The controversy surrounding Brandeis University and courageous women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali presents a moment of moral clarity.
Last week, under pressure from Muslim students at Brandeis in Massachusetts and from the US Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Brandeis withdrew it invitation for Hirsi Ali to speak at its commencement ceremony next month and receive an honorary degree.
Brandeis issued the following statement: “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.”
It seems Brandeis has taken issue with Hirsi Ali’s indictment of Islam – not just Islamism or radical Islam – as the source of despicable abuse of women in many Muslim majority countries such as public beatings and “honor killings.”
While we are no experts on Islam, one need not look far to find authoritative texts supporting reprehensible practices. One example is Umdat al-Saliq (“Reliance of the Traveler”), a 14th-century manual of Islamic law certified by Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the most authoritative institute of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence.
On pages 583-584 the manual exempts from retaliation “a father or mother who kills their offspring or offspring’s offspring.” In other words, a parent or grandparent who murders his or her child or grandchild “for honor” is not penalized under Islamic law.
And is it a coincidence that when a political movement purporting to represent Islam gains power – whether it be Hamas in Gaza Strip, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the ayatollahs in Iran or elsewhere – the rights of women and minorities are trampled? CAIR, an organization that a US federal judge found in 2009 to have links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, claims that by stifling Hirsi Ali it is protecting Islam and Muslims from attacks spurred by Islamophobia. In reality, however, CAIR is hurting the victims of Islam-inspired misogyny – the vast majority of whom are Muslim – and is preventing a process of reform from taking place within Islam. If CAIR were concerned about human rights abuses committed against Muslims – particularly Muslim women – it would sponsor Hirsi Ali, not silence her.
Perhaps this is too much to expect of CAIR, an organization known for shutting down debate about Islam by leveling claims of Islamophobia. Indeed, Islam has become the only religion against which criticism is regularly silenced, sometimes for fear of violent retaliation – as was the case in the 2005-2006 Danish cartoon controversy – other times out of political correctness and a desire not to offend Muslims.
No comparably hysterical reactions follow the public airing of criticism against Judaism, Zionism, Catholicism, evangelical Christianity or any other religion or ideology.
It is worrying that Brandeis, an institute of higher learning purportedly dedicated to the sort of free exchange of ideas and open criticism that lead to righting wrongs and uprooting injustice, is being held captive by repressive forces that dominate most Muslim-majority countries. And Brandeis is not alone.
At the end of March, under pressure from CAIR, both the University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus and the University of Illinois canceled screenings of the film Honor Diaries that includes a roundtable discussion by Hirsi Ali and eight other courageous women, all from Muslim majority countries, about their personal experiences with forced marriage, honor killings, female genital mutilation and other forms of gender-based persecution.
CAIR said it had no issue with the content of the documentary, rather it claimed the producers and directors, many of whom happen to be Jewish and pro-Israel, were prejudiced against Islam.
Brandeis still has time to reconsider its cowardly decision.
We hope the university’s leadership regains its moral bearings and lives up to Brandeis’s motto of “Truth even unto its innermost parts.”
Failing to do so would leave a stain on this fine institution’s reputation.