The Conversation

Freedom and self-respect at Brandeis

In response to Wretched Brandeis Bows to Muslim Pressure, Withdraws Degree from Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

I especially like the detail that the one quote of Ali's they keep citing as the reason for ripping up her honorary degree comes from a seven-year old interview with Reason.  It's not exactly a hidden aspect of her world-view, either.  Are we supposed to believe the Brandeis brass doesn't know how to perform a cursory Internet search?  Nobody read her books?  Did they just look at a photo of Ali and think, "She has a nice smile, let's give her an honorary degree?"

This is the relevant passage, in its entirety:

Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?

Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

Reason: Militarily?

Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

Sure, that's provocative, but it would be the work of moments to put together a long list of quotes from prominent Muslim figures who agree with her, except they intend to be the ones doing the crushing.  

It's not all Muslims, to be sure.  What she's saying here can be debated.  But does debating it become easier, or harder, after a mob action forces Brandeis University to rescind its offer of an honorary degree?  

And for the rest of us, is social harmony easier, or harder, to maintain if we keep allowing the loudest, best-connected pressure groups (to say nothing of those prepared to demonstrate how serious they are with violence) to determine the boundaries of public discourse?  The Brandeis strategy reminds me of how the path to the dark side of the Force in "Star Wars" is said to be easier and quicker.  Give the angry mob what it wants, and things get more peaceable for a little while, especially if the people on the wrong end of the arrangement are polite and quiet types.  But soon enough, the angry mob is back... and eventually everyone realizes that only squeaky wheels are getting greased, so everything becomes a battle royale between fervent activists.  What's Brandeis going to do when the Mozilla brownshirts show up and protest their decision to honor a prominent Muslim who opposes gay marriage?

The only way to keep society from degenerating into that vicious chaos is to strip hecklers of their veto powers.  Stand strong, even when capitulation is the far easier path, and you'll have less to worry about from mobs in the future.  Send the message to everyone - especially college students - that arguments are not "won" by accumulating enough muscle to throw your debate opponents off the stage.  Send the message that totalitarian ideology should not be allowed to erase the full measure of a person's character and achievements, because of a few politically incorrect words.  (I really hate the increasingly common notion that an individual's position on some singular hot-button issue defines them completely, for either good or ill.)

For both individuals and institutions, freedom requires self-respect.


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