Brandeis University in Boston has reversed course and will not award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fierce critic of Islam, who has called the religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”
“We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement released eight days after it had announced that Ms. Hirsi Ali and four other people would be honored at its commencement on May 18.
The university said that the president of Brandeis, Frederick M. Lawrence, discussed the matter with Ms. Hirsi Ali on Tuesday, and that she “is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue.”
At first, it was bloggers who noted and criticized the plan to honor Ms. Hirsi Ali, a visiting fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. Within a few days, a Brandeis student started an online petition against the decision at Change.org, drawing thousands of signatures.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group, took note, contacting its members though email and social media, and urging them to complain to the university.
On Tuesday, a student newspaper, The Justice, reported on the controversy, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a letter to Dr. Lawrence, referring to Ms. Hirsi Ali as a “notorious Islamophobe.”
“She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America but worldwide,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the group, said in an interview on Tuesday. “I don’t assign any ill will to Brandeis. I think they just kind of got fooled a little bit.”
A native of Somalia, Ms Hirsi Ali has written and spoken extensively of her experience as a Muslim girl in East Africa, including undergoing genital cutting, a practice she has vigorously opposed, and her family’s attempts to force her to marry a man against her wishes.
She moved to the Netherlands as a young woman, and she was later elected to the Dutch Parliament. She wrote the screenplay for “Submission,” a 2004 film critical of the treatment of Muslim women. Shortly after its release, the director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered on an Amsterdam street by a man who pinned to the victim’s body a threat to kill Ms. Hirsi Ali as well.
In 2007, Ms. Hirsi Ali gave an interview to The London Evening Standard that was, by her own telling, the most unvarnished public expression of her views to that point, including the “cult of death” comment. She advocated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that “violence is inherent in Islam” and that “Islam is the new fascism.”
Later that year, in an interview with the publication Reason, she said, “I think that we are at war with Islam,” and said it must be defeated. “It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now,” she said. “They’re not interested in peace.”