Facing growing criticism, Brandeis University said on Tuesday that it had reversed course and would not award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam, The New York Times reported.
The university had announced last week that Ms. Hirsi Ali and four other people would be honored at its commencement, on May 18. But students, faculty members, and other groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, mounted public protests, calling attention to her hostile commentary about Islam. In a 2007 interview with the London Evening Standard, for instance, she described Islam as inherently violent and a “cult of death.”
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Brandeis said it had been unaware of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s record of anti-Islam statements, and described some of her past remarks as “inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”
“You would think that someone at Brandeis would have learned to use Google,” Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, told the Times. He added that he thought Brandeis had arrived at the right position: not awarding Ms. Hirsi Ali a degree, but welcoming her to visit the campus as a speaker.
Some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics say they understand her hostility to Islam, though they think she goes too far. She was born in Somalia, and has written and spoken extensively about her experience as a Muslim girl in East Africa, including undergoing genital mutilation. She later moved to the Netherlands and was elected to the Dutch parliament. She resigned from that position in 2006 amid a controversy over her citizenship and is now a visiting fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, in Washington.