Brandeis University moved to tamp down a growing controversy when it withdrew its plan to give a notorious anti-Muslim writer an honorary degree. Yesterday, the school said it would not give Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-American, a degree because her views “are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
The announcement came after days of criticism was aimed at the school for their plan to give a degree to a woman who has called Islam a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death” that needs to be defeated militarily.
One of the first writers to critique Brandeis was blogger Richard Silverstein, who pointed to an interview Hirsi-Ali gave to Reason magazine in which she called for the destruction of Islam. “We are at war with Islam,” she said. In 2007, as the New York Times reported today, Hirsi-Ali said Islam is the new “fascism” and said “violence is inherent” in the religion.
A petition criticizing Hirsi-Ali started by Brandeis students picked up steam, and by today had garnered nearly 7,000 signatures. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also joined the fray, sending out multiple e-mails calling on their supporters to e-mail Brandeis President Fred Lawrence in protest.
Hirsi-Ali has been embraced by the coterie of anti-Muslim bloggers, activists and politicians whose influence grew in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. She left conflict-riven Somalia, where she said she underwent female genital mutilation, when she was young. Hirsi-Ali eventually obtained asylum in the Netherlands, where she was elected to Parliament but stripped of her citizenship and left the country in 2006 amidst a controversy over details of her application. Hirsi-Ali admitted she lied about a number of details because, she said, she was fleeing a forced marriage.
She came to the U.S. after leaving the Netherlands, and joined the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute as a fellow. Today, she is a fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Celebrated by the right for her outspoken views on how women are treated in Muslim countries, she has been praised by figures like anti-Muslim bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.
Hirsi-Ali is also an outspoken supporter of Israel, and spoke at the Israeli government-affiliated President’s Conference in Jerusalem in 2012 and 2013. She told the Sheldon Adelson-owned paper Israel Hayom that a two-state solution has not happened because Arab leaders believe it would betray the Qu’ran.