. She speaks from experience, and although I’ve been unable to pin down any hard information regarding Ms. Fahmy, unless she emigrated to the United States from one of the Islamic countries, has walked in Hirsi Ali’s shoes, and has experienced the pain and humiliation of genital mutilation that Hirsi Ali suffered, I’m not the least interested in appeasing her, and neither should Brandeis University be in the least concerned about her or the signatures she’s garnered. And that’s to the University’s shame, because they’ve just conceded that not only are the inmates running the asylum, as the saying goes, but also that honest debate and reason are not welcome on their campus.
One thing Brandeis can never again say with any semblance of honesty is that diversity is welcomed and encouraged. Diversity not only means different racial groups, or even religions, but also diversity of thought, philosophy, and political leanings. Free exchange of ideas as well as honest and reasoned debate. But who am I kidding? We’ve all known for a long time that diversity and open-mindedness are welcome only as long as the students and faculty toe the party line.