Brandeis Chooses Not to Tolerate Intolerance

By Obaid H. Siddiqui

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a polemic figure. Her atheist supporters laud her as a fierce and much needed critic of Islam. Her Muslim opponents see her as a blasphemous apostate, some of whom have heaved very real death threats upon her. Brandeis University, which planned to award Ali with an honorary degree in May, recently decided that it wanted no part in the polemic divide that surrounds Ali. On April 8, Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence announced publicly, shortly after a private phone call with Ali informing her of his decision, that the university would no longer honor her.

The decision surprised and offended Ali and her loyal supporters. But for her opponents, like the Muslim students at Brandeis and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) who put pressure on the university to renege on the honorary degree – it was a small victory.

To understand why Brandeis made the decision it did, and why Muslim students and CAIR protested Ali, one must take a look at Ali’s history and words.

Ali’s anti-Islamic fervor is based in her own history and experience. Born into a religious Muslim family in Somalia, Ali suffered through the torture of female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of 5. Later she was arranged to be married to a distant cousin in Canada, without ever having her opinion on the matter heard. Ali never actually married her cousin; while on her way to Canada, she stopped in Germany and ran away to Holland, where she applied for asylum.

She was told that escape from an arranged marriage was not grounds for asylum, so Ali falsely declared that she was escaping persecution in Somalia. While in Holland, she says she was exposed to Muslim women who had suffered through domestic violence, which led her to work with Theo van Gogh on the 2004 film Submission. The movie enraged one crazed Muslim man so much, that he viciously murdered van Gogh in the street and threatened to do the same to Ali.

By no means should such a past be downplayed. Ali has wrongfully suffered for her opinions and ideas, mainly at the hands of enraged Muslims. As a result, Ali has become a fierce opponent of Islam. Ali has allowed her own personal experiences with Muslims to determine how she views the whole of Islam. Unfortunately for Islam and the majority of peaceful Muslims, this is how most Islamaphobes come to their conclusion. However, Ali is not your average Islamaphobe. She is heralded as a leading voice and activist for women’s rights and has a position with the conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute. Thus, Ali’s words and writings are treated like the works of an academic or scholar.

Yet, her words and arguments are not academic or scholarly. Her words form an anecdotal rhetoric that paints a community of over 1.5 billion Muslims as backwards and irrational. Ali strives to promote the rights of women, particularly those in Muslim lands, by demonizing the religion and beliefs of those women. To her, their oppression is caused by their religion.

Her rhetoric, however, crumbles when one understands that FGM, domestic violence, and forced marriage are not condoned in the Quran or in the actions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – the primary sources of all things Islamic. She conveniently chooses to ignore these facts. Instead of seeing the oppression of women in Muslim lands as part of a global issue with how humanity treats women – regardless of race, color, creed, or nationality, she decided to pinpoint Islam as the sole perpetrator of all things evil.

In a Guardian profile of Ali, written to promote her 2007 book Infidel, the writer states: “It should be said that in Infidel Hirsi Ali specifically states that FGM predates Islam, is not limited to Islam and that it is not practiced (sic) in many Islamic countries. However, she adds, it is very often ‘justified in the name of Islam.’”

Furthermore, when asked in a 2007 Reason magazine interview whether Islam could play a role in effecting political and social change, Ali did not mince her words. She replied “only if Islam is defeated.” When asked if she meant “radical Islam” instead of all 1.5 billion practitioners of the religion, Ali coldly replied, “No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

If Ali was truly trying to improve the situation of Muslim women who are victimized by patriarchal and tribal interpretations of Islam – views which she even admits are not Islamic as they predate the religion and are practiced in a very small percentage of Muslim communities, she wouldn’t be denigrating the whole of Islam. Her approach is not driven by an academic or scholarly need to help the oppressed; rather, it is a weakly disguised anti-Islamic screed justified by her own personal experiences.

