Last Monday morning, I read with disbelief and dismay that Brandeis University was scheduled to honor Ayan Hirsi Ali by awarding her an honorary degree as part of their commencement ceremony at the end of this academic year. My incurable optimism even made me think for a minute that this might be a poor taste of a belated April Fool’s prank. This was particularly painful for me, simply because of my utmost admiration and respect to this outstanding Jewish-affiliated liberal arts university. My feeling stems from the University’s commendable track record in its commitment to equality, diversity, dialogue and social justice.
The namesake of the University is former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who was a living example of these universal values and moral standards. To my knowledge, Brandeis University takes enormous pride in claiming this exemplary legacy and lives up to those ideals for the most part. Therefore, it is one of the most diverse and welcoming campuses in the U.S. where all minorities thrive, including, and especially, Muslims on its campus. Before many other universities, Brandeis had and still has so many Muslim students, faculty members, administrators and a Muslim Chaplain.
How on earth could this university make such a move to endorse Ali, who is a professional Islamophobe and has a deeply troubling and destructive track record of publicly expressing hateful views of Islam and Muslims? For those who do not know who Ali is, she is one of several ex-Muslims whose souls were deeply scarred by the way they experienced Islam and various local cultural practices in their own life. She and others like her later found themselves spokespeople and poster children of those who have passionately promoted the “Clash of Civilizations” theory between Islam and the West since early 1990s.
All these Ayan Hirsi Ali’s needed to do was generalize their tragic and heart-wrenching personal experiences to the entire world of Islam and Muslims to verify and validate the demonic and monstrous images of this faith and its followers that these “Clash” dreamers have been championing. You can find out more about Ali, but here are a few ‘pearls of wisdom’ that she repeats about her former religion and former co-religionists:
“ …Islam is a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”
“…We need to defeat Islam. Once it's defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It's very difficult to even talk about peace now. They're (Muslims) not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there's no middle ground in wars.”
“Islam was like a mental cage. At first, when you open the door, the caged bird stays inside: it is frightened. It has internalized its imprisonment. It takes time for [the] bird to escape, even after someone has opened the doors to its cage.”
Having said all of this, I firmly and unequivocally support Ali and her supporters’ freedom to say whatever they want to say. I despise censorship and believe in the sanctity of freedom of speech. I also find Muslim hypersensitivity over criticism of Islam to be foolish and immature. The problem is, simply put, why a university with outstanding moral values would put a kosher seal of endorsement on hate, de-legitimization, dehumanization and exclusion and contradict herself with its core values?
Thank God and to all those who were involved. The story took admirable turns after it became public. Brandeis’ community and friends of Brandeis turned this potentially disastrous and destructive scandal into an admirable and exemplary teaching moment for all. Numerous Brandeis faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and community members fiercely protested the University’s decision and demanded for it to be rescinded. So many others from all around the country joined in support of the protest and signed petitions.
Brandeis’ decision-makers admirably moved quickly to correct this mistake and withdrew their decision to award the honorary degree to Ali. In its official statement, the University explained the reason of cancellation in following words: “…We cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values.”
This mid-course correction is admirable, worthy of applause and exemplary for all, but especially, Muslims all around the world. This decision sets a moral standard for all of us in how not to turn each other’s renegades into heroes in our communities. This decision invites Jews and Muslims, and others, to reconsider their sources of information about each other, as well as the list of names and experts that they invite to their communities to learn more about each other. Brandeis’ moral act on this issue invites those Muslims who invest heavily in the Jewish versions of Ayan Hirsi Ali to stop promoting these ex-Jews or anti-Semitism-vomiting Jews as the most favored Jews in certain Muslim communities. This correction provides a huge moral ground for Muslims like me to shame those Muslims who happily drink from the Jewish anti-Semitism fountains and despicably have no moral difficulty in providing support to them. I now, for sure, will raise my voice as loud as possible to call on them.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Brandeis University, President Frederick Lawrence and all others who are behind this exemplary moral act. Thank you for not damaging already fragile, Jewish-Muslim relations any further. Thank you for not pulling the rug from under the feet of people who are admirably trying to repair the relationship and bridge the gap between these divided communities. As my Jewish brothers and sisters say, “Yashar Koach!” Well done, hats off to all of you and thank you.
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Abdullah Antepli is the Muslim chaplain and an adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Abdullah a message on Twitter @aantepli.