Another piece of annoying waffle about Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brandeis, this one in The New Republic. Isaac Chotiner muddles it from the beginning:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken (this is almost a euphemism) Somali-Dutch opponent of Islam, was recently offered an honorary degree by Brandeis University. The school, which apparently only recently became acquainted with some of her comments about the Islamic faith, decided to revoke the offer of the honorary degree and instead invite her to campus for a dialogue.
No. It wasn’t “we want to switch the honorary degree to a dialogue.” Brandeis revoked the award (it wasn’t an offer at that point, because Hirsi Ali had accepted), period. It also said she was welcome to come along and have a discussion, but that was just a face-saving bit of bullshit. It was not an exchange or an alteration or anything else “normal”; it was an insult followed by an insulting sop. Imagine a friend inviting you to dinner and after you’ve accepted with thanks, calling up to say “I’ve changed my mind, you can’t come to dinner. You’re welcome to drop in sometime for coffee though.” See? The sop doesn’t make the insult less insulting; it actually makes it that little bit more so. It also isn’t any kind of normal substitution.
…the real question is why so many people are coming to the defense of a person who has voiced views as misguided as Hirsi Ali’s. (Various conservative—and even moderate—outlets have expressed dismay and anger at the decision.)
Note that “even moderate” – as if it were only conservatives and a very few “moderates” who saw any value in Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there is a double standard at work—and that making nasty comments about Islam is somehow more acceptable than making them about other faiths.
One, what if it were? What if Islam were in fact worse than other “faiths”? Then why would it be unacceptable to say so? Chotiner doesn’t bother to say, he just takes it for granted. Two, bullshit, plenty of us make “nasty comments” about other religions too.
But this controversy isn’t about shunning someone from polite society. It is about giving a person an honorary degree. I certainly don’t think she was deserving of a degree in the first place, so, as Gharib argues, once the university realized its mistake, correcting it was reasonable. The counter argument, which isn’t entirely misguided either, would state that colleges should try to set a certain tone about these issues—even if it really isn’t a “freedom of speech” issue—and thus letting her get the award (after inviting her) would have been fine too. The world wasn’t going to come tumbling down either way, and some of the lessons Hirsi Ali has preached seem valuable.
So it turns out he doesn’t care either way; so why did he write this piece? I don’t know. On the other hand, no, it’s not “about giving a person an honorary degree.” It’s about giving a person an honorary degree and then taking it back. Brandeis had zero duty to give her an honorary degree. Once it did announce it was giving it to her, though, it should not have taken it back without a really compelling reason. No, “once the university realized its mistake,” correcting it was not reasonable.
But the strangest response has been from Tablet, which is by no means a right-wing publication, and which has given Hirsi Ali a “Moses Award” and castigated Brandeis for its decision. According to Tablet‘s editors, the Brandeis revocation is a reminder of “how threatened we’ve all become by a public conversation that permits the expression of nuanced, complicated, even at times offensive ideas—meaning, any ideas at all worth their salt.” Right—because Hirsi Ali’s quotes above are “nuanced, complicated.”
But the only quote he gave “above” was that familiar one from the Reason interview. It was from an interview. As I’ve said, I disagree with much of what she’s said in interviews recently, but I think it’s ridiculous that people keep citing things she said in interviews while ignoring all her books and articles. Which is the more likely to be her considered opinion?