She has proven that she has no interest in reforming the traditions associated with Islam or to approach the source of the religion, the Quran, with anything other than contempt. Ideologically, her close-minded approach closely mirrors ignorant Muslim scholars, whose preachings in the name of Islam are antithetical to the religion.

Ali once said that “tolerance of intolerance is cowardice.”  In her attempt to combat the oppression of Muslim women, Ali has actively promoted hatred and intolerance of Islam. Ali is not a savior of women or a reformer of Islam. She is an intolerant polemicist more interested in provocation than prevention.

Brandeis grew wise to this intolerance and decided to follow Ali’s own word:  By withdrawing the honorary degree that was supposed to go to Ali, the university decided not to tolerate intolerance – Brandeis chose not to follow the path of the coward.

Obaid H. Siddiqui is a writer and journalist based in Philadelphia. He is a contributor to the anthology “All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim.” 

  • Aulun

    This is all bullshit. The Hadith DO condone all those things you mention, and for almost all Muslims they are just as important as the Quran, and they cannot be ignored or criticized in mainstream Islam without the real risk of violence.Trying to call her a coward and intolerant is just bs and shows she is right.

  • Kendall Furlong

    Equivocate all you will, large swaths of Islam effectively redefine it to condone those who tortured Al, and she is courageous to confront them. Brandeis has shown nothing but cowardliness. Clean up Islam, then defend it.

  • Katherine Harms

    The author of this article wrongly equates rejection of Islam with hatred. I reject Islam. I resist any attempt of Islam and Islamic leaders to impose their religious tenets on me or anyone else. I don’t hate Islam, however. I fear violent advocates of Islam, but I don’t hate them. I believe it is fair to say that Ali hates what was done to her, and she hates seeing the same thing happen to others; therefore she rejects the advocacy and the advocates of such things. I am not aware of any advocates of these things who are not Islamic, but if I were, then that would only increase the number of people whose attitudes I reject. I reject the attitudes; I don’t reject the right of anyone to be a Muslim, but I do reject the right of anyone to engage in or foment aggressive and brutal practices and I reject advocacy for such practices.
    Brandeis University took a cowardly path, and as far as I can see, this university no longer deserves a place in the academic world, because it has rejected everything academics stand for. It has demonstrated complete absence of integrity. The leadership of Brandeis University looks more and more like the politicals who currently tyrannize the citizens of the USA under the guise of being our government.

    • RockyMissouri

      It would appear that she has become the thing she hated.

    • Karinetta1

      I fully agree with Katherine and fully disagree with the writer of this article. Shame on Brandeis for caving in to caliphatic ambitions at the expense of academic integrity. What Islam has yet to face is the age of enlightenment.

  • George Garcia

    A friend of mine had a blasphemous aprostate a few years ago and had to have it removed…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Walker/100001382443182 Mark Walker

    Check a dictionary. Phobias are unreasoning fears. Being afraid of the bite
    of a Brown Recluse or Black Widow spider and disturbing places where they might
    nest does not demonstrate arachnophobia. Speaking against Islam does not make
    one an Islamaphobe.

    The Ideal of Islam presented in the article does not exist. The paper world of holy books is not here on Earth. This physical reality in which we are communicating exists and it
    matters what people here actually do, not what they should be doing, or might eventually be doing according to
    Obaid H. Siddiqui’s opinion. There is no moral equivalence, Ayaan Hirsi Ali v.
    Islam, and presenting this conflict as such is disingenuous at best.

    1) Islam, and the drive for a world-wide Caliphate, is already at
    war with the rest of the world. Declared intent of dominion over all is a
    declaration of war.

    2) Nearly all religion, certainly those Abrahamic,
    are delusional. Just the concept that one can take on the responsibility of
    another is sufficient to demonstrate this fact.

    3) The “pure” religion of
    the Quran or the Bible doesn’t exist, so what matters is what humans do with the
    ancient literature. Were the Crusades a good and just endeavor, or just a grab
    for status, power and wealth? Were the Caliphates about intellectual freedom, or
    subjugation?

