We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking.
On Tuesday, after protests by students, faculty and outside groups, Brandeis University revoked its invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree at its commencement ceremonies in May. The protesters accused Ms. Hirsi Ali, an advocate for the rights of women and girls, of being "Islamophobic." Here is an abridged version of the remarks she planned to deliver.
One year ago, the city and suburbs of Boston were still in mourning. Families who only weeks earlier had children and siblings to hug were left with only photographs and memories. Still others were hovering over bedsides, watching as young men, women, and children endured painful surgeries and permanent disfiguration. All because two brothers, radicalized by jihadist websites, decided to place homemade bombs in backpacks near the finish line of one of the most prominent events in American sports, the Boston Marathon.
All of you in the Class of 2014 will never forget that day and the days that followed. You will never forget when you heard the news, where you were, or what you were doing. And when you return here, 10, 15 or 25 years from now, you will be reminded of it. The bombs exploded just 10 miles from this campus.
I read an article recently that said many adults don't remember much from before the age of 8. That means some of your earliest childhood memories may well be of that September morning simply known as "9/11."
You deserve better memories than 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing. And you are not the only ones. In Syria, at least 120,000 people have been killed, not simply in battle, but in wholesale massacres, in a civil war that is increasingly waged across a sectarian divide. Violence is escalating in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Libya, in Egypt. And far more than was the case when you were born, organized violence in the world today is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world.
Another striking feature of the countries I have just named, and of the Middle East generally, is that violence against women is also increasing. In Saudi Arabia, there has been a noticeable rise in the practice of female genital mutilation. In Egypt, 99% of women report being sexually harassed and up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day.
Especially troubling is the way the status of women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage. That same law would give a husband the right to deny his wife permission to leave the house.
Sadly, the list could go on. I hope I speak for many when I say that this is not the world that my generation meant to bequeath yours. When you were born, the West was jubilant, having defeated Soviet communism. An international coalition had forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The next mission for American armed forces would be famine relief in my homeland of Somalia. There was no Department of Homeland Security, and few Americans talked about terrorism.
Two decades ago, not even the bleakest pessimist would have anticipated all that has gone wrong in the part of world where I grew up. After so many victories for feminism in the West, no one would have predicted that women's basic human rights would actually be reduced in so many countries as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.
Today, however, I am going to predict a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction.
When I see millions of women in Afghanistan defying threats from the Taliban and lining up to vote; when I see women in Saudi Arabia defying an absurd ban on female driving; and when I see Tunisian women celebrating the conviction of a group of policemen for a heinous gang rape, I feel more optimistic than I did a few years ago. The misnamed Arab Spring has been a revolution full of disappointments. But I believe it has created an opportunity for traditional forms of authority—including patriarchal authority—to be challenged, and even for the religious justifications for the oppression of women to be questioned.
Yet for that opportunity to be fulfilled, we in the West must provide the right kind of encouragement. Just as the city of Boston was once the cradle of a new ideal of liberty, we need to return to our roots by becoming once again a beacon of free thought and civility for the 21st century. When there is injustice, we need to speak out, not simply with condemnation, but with concrete actions.
One of the best places to do that is in our institutions of higher learning. We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged. 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. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.
The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.
So I ask: Is the concept of holy war compatible with our ideal of religious toleration? 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.
Is such an argument inadmissible? It surely should not be at a university that was founded in the wake of the Holocaust, at a time when many American universities still imposed quotas on Jews.
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.
Ms. Hirsi Ali is the author of "Nomad: My Journey from Islam to America" (Free Press, 2010). She is a fellow at the Belfer Center of Harvard's Kennedy School and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
'Today, however, I am going to predict a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction.'
Loved it, but it can swing further in the wrong direction. It is spreading. Imams in the UK have been busted on undercover videos agreeing to perform marriages with very young brides, honour killings are on the rise, parents are either having the girls undergo FGM there or send them back to the old country, the prisons are exploding with converts, poor Lee Rigby couldn’t even walk the street in broad daylight, and the government estimates that more than 200,000 native, white Brits convert to Islam every year in a country of 61 million and where you can fire a cannon in a church on Sunday and probably not harm too many people, if any.
And, look what happened to you here with CAIR.
Yesterday, I was pleased to read posts from liberals like these at National Review:
I couldn't get more confused about what liberals stand for than I am after reading this.
My response to them:
Thank you for that.
In 2009, the leftist Norwegian Labour government’s Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion named Mahdi Hassan, a noted homophobe, as the Role Model of the Year.
Hassan told the newspaper Arbeidets Rett that he wants a ban on homosexuality, based on the Qur'an. Does he support the death penalty for gays? That's "up to each individual country to decide, but, in general, yes."
Was he condemned? Needless to say, the homosexual community wasn’t thrilled, but other than that he was cheered with the Socialists applauding loudly.
“There is freedom of speech in Norway and in the Tynset Socialist Left Party we consider it unproblematic that Mahdi is opposed in principle to homosexuality. It is in accordance with his religion,' said Stein Petter Løkken, leader of the Socialist Left Party in Hassan's home kommune of Tynset.
Then, there is the lovely Unni Wikan, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo. She said in response to a report that proved that every solved case of rape in Oslo in the previous five year period had been committed by a Muslim:
'Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes (because Muslim men found their manner of dress provocative. The professor’s conclusion was not that Muslim men living in the West needed to adjust to Western norms, but the exact opposite)...Norwegian women must realise that we live in a Multicultural society and adapt themselves to it.'
I. Am. NOT. Kidding.
If you're interested, the above comes from a piece that I wrote several years ago: Norway:A Tolerant, Inclusive, Diverse, Multicultural Society For Everyone...ExceptJews (Sorry for the old colours. I really should update it, but anyhoo...)
Too few on the Left (anywhere) and on the far-far-Right in Europe* are willing to question the wisdom of multi-kulti, if it means that those with the means and desire to, literally, cut off your heard if you step out of line get the power to shut everyone up.
Hell, one Muslim gay man has to attend CHURCH with his Christian husband because of threats and only one Muslim in the entire country has publicly come out as a lesbian: Sara Azmeh Rasmussen. The entire Muslim population of the country is a mere 3%, but very few are willing to say anything that might offend them.
So, even though we probably disagree on a lot, I want to really thank you for giving pause to what has happened to a genuine, modern-day heroine, Ms Ali, and its wider implications to our society.
‘I was young, fiery, and impatient when I said the things that I did. I now realise that the changes I want to make won’t be immediate.’
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2006, in response to questions posed during an interview with Anna Wintour, the Editor in Chief of Vogue, about her more militant statements against Islam made in the late 1990s, which were cited by CAIR and the MSA of Brandeis University in its protest.
But, she is still punished for them while Ibrahim Cooper, the head of CAIR, has applauded the Palestinians terror and rocket attacks against and in Israel in recent years; yet, he’s fine and displays enough of Brandeis’ ‘core values’ to attain the power to force the school to submit.
* The far-far-Right in Europe often makes common cause with the far-far-Left, anarchists, and Islamists against Jews, Israel, and 'the rich'