Editorial: Disinvite Hirsi Ali from Commencement
Defend Muslim students
When the University announced this year's honorary degree recipients, one choice stood out-Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As a Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Hirsi Ali has raised awareness of violence against women, focusing on honor killings and female genital mutilation.
Hirsi Ali, however, has been outspoken about her Islamophobic beliefs. We urge University President Frederick Lawrence to rescind Hirsi Ali's invitation to receive an honorary degree at this year's commencement.
We understand that the Board of Trustees as well as Lawrence would initially find Hirsi Ali a compelling candidate to receive an honorary degree. One aspect of her story, in which she escaped an arranged marriage in Somalia and later worked to protect women's rights, corresponds with the social justice mission of our University. Yet, her derogatory comments toward Islam warrant a closer look at the administration's choice to award her a degree. In her 2010 memoir Nomad: From Islam to America, Hirsi Ali states that Islam is "not compatible with the modern Westernised way of living," that "violence is an integral part [of Islam]," and that "Muhammad's example is terrible, don't follow it." These comments ignore the fact that there are multiple views of Islam, insist that violence is inherent in Islam and that one culture is fundamentally better than another.
Her remarks alienate not only our University's Muslim community, but also run counter to the beliefs of our entire campus. Her phobia does not fit Brandeis' ideals or values of our inclusive community and the goal of reflecting "the heterogeneity of the United States and of the world community whose ideas and concerns it shares," according to Brandeis' mission statement.
The selection of Hirsi Ali threatens to taint what should be a celebration for seniors and their friends and families. Graduating seniors should not have to sit in the presence of their University's support for a message that devalues an entire religion.
Addressing concerns about a hateful rally held at Al-Quds University in November 2013, Lawrence wrote on his blog, "We are committed to accepting students of all faiths and nationalities into our community and we are proud of the deep roots we have in Middle Eastern Studies on campus and around the world." If this is true, Hirsi Ali's comments about Islam directly clash with Lawrence's words. To be consistent with the values of our University, we urge Lawrence to disinvite Hirsi Ali.
By presenting Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree, the University applauds all aspects of her work. An honorary degree validates the good she has done for women's rights, yet it also condones the comments she has made against Islam, and therefore against a valued portion of our community.
A faculty petition to rescind Hirsi Ali's invitation to commencement has gained 76 signatures in under 48 hours. In addition, a separate student petition on change.org has gained over 560 signatures.
Withdrawing invitations to honorary degree recipients and commencement speakers is not unheard of. It has happened recently at peer institutions, including at Northwestern University in 2008, when Rev. Jeremiah Wright was disinvited from receiving an honorary degree for his inflammatory statements on race, 9/11 and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
While we recognize that her Islamophobic views are only one facet of who Ayaan Hirsi Ali is, we cannot separate her accomplishments from her personal politics. Her character is informed by these views. Withdrawing her invitation to receive a degree would be only just and appropriate.
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