    4) If your genitals were mutilated by people who’s opinion
    on the matter was shared by folks across the globe, what would your position
    be?

    5) Just exactly where are the Muslim activists leading their fellow
    followers back to the pure teachings of the Quran? Are they hiding from the
    violence they would suffer for speaking out?

    6) Is Brandeis University
    afraid they would suffer the same kind of attack the Danish newspapers suffered
    over free speech in the form of a cartoon?

    The cowardice is with Brandeis
    University and those who apologize for the harmful actions of the religious.
    Cowardice is the suppression of free thought as the first Emperor of China did,
    as leaders of Islam have done for many centuries now, and as many autocratic
    leaning societies in the world seem ready to do today.

    In the 11th
    century the Islamic world was a tremendous benefit to mankind; gathering,
    studying, creating, knowledge and wisdom. I lament the passing of such a
    powerful advancing of the human endeavor, but that does not mean Islam gets a
    pass for it’s regressive actions since the fall from their intellectual peak 10
    centuries ago.

    Bottom line? Brandeis University got it wrong, just as
    many today are failing to get it right.

    • RockyMissouri

      I applaud the university. Compared to the Dominionist brand of Christianity… I see no difference between the more radical branches of Islam….and Zionists…!! They are extremists, and poor examples of their ‘religions’.

      • Palamas

        You see no difference between Christian Reconstructionism–a tiny movement of no political influence that has never shown any inclination toward violence to achieve political goals–and radical Islam, which is adhered to by an estimated 10% of Muslims worldwide (that’s 150 million), which is in power in several Muslim states, and which has engaged in armed warfare and terrorism against the West for over 30 years.

        You must be either a multicultural liberal, an apologist for radical Islam, a complete illiterate, or totally amoral. Not that it’s entirely a matter of either/or…

        • RockyMissouri

          Multicultural is a lovely word.. Very apropos of most of us.
          I’m not a fan of ANY radical religion.

  • billwald

    “Yet, her words and arguments are not academic or scholarly. Her words form an anecdotal rhetoric that paints a community of over 1.5 billion Muslims as backwards and irrational.”
    Hard not to conclude that when Islamic denominational wars threaten to explode into a nuke war.

    • RockyMissouri

      Evangelical Christians and Zionists are most eager….TOO EAGER…to incite war..!! Disgusting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Walker/100001382443182 Mark Walker

    “Her words form an anecdotal rhetoric that paints a community of over 1.5 billion Muslims as backwards and irrational.”

    Why do we not hear the voices of these 1.5 billion rational Muslims drowning out the “Radical” Muslims who are apparently seen as the sole source of trouble in Islam? Hadith got their tongue?

    • RockyMissouri

      Perhaps you’re not listening… but then, I don’t think you really care, eh…!?

  • RockyMissouri

    Thank you.. An excellent article.

  • valerie

    I abhor the decision and its defenders are hypocrites.

  • valerie

    I stand with Ali as should all peoples,especially women. The controversy and firestorm created by Brandeis,CAIR, and their supporters have garnered Ali the public attention this topic deserves. Tolerance is a 1 way street for ideologues and fanatics.

  • Graham Ash-Porter

    Speaks about injustice, they kill because they are offended. Slightly different. Awful article. Please come out of the 14th century.

  • Jeffrey Jones

    “Ali has allowed her own personal experiences with Muslims to determine
    how she views the whole of Islam. Unfortunately for Islam and the
    majority of peaceful Muslims, this is how most Islamaphobes come to
    their conclusion”
    On the contrary, “Islamophobes” as you like to term anyone who questions or criticises your mythology, come to their conclusion by examining the history of Islam from the time of your prophet to the present-day. There is enough in Islam to make any rational person see what a load of crap Islam is. It’s even worse than Christianity.

  • Black__Mamba

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is worth a million of you.


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