Following the furor from students and Muslim activists, Brandeis University has canceled plans to present women’s activist and Muslim critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary degree at this May’s commencement ceremony for graduating students, a decision due to the fact that some of Ali’s past statements were inconsistent with the University’s “core values.”
Ali, a native of Somalia and former member of Dutch parliament, called Islam a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. These comments along with others created a backlash against Ali receiving an honorary degree at Brandeis University, where students even created a petition to have the University’s original plans canceled.
The University released a statement Tuesday saying, “[Ms. Ali] 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. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
In 2007, Ali gave an interview to the London Evening Standard where she stated that “violence is inherent in Islam” and called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” that “legitimates murder.” She also referred to Islam as “the new fascism.”
It was these comments and others made to Reason Magazine later that same year that prompted students to organize to change the University’s decision to give her an honorary degree. The petition, started on Change.org, had reached 6,802 signatures as of this writing.
Ali, who in 2007 founded The AHA Foundation which helps protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture, responded to the withdrawal by stating that Brandeis University, by reversing their decision, had transformed an accolade into a “moment of shaming,” according to The Associated Press.
“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming,” she said 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.”
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