Four months after Brandeis University buckled under pressure from Muslim students to ban Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking at graduation, another university is under fire for offering the Somali-born human rights activist a platform to speak.
Last night, Hirsi Ali was scheduled to deliver a lecture at Yale University entitled “Islam and the West.” Hirsi Ali’s talk, sponsored by Yale’s Buckley Program, was heavily protested by Muslim student activists and their allies on the left.
Raised Muslim, but now an opponent of organized religion, Hirsi Ali is a tireless advocate for the rights of women and girls in the Muslim world. For years, she has fought against the practices of female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, and honor killings — all of which occur routinely in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Hirsi Ali has harsh words for those who commit such acts in the name of Islam and for those who deny women and girls the right to education and personal autonomy on cultural grounds.
You would think that advocacy on behalf of basic human freedoms would be uncontroversial. But in this brave new world where “Islamophobia” is a sin greater than actual violence, you would be wrong. After all, who are we to judge the cultural practices of others? Who are we to impose Western standards of morality on the oppressed and the downtrodden people of the Third World? How dare anyone connect the dots between acts of violence — against women, gays, infidels and nonbelievers — and the ideology to which the perpetrators of such acts subscribe? To do so is to spread hate! And we certainly cannot allow such hatefulness to offend our tender sensibilities.
At least that is the view of the Yale Muslim Student Association, which demanded (without success) that the Buckley Program rescind the invitation (a la Brandeis) or, at the very least, that it provide a counter-speaker to refute Hirsi Ali’s points.
Why? Because her presence at Yale threatened to make “Muslims on campus feel unwelcome and uncomfortable.”
(Apparently, it is now the responsibility of universities to protect students from ideas that may offend or put them ill-at-ease.)
That the Muslim society reflexively cried “Islamophobia” is not entirely surprising. What is surprising — shocking, really — is that at least 35 other student groups, including the Yale Women’s Center, joined in their protest. (Would the same student groups sign a letter denouncing a speech by a critic of the Catholic Church? Something tells me they would not).
So why are such groups offended by Hirsi Ali? Quite simply, because she pokes holes in the prevailing wisdom that Islamic extremism is but a fringe element of Islamic society.
You see, Hirsi Ali argues that extremism is endemic to Islam and that, “the connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored.” She calls on Westerners to abandon their naive and politically-correct assumptions that radical Islam is an aberration, rather than a wildly popular movement.
Are there Muslims who respect the rights of women, gays, and nonbelievers and who wish to live in peace with America and the West? Of course. There are many. But Hirsi Ali argues that these “peace-loving Muslims [must] do more, much more, to resist [extremists] in their midst.” They must stand up to hateful ideologies propagated in the name of Islam — not just to the violence such ideologies spawn.
American Muslims and their friends should turn their attention to protesting the prevalence of extremism in the Islamic world and stop condemning those who too often stand alone against evil.
Jennifer C. Braceras is a lawyer and political commentator.
Originally appeared in the September 16, 2014 print edition of hte Boston Herald.