Brandeis withdraws honor to activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islam

(JTA) — Brandeis University rescinded the awarding of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights activist and politician who has been publicly critical of Islam.

The Boston-area university made the announcement on Tuesday, a week after saying it would honor the Somalia-born Hirsi Ali at its May 18 commencement ceremony.

At least 85 of 350 Brandeis faculty members signed a letter asking the university to remove Hirsi Ali from the honorary degree list, and an online petition asking the school to rescind the award had garnered nearly 7,000 signatures by Wednesday morning.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called Hirsi Ali, who renounced her Muslim faith, a “notorious Islamophobe” in a letter to Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence, The New York Times reported.

“She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world,” the university said in a statement. “That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

The statement invited Hirsi Ali, currently a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to speak about her views at the university. Awarding an honorary degree is akin to endorsing the recipient’s views.

Born and raised in Somalia, Hirsi Ali was forced to have a female circumcision and into an arranged marriage. She renounced her faith and ran away to the Netherlands, where she served in the Dutch Parliament.

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