By: Jeff Katz – May, 2014
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali native, was born in to a devout Muslim family. She was raised in the religion and has maintained that she suffered because of that. She was subjected to genital mutilation, repeated beatings and an arranged marriage. She finally renounced her faith when she was in her thirties. By this time she had secured political asylum in The Netherlands where she was eventually elected to that nation’s parliament.
Ali passionately spoke out against the abuse she had received over the years, all of which she said, was done in the name of her former faith. One is certainly free to disagree with her conclusion but nobody can argue that she is not entitled to share her views. The more she shared her views and made people aware of all that had happened to her, the more death threats she received and again she has noted they were done in the name of her former religion.
Ali, who is now an American citizen, has been saluted time and again for her courage in standing up and speaking openly on behalf of women who have been subject to the same horrible abuse she suffered. She was surely making space on her wall to hang her honorary degree from Brandeis University when she learned that Brandeis, which used to be something a free speech bastion, has now gone along with a carefully crafted effort to silence certain views which have been deemed offensive.
Just a few years ago, Brandeis presented an honorary doctorate to playwright Tony Kushner. Kushner’s life has been a walk in the park compared to Ali’s but his comments have been rather colorful to say the least. Kushner proclaimed that, “The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community.” Funny, that a university which, while non-sectarian, is Jewish sponsored and named for a proud Jew who was also the leader of the American Zionist movement was comfortable giving such an honor to someone who felt comfortable making such a vicious and ugly anti-Semitic comment.
Brandeis is a private institution and free to bestow honors as they see fit, but the leadership at Brandeis should carefully read this quote from Justice Brandeis himself, “Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.”
Jeff Katz is a writer and broadcaster. Find him at facebook.com/radiokatz and on twitter @jeffkatzshow