Brandeis University Reconsiders and Will Not Honor Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Brandeis University Reconsiders and Will Not Honor Ayaan Hirsi Ali

by Sheila Musaji

Last week, Brandeis University announced the “selection of Ayaan Hirsi Ali as an honorary degree recipient for its 63rd annual commencement ceremony” [1]

Many individual faculty members, student groups, and others on campus shared their disagreement [2] with this decision.  A student led petition was set up on [3] and had 6,802 supporters.  National Muslim organizations like CAIR also spoke out asking Brandeis to reconsider how inappropriate this honorary degree would be.  [4]

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has in the past made statements such as calling Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” and saying ” I think that we are at war with Islam,” and it must be defeated. [5] 

The University has announced that it has canceled plans to award this honorary degree.  [6]

Here is the University statement about the change in plan:

Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year’s commencement. 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. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.  For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.

Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community’s focus to be squarely on our students. In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues. [7]

It has been reported that University spokespeople have said that they were unaware of some of Ali’s past statements at the time they made the plans to award the honorary degree.  The decision not to award the honorary degree was made after they were made aware of these statements.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has now responded to the Brandeis statement.  [8]  It is not surprising that her response sounds a little angry, however it is surprising that the best defense she could come up with regarding her previous bigoted statements was that she was “taken out of context”.

Her 2007 interview with Reason is a good example of the sorts of statements she has made. [9]  Read the full interview and see if it is possible for any reasonable person to imagine any context in which what she is saying can be interpreted as anything except bigotry, and prejudice.

Brandeis has done the right thing.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the dangerous anti-Islamic logic of the war on terror, Eric Levitz

No Honor for A Career of Hate, Amina Wadud