The content of the above article reminded me of one of my favorite movie quotes which comes from President Andrew Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas, in the movie, “The American President.” In a speech, President Shepherd says of American citizenship, “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve got to want it bad cause it’s going to put up a fight. It’s going to say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.'”
While Brandeis University has the right to choose to whom it will or will not give honorary degrees, it is my view that the reasons for retracting this honorary degree to this woman demonstrates the regression of American citizenship and the foundations upon which it is based. This woman, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a staunch critic of Islam and its treatment of women, grew up “in a strict Muslim family, surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage.” And even though it doesn’t say it, I take from the context of her quote that the genital mutilation, beatings and the arranged marriage resulted because the home of her youth held to a strict adherence to Muslim teachings. She has spoken forcefully against her experiences growing up in this type of Muslim home and the view of groups within Islam that subjugates women to second class citizens and sees them experience violence all in the name of religion.
In response to her experiences, “in 2007, Ali helped establish the AHA Foundation, which works to protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture, according to its website. The foundation also strives to protect basic rights and freedoms of women and girls. This includes control of their own bodies, access to an education and the ability to work outside the home and control their own income, the website says.” Imagine the uproar in this country if Christian leaders tried to get laws passed that are similar to those in Muslim countries where women do not have basic rights and freedoms in control over their own bodies, education, the ability to work outside the home and control their own income. The uproar would be loud and it would be vehement and it would be continual and any attempt to restrict it would be met with the strongest opposition.
In case you missed some of the quotes from those opposing Ms. Ali receiving this honorary degree, let me quote some here.
From senior Sarah Fahmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association: “This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students.” “A university that prides itself on social justice and equality should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic.” Ms. Fahmy, what about those Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that have no true concepts of social justice and equality for women due to their strict interpretation of Islamic teaching? Have you or will you response as vehemently to real life oppression due to a certain view of Islamic teachings as you have to Ms. Ali? If you haven’t, maybe you should go live in a strict Muslim country for a few years where you wouldn’t even be allowed to attend an university, let alone be allowed the right to speak out against something with which you disagree, all because you happen to be a woman. Then re-examine your statement in view of that experience.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations: “It is unconscionable that such a prestigious university would honor someone with such openly hateful views.” Mr. Hooper, do you also consider countries which follow a much stricter view of Islamic teaching concerning women as hateful? Or do they get a pass from you because you view it as their “right” to treat women in such ways and you really have no problem with it?
Joseph Lumbard, chairman of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies: “This makes Muslim students feel very uneasy.”They feel unwelcome here.” Mr. Lumbard, I know this probably will sound harsh, but, “welcome to the United States where someone’s view might make someone feel uneasy or unwelcome.” That’s life in this country.
If having someone who opposes your views is something that makes you feel unwelcome, you need to re-examine what it means to live in this country. This country was founded upon a person’s right to state or advocate for things that just might offend you and/or make you feel unwelcome. If your view of what it means to be a citizen in this country entails that no one is to say anything that you find offensive, I strongly suggest that you go back to American Government class and restudy what citizenship in this country entails.
This woman is a staunch advocate for women’s rights and freedoms in places and environments and cultures which seek to continue to either restrict or totally remove them. If you find that offensive, and if you are of the opinion that you should never have to encounter someone who believes as strongly as you in a view 180 degrees opposite of your own, then I would strongly suggest that you once again consider what it means to be a citizen of the United States and live in this country.
It is “advanced citizenship.” Get over your being “offended.” It’s part of what makes this country so great, that no matter a person’s view, opinion, or stance, she or he has the right to have it and publicly state it as long as it does not incite violence or threaten physical violence.
In my view, this is just another example of American citizenship being “wimp-ified.”
And if you are unable to handle someone advocating a view with which you strongly disagree, I strongly suggest you stay home. A harsh statement? Yes, but that’s exactly how I feel.