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Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Brandeis University was set to honor activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree until protests from students and faculty came into play.

Ali, a staunch critic of Islam  and its treatment of women, has been labeled Islamaphobic by her critics.

The university said in a statement posted online that the decision had been made after a discussion between Ali and university President Frederick Lawrence. 

“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,” said the university’s statement. “That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

Ali has been quite vocal with her critics of Islam. In 2007, she said, “Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”  Ali’s own history with the religion has shaped her beliefs. She was raised in a Muslim family, endured genital mutilation, an abusive arranged marriage, which led her to renounce her faith when she was in her 30s.

Ali’s AHA Foundation has worked diligently to protect and defend the rights of women in those countries who oppress them but justify it because of religion and culture. The foundation also strives to protect basic rights and freedoms of women and girls. This includes control of their own bodies, access to an education and the ability to work outside the home and control their own income, the website says.

Faculty members at Brandeis spearheaded the efforts to have Ali removed from the honorary degree list. Out of the 350 faculty, more than 85 back Ali’s removal. An online petition created by students garnered more than 5,800 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

From The Associated Press:

“This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students,” said senior Sarah Fahmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association who created the petition said before the university withdrew the honor.

“But it’s not just the Muslim community that is upset but students and faculty of all religious beliefs,” she said. “A university that prides itself on social justice and equality should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic.”

Thomas Doherty, chairman of American studies, refused to sign the faculty letter. He said it would have been great for the university to honor “such a courageous fighter for human freedom and women’s rights, who has put her life at risk for those values.”

Bernard Macy, a 1979 Brandeis graduate, sent an email this week to university President Frederick Lawrence and several members of the faculty saying, “Thank you for recognizing Ayaan Hirsi Ali for defending Muslim women against Islamist honor violence.”

But Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, said, “It is unconscionable that such a prestigious university would honor someone with such openly hateful views.”

The organization sent a letter to university President Frederick Lawrence on Tuesday requesting that it drop plans to honor Ali.

“This makes Muslim students feel very uneasy,” Joseph Lumbard, chairman of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, said in an interview. “They feel unwelcome here.”

Ali has not made any comments about not receiving the honorary degree.

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  • Anthony

    Brandeis was smart to withdraw the honorary degree and stupid to have ever offered it. As a Jewish school, honoring someone who openly calls for war against Islam would make them look bigoted. Ayaan Hirsi Ali undercuts many of her best points by allying herself with some pretty disreputable right wing figures.

    • Ivory

      Exactly. She hasn’t defended Muslim women but has made it easier for people to offend Muslim people. She could give two craps about Muslim women.

    • SimplePseudonym

      I don’t know if I’d make such a harsh judgement given her story…I’m pretty sure that if someone cut off my clitoris and sold me to a man who beat me, I’d dislike them, too, and if given a platform, I would hope I’d be so brave as to put them on public blast. It’s a complicated situation, but in the end this is very inconsequential. Honorary degrees don’t mean anything.

    • Anthony

      Ayaan is very close to the sort of people who would be all over Fox News in America, she is not aligned with progressives. She has zero chance of changing Muslim culture by associating with anti-Muslim and anti-immigration racists.

  • Eduardo

    “Ali’s own history with the religion has shaped her beliefs. She was raised in a Muslim family, endured genital mutilation, an abusive arranged marriage, which led her to renounce her faith when she was in her 30s.”

    Sordid stuff, what that must do to a person. I wish her strength in her recovery from so much abuse.

    • Ivory

      That woman is a fraud. Her story was concocted when she didn’t because the next top model.

  • Objection

    Ms. Ayann Hirsi Ali, I have not walked one mile in your shoes. Therefore, I will not speak one word judging your words. I give you the words from a man born a slave, and helped the lives of former slaves.

    “The thing to do when one feels sure that [she] has said or done the right thing and is condemned, is to stand still and keep quiet. If [she] is right, time will show it.”

    -Booker T. Washington