BOSTON (AP) — Brandeis University has transformed an accolade into “a moment of shaming” by withdrawing a plan to give an honorary degree to a Muslim women’s advocate who has made comments critical of Islam, she said Wednesday.
The university decided late Tuesday not to honor Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the May 18 commencement after receiving complaints from some students, faculty members and others, including an online petition.
Ali, a member of the Dutch Parliament from 2003 to 2006, has been quoted as making comments critical of Islam. That includes a 2007 interview with Reason Magazine in which she said of the religion: “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.”
Brandeis, outside Boston in Waltham, Mass., said it had not been aware of Ali’s statements earlier.
“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 said that her critics selectively pick quotes and that she doubts the university was not aware of them.
“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles.
“The ‘spirit of free expression’ referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014.”
Some alumni, students and faculty did voice support for honoring Ali, who was raised in a strict Muslim family but renounced the faith in her 30s after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage.