Phyllis Chesler: The Shame of Brandeis University

Thursday, 10 Apr 2014 12:57 PM

By Phyllis Chesler

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By now, we all know that Brandeis University was about to bestow an honor on the elegant and distinguished author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, best known for her critique of Islam, her decision to leave Islam, and her championship of Muslim women's rights.

One might understand why an apostate intellectual might be in danger in Somalia, the country of her birth, or in Saudi Arabia, where she once lived.

However, she has just been dishonored by Brandeis University, which withdrew its offer of a Distinguished Professorship because the Muslim Brotherhood in America, known to us as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its national student group, the Muslim Students Association, which is also allied with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) mounted a successful campaign against the award. Both CAIR and ISNA are unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case.

CAIR provided the Muslim Student Association (MSU) at Brandeis with outdated, out-of-context, and highly inflammatory quotes from Hirsi Ali. They did not provide her thought-provoking, stirring, moving passages of which there are many. Brandeis simply caved to the lynch mob.

This is a terrible moment for academic freedom and critical inquiry on the American campus.

Yale University drove the first nail into the coffin of academic freedom, freedom of thought, and critical inquiry, when Yale's University Press refused to publish the Danish "Mohammed" cartoons to accompany Jytte Klausen's 2009 book on the subject: "The Cartoons that Shook the World."

Yale drove a second nail into that coffin when it ousted Dr. Charles A. Small, who dared to focus on the victims of contemporary anti-Semitism, not merely on safely dead Jews. Dr. Small's major international conference on this subject in 2010 had more than 100 speakers and 600 in attendance. The conference did not demonize the Jewish or American states and it did look at Jew-hatred and the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries today.

However, official Palestinian groups and student Palestinians insisted this was an "Islamophobic" conference. A campaign was mounted and Yale administrators and professors dismissed Dr. Small's Institute although it was independently funded.

Brandeis University, the "Jewish" university (in terms of liberal values), has now driven another nail into the coffin of academic freedom and intellectual diversity, when it bowed to student and faculty pressure and rescinded their offer to Hirsi Ali.

I am outraged, saddened, and frightened all at the same time. I have sentimental ties to Brandeis and I am suffering their betrayal of their own stellar values.

I understand that perfectly peaceful Muslim students at Brandeis may not wish to be associated with the hate propaganda and terrorist atrocities being committed in Islam's name. They should be standing outside the mosque that indoctrinated the Boston bomber with signs reading "Not in my Name," and listing the gender and religious apartheid that characterize Islam today, and the Muslim-on-Muslim and Muslim-on-infidel violence being committed in the name of a religion that is dear to them. They should be holding teach-ins at mosques and within Muslim communities about human rights in Islam and wrestling with the question of whether radical Islam is compatible with modern Western values.

Hirsi Ali is a consummate intellectual. Students should hear what she has to say. Instead, Brandeis and the university's Muslim Student Association have taken a Sharia-like position about apostates and the anti-Islamist position she has adopted. The Brandeis MSA student Facebook page is filled with an attitude of offended Islamist supremacism and rage over alleged "Islamophobia."

Ironically, none other than Brandeis Professor Jytte Klausen, the author of "The Cartoons that Shook the World," published her views in the Brandeis student newspaper The Justice. In her (Stockholm syndrome?) view, giving Hirsi Ali a degree "undermines years of careful work to show that Brandeis University promotes the ideals of shared learning, religious toleration and coexistence, irrespective of religion."

Klausen was joined by Brandeis professors Mary Baine Campbell and Susan Lanser of the English Department. Campbell told The Justice that "Hirsi Ali represents values that Brandeis, in naming itself after Justice [Louis] Brandeis … was founded in noble opposition to." Professor Susan Lanser said Hirsi Ali's "[outspoken views on Islam] foment an intolerance that is wholly antithetical to Brandeisian values."

Brandeis Women's and Gender Studies Professor Mitra Shavarini told The Justice that offering this award to Hirsi Ali is not in line with the university's mission unless it wishes to "incite hate, mistrust and division among its community."

She also stated that Hirsi Ali's approach to discourse "collapses thought in obscure, non-contextualized allegations that have no intellectual merit." Alas, this is the language being used these days by professors on American campuses.

I have been told that more than 40 professors signed a petition against honoring Hirsi Ali.

American campuses have long welcomed critiques of Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism, and others on the grounds of misogyny and Biblical-era atrocities. Secularists, atheists, and anti-religionists have been lionized. Great thinkers have, historically, condemned religion — all religion. Think of Voltaire, or Bertrand Russell.

Over the years, Brandeis has awarded Distinguished Professorships to a wide variety of worthy people. The awards are wide-ranging, balanced, and reasonable.

In 1987, the award was given to Adrienne Rich, who said "With initial hesitation but finally strong conviction I endorse the Call for a U.S. Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel."

Although I am an admirer of her poetry, I believe that some of her awards, perhaps not this one, were given in recognition of the presumably "bold" stand she took on boycotting the Jewish state. In 2000, Brandeis also gave this award to Desmond M. Tutu, who has been quoted as saying that the "Jewish lobby" is too "powerful and scary." In 2006, Brandeis gave this award to Tony Kushner, who is on record saying that he can "unambivalently say that I think it's a terrible historical problem that modern Israel came into existence."

One can openly criticize the Jewish state and be lionized. There was no groundswell of protest against these awards; if there were, they were not successful.

The conclusion: One can criticize Judaism, the Jewish state, America, real apartheid in South Africa, but one cannot criticize Islam, Islamic Jihad, Islamic supremacism, and Islamic gender and religious apartheid without being attacked and silenced.

Phyllis Chesler is professor emerita at the City University of New York. She has lived in Kabul, Afghanistan; Jerusalem, Israel; and New York City. The latest of her 15 books is "An American Bride in Kabul."



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