Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Make Universities Temples of Critical Thinking

Friday, 11 Apr 2014 10:01 AM

By Courtney Coren

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Muslim women's advocate Ayaan Hirsi Ali gives the message of optimism as well as a call to action that she was planning to share, if her invitation to speak at the Brandeis University commencement ceremonies had not been withdrawn.

Hirsi Ali's invitation to receive an honorary degree at the Boston area college was revoked Tuesday after protests by students and faculty, saying that her statements about Islam "are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values."

The Wall Street Journal published the address that begins with what Hirsi Ali said would have been her speech to the Class of 2014 — painting the backdrop of terrorism and violence that currently exists and "is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world."

She said that despite escalating violence in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, and other Muslim countries, including the rise of female genital mutilation in Saudi Arabia and sexual assaults in Egypt, she is predicting "a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction."

"When I see millions of women in Afghanistan defying threats from the Taliban and lining up to vote; when I see women in Saudi Arabia defying an absurd ban on female driving; and when I see Tunisian women celebrating the conviction of a group of policemen for a heinous gang rape, I feel more optimistic than I did a few years ago," Hirsi Ali wrote.

Even though the "Arab Spring" has brought about a lot of other problems, "it has created an opportunity for traditional forms of authority — including patriarchal authority — to be challenged, and even for the religious justifications for the oppression of women to be questioned."

However, she said that it is important for those in the West to "provide the right kind of encouragement ... by becoming once again a beacon of free thought and civility for the 21st century."

Ali Hirsi said that the encouragement she is talking about should begin at "institutions of higher learning."

"We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged."

Hirsi Ali was born to a Muslim family in Somalia, underwent genital mutilation at the age of 5, survived a civil war, and got out of the Middle East to escape an arranged marriage. Before moving to the United States, she served in the Dutch Parliament from 2003 to 2006.

She helped create the AHA Foundation, which is an advocacy group for the rights of women and girls. She is currently a Belfer Center Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

She closed her speech by calling for "a Muslim Revolution."

"The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored," she argued. "We do no favors to students, faculty, no believers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect."

"The motto of Brandeis University is 'Truth even unto its innermost parts,'" she concluded. "It is only through truth that your generation can hope to do better than mine in the struggle for peace, freedom and equality of the sexes."

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