On May 9, 2006, I met Ali in Harvard Square for breakfast. She was to speak at the Kennedy School that night. She would relate over toast and coffee that her adopted country, the Netherlands, was soon to withdraw her body guards; that the Dutch decided they could no longer protect her.
While in the Netherlands, Ali had co-produced with Vincent Van Gogh’s great-grandnephew Theo Van Gogh a film called “Submission” about the Islamic oppression of women. In response, CAIR’s fellow Islamic extremists stirred up so much violent hatred against her and Van Gogh that one of their followers decided to act.
The Muslim terrorist ambushed Van Gogh in a street in broad daylight, shot him eight times, sliced his neck until his head was barely hanging on by a flap of skin, and pinned a note to his mutilated body with a knife. The note was for Ali. It read: “You’re next.” Interestingly, the recent attacks against Ali by Webb and CAIR are motivated by a new film she made about suffering Muslim women called “Honor Diaries.”
Waiting in the lobby of the Harvard Inn – she was 10 minutes late – I saw strategically placed at every possible entrance three very large, athletic blonde men whose jackets bulged with muscle (or metal). A smiling giant walked up to me, said my name, and when I confirmed, led me into a private breakfast room. I had put my hand on his back as we walked. It felt sheathed in steel. He had me sit facing away from the door.
Ali entered the room and her guards left. We spoke of her situation briefly and then turned to the business of that night’s panel, sponsored by the Dutch Student Club at Harvard, some members of which had, I had to tell Ali, gotten cold feet and begged me to have her mitigate her message about Islam.
Today, I’d have to tell her that at Brandeis much of what counts as Western civilization got cold feet and won’t stand with her. It may therefore not stand up for itself. That this happened at the hands of a Jewish president of a Jewish center of learning is extraordinarily painful.
But now comes the pushback: After the shock and dismay, people are mobilizing. I see that professors, writers and intellectuals, many of them liberals, are coming to their senses. The resultant protests and discussions will be a gauge not only of have far we have fallen, but what it will take to recover.