4/17/2014—I have been reading Abby Schachter’s column in the Jewish Chronicle detailing the story behind Brandeis’ decision to rescind the invitation to Hirsi Ali to speak that the 2014 graduation ceremony on the ground of hate speech. An unsigned statement by Brandeis contained the following: “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” What statements? The Jewish Chronicle set forth the kind of statement that Brandeis is condemning—“I left the world of faith, of genital mutilation and forced marriage for the world of reason and emancipation.” Well, that statement perfectly describes what actually happened to her under the sway of Islam. How can speaking the truth be considered any form of hate speech? Obviously, Brandeis just does not have the stomach for free speech. This is the censorship of Salman Rushdie over again.
That said, I am no admirer of Hirsi Ali. She denigrates all religion, including, but not only, Islam. In my view she is genuinely intolerant. But, while that might have been grounds for not inviting her, it was pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, not principle, that disinvited her.
It is also true that the episode is being used by critics of Islam (and Iran) when they themselves have tried to silence University speakers critical of Israel. Schachter is a good example of this double speak. If Hirsi had said, as she no doubt believes, that Judaism is almost as bad as Islam and the world should not tolerate a religious state like Israel, I doubt the demands of free speech would have been felt so keenly.
But, that does not matter. The critics are not the ones who caved in to censorship and pressure. That was Brandeis. And it is a great shame and a greater danger.