Cliff May

Groups and individuals determined to silence critics of Islamic law and culture have long targeted Ms. Hirsi Ali. In 2004, she was the screenwriter for “Submission,” a documentary by Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh about the plight of women in Islamic societies. Van Gogh was subsequently stabbed to death in the streets of Amsterdam by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch Muslim. The knife Bouyeri left in Van Gogh’s body pinned in place a note threatening Ms. Hirsi Ali with the same punishment.

Born and raised a Muslim, Ms. Hirsi Ali spent her formative years in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. As a child, she was herself the victim of genital mutilation, and as a young woman her parents attempted to marry her off to a cousin in Canada. But during a stopover in Europe, she fled to the Netherlands where she was granted asylum, took citizenship and became a Member of Parliament. As she recounts in two riveting autobiographical books, “Nomad” and “Infidel,” she eventually decided to leave Europe for the U.S., proudly becoming an American citizen last year.

Ms. Hirsi Ali charges that her detractors “have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work.” While that is no doubt the case, she has rendered some tough judgments on the religion she renounced 14 years ago. For example, in a 2007 interview with the libertarian magazine, Reason, she said that at this point in history, “we are at war with Islam,” and that there is “no middle ground in wars.” She added that once Islam is “defeated it can mutate into something peaceful.”

Should such remarks disqualify her from being honored on an American campus? Brandeis has given an honorary degree to South African Bishop Desmond Tutu who, Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz noted, has “a long history of ugly hatred toward the Jewish people.” Brandeis also has honored screenwriter Tony Kushner who expressed the “wish” that modern Israel hadn't been born.” Are those views “consistent” with Brandeis’ “core values”?

In 2006, then-Brandeis president Jehuda Rinharz said the school – non-sectarian but named for Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, and founded at a time when many American colleges discriminated against Jews -- "does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions." Evidently, that’s true for those who criticize Jews and the Jewish state but not for those who criticize Muslims and the Islamic faith.

In the Wall Street Journal last week, Ms. Hirsi Ali published the remarks she had hoped to deliver to Brandeis graduates next month. Among the points she would have made:

I'm used to being shouted down on campuses, so I am grateful for the opportunity to address you today. I do not expect all of you to agree with me, but I very much appreciate your willingness to listen. I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women's and girls' basic rights globally. ...

Is it blasphemy—punishable by death—to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era? Both Christianity and Judaism have had their eras of reform. I would argue that the time has come for a Muslim Reformation. …

The motto of Brandeis University is "Truth even unto its innermost parts." That is my motto too. For it is only through truth, unsparing truth, that your generation can hope to do better than mine in the struggle for peace, freedom and equality of the sexes.

Perhaps Brandeis should change its motto to something more in line with its current “core values” – spineless and intolerant as those may be. Alternatively, the university could initiate some diligent and in-depth research on why America’s Founders believed in free speech, and why so many academics today betray that heritage.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.



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