Photo Credit:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali with parts of the Brandeis University seal.

An Open Letter to the President of Brandeis University

Dear President Lawrence:

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I do not want to take up too much of your time. I understand that you are a busy man and that you have been tasked with running a university whose tradition of upholding excellence and moral resoluteness traces back to the days of its founding.  But it is in that same spirit of excellence that I feel compelled–as a simple citizen of this great country–to question your recent decision to rescind the honorary degree you were initially going to bestow upon Ms. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a human rights activist and feminist who has done so much to advance the cause of women’s rights in the world.

I understand that there are students at Brandeis University who take issue with Ms. Hirsi Ali’s views on Islam and the Muslim world. Moreover, many in the muslim community feel offended and insulted by her views on this topic. Indeed, they have pressured you into making this decision.

What a beautiful country we live in, President Lawrence, where students and citizens are able to voice their opinions in a free and open society. Yet here is a stark irony. These students have the temerity to critique someone because of her views, but they do not see fit in affording her the same right to critique views she too deems insulting. In making your decision you have chosen to sanction one topic of criticism while denying the right of individuals to criticize another.

But sir, you must see the moral ramifications of the decision you have made. It is a question of priorities and you have tragically made the mistake of choosing the wrong one. In choosing to revoke the honorary degree that Ms. Hirsi Ali so richly deserves, you have implicitly placed greater value upon the “feelings” of individuals over the lives of hundreds of thousands of women around the world. Those criticizing her here, in America, have the privilege of living in a society where they are able to speak. But who will speak for the others?

Who will speak for Sarah and Amina Said, two teenagers in the prime of their life who were murdered by their father in 2008 in Texas, their bodies left bloodied and mutilated in a Taxi cab because they were considered to be too “Western.” Will you speak for them sir, or is that too going to be found to be too “insulting” to certain individuals to discuss? Will that also be too “offensive” to be grappled with?

Who will speak for Morsal, a German Afghani young woman of 16, stabbed twenty-times in a parking lot by her brother? Who will speak for Rasha Abu Arra killed in the West Bank in a so-called “honor killing.” She was a mother of six children and her body was left hanging on a tree. She could not exercise her right to free speech. She could not exercise her right to disagree. She could not exercise her right to freely express. So who will speak for her? Will you speak for her? Or are the petty hurt feelings of dissenting naysayers worth more than her life?

Who will speak for Leyla Hussein, whose genitals were ripped open and sliced apart with a blade when she was only 7 years old in Somalia? Will you speak for her, Mr. Lawrence? Or will you simply tell her that this issue cannot be discussed and that a woman who takes up her cause and the cause of thousands of other women cannot be heard because people take “offense” to her.

Will you speak for Ayesha, forced into a marriage by her family in Pakistan and repeatedly raped during a four month ordeal? She did not have the luxury of worrying about “offending” people by her speech since her freedom was snatched away from her as her husband forced himself on her routinely.

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Chloe Valdary is a pro-Israel activist at New Orleans University, where she founded "Allies for Israel."
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