Darkness at Brandeis
Confession: some of my best friends are graduates of Brandeis. Now they are ashamed.
Once, they were proud. They had graduated from a prestigious Jewish-sponsored but non-sectarian university, whose logo reads "Emet: Truth – Even Unto Its Innermost Parts." The lovely suburban campus is named for Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who once said, "In the frank expression of conflicting opinions lies the greatest promise of wisdom."
Over the years there have been cracks in the once honorable façade of Brandeis's namesake. But this month was the worst: Brandeis wrapped itself in a mantle of cowardice, revealing itself as just another academic pit of multi-culti hypocrisy.
The story is by now well-known. First, the noble and courageous Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali – a Muslim apostate, now at Harvard, who writes and speaks around the world about Muslim cruelty to women, cruelty she herself endured – was invited to receive an honorary degree at commencement. Then, in the blink of an eye, she was unceremoniously dis-invited.
It all began with a petition organized by Muslim student Sarah Fahmy at Change.org. This was followed by a petition signed by 85 members of the faculty and organized by Muslim assistant professor Joseph Lumbard. The list of names contains the usual purveyors of heteronormative, post-colonial, postmodern, cis-gender BS. But it also includes some accomplished and lovable garden-variety lefties. Why they were hornswoggled into signing a petition against a scholar whose life is devoted to revealing and repealing the torture of women must remain one of life's mysteries. One of their baffling pronouncements reads, "We cannot accept Ms. Hirsi Ali's triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples."
As Moshe Phillips wrote in last week's Algemeiner, the official Brandeis line is that Ms. Ali "has been too sweeping in her criticism of Islam. Really? Well, here's their opportunity to prove it. As you read these words, 100 little girls in Nigeria are being held captive [by Islamists] and forced to become 'cooks and sex slaves'" – the very outrage Hirsi Ali tirelessly fights. "Where are the protests by Brandeis administrators, faculty, and students?"
Indeed. One of the chief troublemakers in this degrading spectacle is CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, whose chairman, Ibrahim Hooper, in a letter to Brandeis president Frederick M. Lawrence, called Hirsi Ali a "notorious Islamophobe." And how did Fred Lawrence respond? Quickly.
I made the decision to withdraw the honorary degree invitation previously extended to Ayaan Hirsi Ali with great consideration after I was made aware of extremely troubling statements she has made in the past that I believe are contrary to the core values of Brandeis, among them religious tolerance.
Even weirder was an official Brandeis statement that said that "[we] regret that we were not aware of Ms. Hirsi Ali's record of anti-Islam statements."
Alas, awareness is a quality not discernible in other Brandeis choices for honorary degrees over the years. Among the list of names you will find Desmund Tutu, Harry Belafonte, Whoopie Goldberg, Richard Goldstone, Tony Kushner, Kweisi Mfume, and other distinguished public figures dedicated to the survival of Judaism and Israel. And let's not forget Thomas Friedman, Class of 1975.
One Brandeis alumnus who will probably skip commencement and Reunion Weekend this year is historian Jeffrey Herf, who received his Ph.D. there. He has written:
That the president of a university founded by Jews in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust should have rescinded an honor to a woman who has had the courage to attack the most important source of Jew-hatred in the world today is a disgraceful act and a failure of leadership.
So what are some of the activities Dr. Herf will miss at Alumni Reunion weekend June 6-8? At one of them, he wouldn't even be welcome: these will be the gatherings specifically set aside for "Alumni of Color." Which brings to mind a comment by the great Thomas Sowell, noting that black students tend to "cluster together," because of which "the civil rights dream of an integrated America has gone awry in academia."
Another activity, planned for June 8, is "a special screening of 'Anita,' the critically acclaimed documentary film that chronicles Brandeis professor Anita Hill's courageous decision to speak truth to power durin [sic] the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991."
To conclude on a more optimistic note, there are dissenters, of course – both faculty and students. Among the latter is Daniel Mael, an observant Jew, who says, "I challenge the premise that an honorary degree is an endorsement of every word or thought that a person has ever uttered. I have had incredible discussions with the Brandeis Muslim Student Association, and it is clear that we can talk, even though we have entirely different world views. Can't we agree to disagree?" Daniel, who writes for TruthRevolt.com, has become a favored target for J Street and its chapter at Brandeis, J Street U, which Daniel considers a distinction, a badge of honor he bears with humor and pride.
Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for Brandeis – and the rest of us.