Brandeis University cancelled plans to award an honorary degree during May commencement ceremonies to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a feminist and prominent critic of Islam, because she made statements that were at odds with the school's "core values," the university said in a statement Tuesday.
Brandeis, located outside of Boston in Waltham, Mass., announced the decision after protest from some students, faculty members, and others. An online petition on Change.org to withdraw the honorary degree reached 6,000 signatures. Brandeis said it had not been aware of Ali's statements earlier.
Ali, a native of Somalia and former member of Dutch parliament, is known for her feminist views, but also for her criticism of Islam.
"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," the statement said.
The university said it would welcome Ali “to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.”
Ali, who penned the bestselling memoir, Infidel, has been quoted as referring to Islam as "a destructive, nihilistic cult of death." In a 2007 interview with Reason, Ali she said she thought there could only be peace if Islam is "defeated."
"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," Ali said.
When asked what she meant by "defeated," Ali said:
"I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, 'This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.' There comes a moment when you crush your enemy."
Ali said Wednesday that her critics selectively quote her, and that she doubts Brandeis was not aware of her earlier statements.
"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," Ali's statement said.
"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," her statement said.
Ali, who survived genital mutilation in Somalia, won political asylum to move to the Netherlands in 1992. She was elected to the Dutch Parliament in 2003, and she resigned in 2006 over allegations she had not been wholly truthful about her circumstances in applying for asylum.
In 2004, Ali wrote the screenplay for the fictional, politically-charged film Submission, which portrays the abuse of Muslim women. Soon after the release of the film, its director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered in Amsterdam by a radical Islamist. Ali garnered media attention when the Islamist also threated her life.
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