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Brandeis University won’t tolerate Hirsi Ali’s free speech

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Ruminations, April 13, 2014

Shut up, he explained.
Brandeis University won’t tolerate Hirsi Ali’s free speech

Ayaan Hirsi Ali last week had rescinded an invitation from Brandeis University to receive an honorary degree and deliver the commencement address. Born in Somalia, in 1992, Hirsi Ali established residence in the Netherlands where she later successfully ran for the House of Representatives. Hirsi Ali has been a leader in women’s rights and, in that context, has “spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honor killings,’ and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating.” She has been critical of Islam -- in connection of which she has received death threats with film collaborator Theo van Gogh, who was assassinated.

In 2006, she moved to the United States. Hirsi Ali has been awarded numerous honoraria, is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a fellow at the Belfer Center of John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. She is eminently qualified to address a graduating student body.

Brandeis University, responding to student demonstrations that called Hirsi Ali Islamophobic, rescinded its invitation to her. It is ironic that Brandeis would censor her speech thusly since Justice Louis Brandeis, for whom the University was named, was noted for his devotion to freedom of speech.

On the other hand, the action of Brandeis University has given Hirsi Ali a larger audience for her message. While most people could not name a commencement speaker (unless they were attending a commencement), Brandeis’s action and Hirsi Ali’s fame has been roundly reported by CNN, Fox News, The Los Angeles Times, The Jewishpress.com, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among others. In fact, The Journal published a published an op-ed by Hirsi Ali, entitled “Here's What I Would Have Said at Brandeis.” (For the full text, go to http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB1000142405270230451250457949341028....)

Among the points that Hirsi Ali makes:
• “In Syria, at least 120,000 people have been killed ... Violence is escalating in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Libya, in Egypt. And far more than was the case when you were born, organized violence in the world today is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world.”
• “In Saudi Arabia, there has been a noticeable rise in the practice of female genital mutilation. In Egypt, 99% of women report being sexually harassed and up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day.”
• “… [A movement to classify] women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage.”
• “Today, however, I am going to predict a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction.”
• “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.”
• “Both Christianity and Judaism have had their eras of reform. I would argue that the time has come for a Muslim Reformation.”

An unfortunate aspect of this affair is that while Brandeis has inadvertently provided a wider platform for Hirsi Ali, it has diminished its own stature in the world.

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The Wall Street Journal tilts at straw men
The Wall Street Journal generally has been a defender of conservative positions when opposing politicians distort them. For example, it reports that when conservatives propose a budget with a smaller increase than the opposition would like, the opposition often characterizes the conservatives’ budget figure as a “cut” – even though it is an actual increase, albeit a smaller increase.

The Journal has been promoting various immigration easing programs and has been at odds with some on the right who oppose a citizenship program for illegal immigrants. Note that those on the right are not opposed to legal immigration or immigration in general – they are just opposed to normalizing illegal immigration.

In an editorial last Wednesday, The Journal distorted the position with those it disagreed in much the same way as the conservative opposition. It would have been accurate had it characterized the right as holding an “anti-illegal immigration orthodoxy,” and having an “illegal immigration allergy.” Instead, it misrepresented the right by saying that they held to an “anti- immigration orthodoxy,” and having an “immigration allergy.”

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There seems to be something perverse about the electorate’s enthusiasm in voting for a Kennedy despite the fact that Kennedys in public office have had an undistinguished record. But no matter. It’s royalty.

And now we can look forward to a real royal battle in the 2016 presidential campaign. Another Clinton against another Bush.

Quote without comment
Justice Louis Brandeis, writing in a concurring opinion, May 16, 1927, Whitney v. California: “It is the function of free speech to free men from bondage of irrational fears ... Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty ..."

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