Hopefully we agree it should be a fundamental right to voice criticism of any religion you wish. And you should have the right to sing the praises of any religion you choose. If criticism of religion is unjust, feel free to make your best argument to prove it. If criticism is just, don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace it. If songs of praise are merited, feel free to join in. If not, feel free to ignore them. But no American should participate in curbing free speech just because expression of religious views makes someone uncomfortable.
This week, Brandeis University canceled plans to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an internationally esteemed activist for the rights of women and children. In doing so, Brandeis was caving to pressure from those offended by Ms. Ali’s vocal criticisms of Islam. Her detractors label her a “promoter of religious prejudice” and accuse her of holding “extreme Islamophobic beliefs.”
In announcing its decision, Brandeis acknowledged, “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 some of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of the statements earlier.”
In researching this column, I couldn’t discover precisely which core values to which Brandeis was referring. And, I couldn’t determine exactly which of Ms. Ali’s comments were in violation of these values.
But here’s what I did find out. Ms. Ali is indeed, a vocal critic of Islam. She has a unique perspective which gives her some credibility on the subject. Born in Somalia, she was raised to be a strict Muslim in a strictly Muslim home. As a girl, she was forced to endure the pain and humiliation of genital mutilation.
When Ms. Ali was ordered, by her family, to marry one of her cousins, she fled. After some period of contemplation and study, she departed from Islam and became an atheist. In time, she became a Dutch citizen and collaborated with Theo van Gogh to produce a film called “Submission,” dealing with the treatment of women in Islamic society. Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist and a note pinned to his body with a knife threatened Ms. Ali with death.
As a result of her outspoken criticisms concerning the treatment of Muslim women and children, Ms. Ali has been the target of numerous death threats and has had to live undercover to avoid assassination.
This column isn’t long enough to list all her achievements nor is there room to summarize the large body of her statements about the cruelty suffered by women and children in Islamic societies. By way of highlight, Ms. Ali served in the Dutch legislature. When she came to the United States, she took a position at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C. In 2007, she was invited to give a lecture at the University of Pittsburgh. The local Muslim community organized a protest in which one of the protesters, Imam Fouad El Bayly, proclaimed that Ms. Ali deserved the death penalty and should be tried and executed in an Islamic country.
Though Ms. Ali has often stated she has no hate for Muslims but rather hates Islamic practices that harm women and children and deprive practitioners of their free will, she is repeatedly attacked and labeled an “Islamophobe.”
In 2005, she was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2006, she was voted European of the Year by the European editors of Reader’s Digest. She received a coveted civilian prize in Germany for her courageous criticism of Islam in 2006. That same year, she received the Moral Courage Award from the American Jewish Committee.
Without question, Ali is an intelligent courageous woman who fights bravely, throughout the Western world, on behalf of women and children. She has fearlessly pointed out examples, in Islamic societies, where women and children are subjected to cruel treatment and harsh punishments.
No doubt, Brandeis has a plausible explanation for why they failed to discover that Ms. Ali was a vocal critic of certain aspects of Islamic society. No doubt Brandeis will deny its decision to withdraw its invitation was a cowardly betrayal.
Just the same, Ms. Ali will be no worse off for missing the Brandeis ceremony. Let’s hope, we’re not reaching a point in America, where aggressive hateful bullies are capable of smothering free-speech.
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.