Controversial honorees are a boon

In response to your article “Vetting process raises questions” (4/29):

This is essentially a non-article; it simply repeats the administration’s capitulation to a group of students and faculty. You do not mention that the University’s decision was criticized by other publications, such as The Washington Post. I, for one, did write to the Alumni office and said that I was deeply disappointed in the University’s decision to revoke an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. At my own son’s graduation, Tony Kushner spoke, and [al]though his views were upsetting to me, it was with great pride that I credited Brandeis for creating a space in which people with different opinions could come together and learn from each other. It was with that same spirit of generosity that I was inspired to donate to Brandeis every year since my son’s graduation. Hearing the decision to exclude an honorary degree recipient who does not conform to Brandeis’ political criteria is unconscionable and does a disservice to the mission of any University whose goal is to expose students to different opinions; encouraging them to arrive at their own conclusions. Therefore, it is with real sadness that I will no longer contribute to Brandeis.

   —Isabel Margolin Ph.D. ’06 is an academic department coordinator at Amherst College.

Respect Hirsi Ali’s accomplishments

An open letter to President Lawrence—

I’m writing to express my disappointment with Brandeis University for revoking its honorary degree award to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When the honorary degree was first announced, it unsurprisingly created controversy. Alina Cheema ’15, co-president of the Muslim Students Association, asked “Are they saying we don’t belong on campus?” Prof. Joseph Lumbard (NEJS), chairman of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, stated “This makes Muslim students feel very uneasy. They feel unwelcome here.” Unfortunately, by reversing course, presumably out of concern for such sentiment, you’ve put your university in an unfortunate catch-22 situation. Does the Brandeis community also consist of nonreligious people? Or people raised Muslim who have since rejected the religion of their parents? How does your shameful capitulation make them feel? Where is the concern for them?

In a letter to the Justice (“Ayaan Hirsi Ali degree is an insult to Muslim students”), Cheema and Yasmin Yousof ’15 wrote of the initial decision to present the honorary degree: “It is also important to consider how this will affect Brandeis Muslim chaplain Imam Talal Eid’s presence at commencement as well. Brandeis has unapologetically disregarded the extremely uncomfortable position that Eid would be placed in sharing a ceremony with Hirsi Ali.” They also said they described the decision as “a personal attack.” Forgive me, but I don’t consider sharing a stage with someone with whom you disagree to be an “extremely uncomfortable situation” I think an “extremely uncomfortable situation.” would be having your friend murdered and receiving death threats, all due to a film that was made. “A personal attack” is being driven from your adopted homeland due to character assassination.

Hirsi Ali has experienced the horror of female genital mutilation firsthand. She knows the terror of being shipped off to a foreign country to be forced into a marriage with an older man. She fights tirelessly to make sure future generations of girls have unfettered access to education, and don’t go through what she has gone through. To attempt to turn the tables and make her into the aggressor due to her words, rather than the victim that she is, is despicable.

Now you’re attempting to find a happy medium (and kick the controversy down the road) by inviting Hirsi Ali to “join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue.” Well forgive my cynicism, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Now that the forces of intimidation and censorship have been rewarded for their efforts, are you really so naïve as to believe they won’t redouble those efforts if and when Ms. Hirsi Ali is invited to speak at Brandeis at some future date? Is anyone really convinced your university will suddenly grow a spine then?

Shame on you sir, and shame on Brandeis. And in broader terms, shame on our system of higher education, which has gone off the rails and turned its back on the ideals upon which secular, liberal democracies were founded.

   —Andrew Walko, Springfield V.A.