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Brandeis Rescinds Hirsi Ali’s Honorary Degree

Brandeis Rescinds Hirsi Ali’s Honorary Degree

An open letter to the Brandeis faculty.


When I graduated from Brandeis in 1972, where I majored in philosophy, I immediately knew that I owed Brandeis a great debt. And so, over the past 2 decades I have been, at times, an adjunct lecturer at the Brandeis International Business School, served on the Board of the Business School, and the Board of the University itself. With gratitude I have contributed significant sums to my alma mater, including a Chair in Financial Markets and Institutions to the Business School.

It was at Brandeis that I was introduced to the pre-Socratic philosophers and was fascinated with how they struggled to find ways to explain the world around them, and how their ideas influenced Plato, Aristotle and others who succeeded them. It was at Brandeis that I was introduced to the thought of Immanuel Kant, and the other giants of western thought, as well as the thought of other cultures. It was at Brandeis that I came to understand that in intellectual dialogue all ideas are on the table, that everyone is entitled to his point of view and that public scrutiny of ideas is the best way to assess their worth. It was at Brandeis that I was taught how controversy served as an impetus to critical thinking, and that it is often the very people who are condemned for expressing ideas, like Spinoza and Galileo, who are later considered the great minds of western thought. And it was this foundation that I relied upon when I next studied philosophy and politics at Oxford University and then law at the University of Chicago.

I must now confess to having serious concerns about the spirit of free inquiry at my alma mater when it rescinds an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a woman who champions women's rights in the Muslim world. A woman honored in Denmark, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. A woman who received the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee and was voted Woman of the Year for 2006 by the European editors of Readers Digest magazine.

And I thought it regrettable that upon learning that Hirsi Ali was offered an honorary degree 87 Brandeis faculty members were so “filled with shame” that they presented President Lawrence with a letter urging him to “rescind immediately the invitation to Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali for an honorary doctorate” based on her "virulently anti-Muslim public statements."

These faculty members said that "the selection of Ms. Hirsi Ali further suggests to the public that violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus". And they also could not "accept Ms. Hirsi Ali's triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples."

For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that some of her comments may be provocative and controversial. But that is what intellectual inquiry is all about. For decades serious scholars have examined in all major religions the use of force, the role of violence and compulsion, male dominance over women, the role of honor killings, etc. Since when have these topics become off limits to scholars?

It is hard for me to imagine that these faculty members seriously think that violence against women on the Brandeis campus is in any way comparable to the violence against young women in a single Nigerian village. When was the last time a Brandeis student was sold into slavery?

What is worthy of note is that Hirsi Ali's views do not come from an ivory tower but from the concrete reality of her personal experiences as a woman. She was genitally mutilated as a child, fled a forced marriage at age 12 and lives under constant threat of death by the very people who proudly wear the ideology she condemns. Who are we to judge that her conclusions are beyond the pale? Surely we would not condemn a Christian or Jew at the time of the bloody Crusades who said similar things about Christianity. When Tony Kushner said that the very creation of Israel itself was a mistake, this did not disqualify him from receiving an honorary degree from Brandeis University.

And how preposterous is their issue with her Western triumphalism, especially when she fled to the West from the very ideology that is trying to kill her. Is not the belief in American exceptionalism triumphalist in nature? Just last September President Obama himself celebrated the idea of American exceptionalism before the UN General Assembly. Would this disqualify him for an honorary degree?

I am profoundly perplexed that there is no counter letter submitted by any faculty member to President Lawrence. Is there not a single woman faculty member in the Women and Gender Studies Program who can find the compassion to defend her? Is the majority of the faculty too intimidated to speak out against this new tyranny for fear of being ostracized?

The only acceptable response to bona fide controversy is robust dialogue. It now appears that Brandeis’ motto of 'truth unto its innermost parts' has been replaced by the eleventh commandment of political correctness – “Thou shalt not offend.”

Martin J. Gross
Member of the Board of Trustees of Brandeis University

May 31, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 84

(59) Anonymous, September 7, 2017 6:04 PM

We need to fight this everywhere....

This sort of thought is typical all over academia, not just at Brandeis. Much of the far left has bought the idea of Palestinians as victims, no matter what they may do to cause their situation. And cultural relativism, carried to excess, makes these academics accept abhorrent practices in that culture as "their norms." The way to fight this is with more ideas. We must make it known that Israel has a right to exist and to thrive, and that hate must never be tolerated, no matter whom it comes from.

(58) Avi Goldstein, June 6, 2017 5:20 PM

Stop Donating!

Martin, you are absolutely correct. But these are only words if you don't put your money where your mouth is. If you threaten to stop donating to Brandeis and you urge your fellow donors to do the same, perhaps the university will be persuaded to open its collective mind.

(57) Anonymous, April 25, 2016 12:38 PM

Hypocritical Western Liberalism

I wonder how many people, other than the Jewish ancestors who heard the stories first hand or the well-read student of history, realizes that many boatloads of Jewish refugees - fleeing what was a certain genocide - were denied entry by not only the United States, but Canada, and many other modern day "champions of liberal pluralism" - meanwhile in the modern age, the so-called refugees from Syria - many of whom are neither refugees or Syrians, are given everything they could imagine.

And now that the world cannot kill Jews, they resort to undermining Israel in favor of a "Two State Solution" that the Arabs themselves rejected in the late 1940s. It's interesting how many people will say, "Well the Askhenazim aren't actually Jews - they're Khazars!" but nobody will say the truth: There is no Palestinian people; only displaced Jordanians and Egyptians who invented, albeit cleverly, a nation that only exists in their own imaginations. And the West is glad to help them play dress up and make believe.

All for what? Because Israel exists? And people say Jews run the world. Right. It's disgusting how many religious Jews have been subjugated by their own Israeli brothers and sisters - not to mention deported for being "too" religious.

I wish the secularists would understand this: it wasn't the Enlightenment, the concept of a "social contract" or democracy that strengthened Jews to endure pogrom after pogrom; genocide after genocide; and expulsion after expulsion: but rather, it was the Torah. You may not like that, but it is true.

(56) Jerrey Weiss, April 19, 2016 9:57 PM

Honorary Degree

I thought this was a country of free speech.I have no problem with a little contraversy but a Liberal College does isn't that Amazing

(55) marcella s, April 18, 2016 3:56 PM

Thanks for standing up for what is right and just

Thank you for standing up and speaking out for such absurdity, nonsense, and "political correctness".
Thank Gd my daughter did NOT choose Brandeis as a place of higher learning for the next 4 years!

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