Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the “Villains” of Islam

A few weeks ago, Brandeis University announced that Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be the recipient of an honorary degree. Controversy followed the announcement, encompassing those who believed that Ali follows the steps of Louis Brandeis (the man who the University was named after), those who think she is not as conservative as she could be (depending on the context), and those who characterize Ali as an Islamophobe.

In the wake of this controversy, the University decided to withdraw the honorary degree. Such a decision has led to further debate on whether or not Brandeis University made the right call and whether or not the withdrawal and media coverage of the issue are a threat to freedom of expression.

I must be honest. I wasn’t particularly surprised when she was nominated for an honorary degree, and I won’t be surprised in the coming years if she receives an honorary degree from another university or something along the lines of a human rights prize. My lack of surprise does not come from any kind of sympathy for Ali; not only has her book Infidel: My Life made my extended family believe that Muslims are extremely dangerous, but her right-wing associations, which draw the support of conservative media outlets, seem to me extremely paradoxical given that her experience includes working with Somali immigrants in Netherlands and later advocating their  assimilation upon arrival in the country.

Nonetheless, there are  bigger issue to explore. The fact that Brandeis University decided to grant Ali an honorary degree speaks of a broader support base that nominated her in the first place. Recommending someone for such an honour is not a simple process and normally requires extensive research and endorsement from committee members (see Brandeis University’s procedures).   This implies that she has support within the academic community and those with close ties to power.

Ali does not only have academic support, but also a willing-media cohort waiting to hear what she has to say. A recent article in the National Post argues that Ali has been made into “villain.” Given that there are much better candidates for this position, like Boko Haram (which I wrote about recently), why would someone like Ali be turned into a “bad person”? Not only that, but the question is asked, why is Ali dismissed when we put so much faith in Abu-Lughod’s “highly anecdotal” work? (Our reviews of Abu-Lughod’s recent book are available here, here and here).

I do not know Ali personally so I can’t judge her character (even though I have the feeling that we wouldn’t get along!) but much of her work is purely anecdotal. In fact, she is known less for her accomplishments and more for her Somali background, forced marriage and immigration controversy in the Netherlands. She is also known for her passionate dislike of Islam based on her own personal experience and the challenges she has caused to those who fight injustice in Muslim communities, something that Rochelle Terman explores in a recent article. Whereas Abu-Lughod, a respected academic, does not deny that Muslim women face injustice, poverty and oppression, she advocates for self-emancipation rather than “imposed freedom.”

I personally don’t think that Brandeis University’s withdrawal of the honorary degree means much. On the contrary, Ali’s support remains strong within the academic world and right now is just laying low. Sympathy for Ali has been in the media since the whole incident became public, and we are told that Ali’s freedom of expression is being curtailed by Muslims and left-wingers who believe Ali is an Islamophobe. Unfortunately, some powerful media outlets will continue to give Ali the space to say who the “real villains” in Islam are, and what policy-makers should do about them.

Honorary degree or not, Ali continues to provide right-wing Islamophobes with an excuse to say: “If a black woman who was raised as Muslim speaks against it, then it is bad for sure.” Never mind other voices of women of colour who denounce voices like Ali’s. I guess those opinions being shut down are not “Muslim” or of “colour” enough to qualify as “freedom of expression.”  This time around, Brandeis University, whether out of fear of losing credibility or actual concern, decided to respond to the voices of those who do not believe Ali’s portrayals of Muslim women are worthy of an honorary degree.

  • Marcello

    This sure looks like a victory for Ali. Her central thesis is that Islam does not tolerate dissent, and groups like CAIR and MPAC responded with “Shut up, you’re not allowed to say that, your opinions are haram.” Ms. Ali may be peddling stereotypes, but CAIR and MPAC are doing little to dispel them.

    • Tec15

      Lolwhut? Actually her ” central thesis: (such as it is) is that Islam is evil and that the West needs to “militarily defeat Islam”. For the first time in a long while her actual noxious views have been exposed to a public view so that counts as a defeat for her.

      Contrary to your cartoonish caricature those groups (which you seem to ascribe with sooo much hidden power,) were objecting t her being showered with honours and awards for no more than her consistently bigoted and rancid views. Not “Shut up, you’re not allowed to say that, your opinions are haram.” (Lol no bigotry in that characterization from you, oh nooo)

      Of course if immigration fraud and affirmative action hire Ayaan Magan (alias Hirsi Ali) says that Islam needs to be militarily defeated, Muslims don’t deserve any rights and that Brevik was driven to kill by politically correct elites, its somehow all CAIR and MPAC’s fault.

      • Pol

        Calm down Tec15. Ayaan’s central thesis is that political Islam is evil and must be defeated. It is political Islam that wishes to impose itself on others and declares its ultimate goal is the sole rule of only one religion. Witness the violent take-over of Mosul as the most recent example in a long string of worrying signs of what she means by political Islam.

        “Immigration fraud”? Many immigrants have lied to get granted political asylum. How that fact therefore discredits all their political and philosophical views is something that never seemed logical to me.

        “Affirmative action hire”? Why? Because she’s black?
        You think she got accepted by Dutch political parties and American think tanks, not because of her views and ideas…but simply because she’s black? And you think this characterization of yours is not a rancid case of bigotry?

        I would be very suspicious of organisations like CAIR, whose typical response to human rights violations carried out by religious fascists is twofold:

        1- Deny religion is part of the religious fascist’s motivation and attack those who say it is

        2- Treat these human rights violations with a dubious sense of priorities whereby it is actually a Public Relations problem for Islam’s good name.

        I prefer people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who treat human rights violations as human rights violations and who try to be honest about what she thinks are the motivations of the perpetrators, whether you think she makes a convincing case or not.

        • Tec15

          Lol, oh sure, she’s only against “political Islam”. It’s not like her
          own statements (like that infamous interview with Reason, partly
          attached here) disprove that quite easily. Not everyone is as stupid as
          the commentators at Breitbart, Pol.

          Yeah, “Immigration fraud”. Of
          course most people who commit it don’t immediately take up with
          anti-immigration parties to demonize and villainize immigrant groups.
          That’s what robs her of credibility while also providing the source of
          her popularity with right wing “Dutch political parties and American
          think tanks” funnily enough.

          “Affirmative action hire”? Why?
          Because she’s black?- Yep exactly. Republican Party house organ and
          neoconservative dumping ground the American Enterprise Institute (The oh
          so creditable think tank that gave her a sinecure) have a thousand
          white male dullards who can make the same “Islam is evil and needs to be
          militarily defeated durr, durr” argument. It looks better from a
          propaganda point of view coming from a black woman and therefore it’s
          the only reason she has a job. Certainly it’s not because of her
          (non-existent) academic credentials or her sparkling (snort) intellect.
          Some white guy is missing out on the gravy train of wingnut welfare
          because the AEI would rather hire a token minority like her instead.
          Actually such tokenism is de rigueur at most such so-called “think
          tanks”. Having “one of them” voice the virulent attacks you want to make
          is a good way (or so they think) to shield yourself from potential
          criticism.

          Although god knows why I’m wasting my time with some
          moron who considers Breitbart News a creditable source and immigration
          fraud and affirmative action hire Ayaan Magan as someone who “who treat
          human rights violations as human rights violations” instead of calling
          for large scale versions of them (directed at Muslims of course). That
          level of disingenuous, smirking, chuckleheaded concern trolling is
          impossible to pierce with facts so I’ll leave you to your delusions.
          Yeah, I’m sure it was evil CAIR which forced innocent ol Ayaan to say
          that Anders Brevik was driven to kill by the “politically correct
          elites”. So much for apologism for “religious fascists”.


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