After an outcry from students, faculty and civil rights groups in early April, Brandeis University withdrew its invitation to honor notorious Islamophobe Ayaan Hirsi Ali at its 2014 commencement.
The right-wing echo chamber—which adores Hirsi Ali and parades her on Fox News whenever there’s a need to demonize Muslims—responded with predictable outrage (Media Matters, 4/11/14).
Far more disturbing was how the mainstream media whitewashed Hirsi Ali’s bigotry.
The New York Times (4/8/14) called her “a campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam.” The Los Angeles Times (4/11/14) described her as “a feminist and outspoken critic of Islam,” while to the Boston Globe (4/9/14), she was “a prominent advocate for women’s rights and an outspoken critic of Islam.”
But how does this square with reality?
Hirsi Ali has labeled Islam in its entirety “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” (London Evening Standard, 2/7/07) that must be “defeated” by the West “militarily” (Reason, 11/07). She has urged the United States to amend its Constitution to strip American Muslims of their civil rights (Reason, 11/07)).
Calling for state violence against 1.6 billion Muslims is not “criticism.” It is borderline genocidal.
Had Hirsi Ali made similar statements about Judaism, she would have quickly—and rightfully—been identified as an antisemite and ostracized. So why the pass on Islam-bashing?
It’s also absurd to suggest that Hirsi Ali is an advocate for women’s rights, given that she pushes the narrative that misogyny and violence are inherent to Islam.
Yet somehow, the New York Times managed to offer a veiled justification for such views, declaring, “Even some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics say they understand her hostility to Islam, given her experiences.”
The Times goes on to describe those experiences: “A native of Somalia, she has written and spoken extensively of her experience as a Muslim girl in East Africa, including undergoing genital cutting, a practice she has vigorously opposed, and her family’s attempts to force her to marry a man against her wishes.”
The Times failed to inform its readers that Hirsi Ali fabricated many of these experiences. It was revealed in 2006 (Observer, 5/20/06) that Hirsi Ali had lied on her asylum application and invented much of her past. Though born in Somalia, she did not, as she had claimed, escape persecution and a forced marriage there. Nor was she raised in a strict Muslim family.
Rather, she lived a very comfortable and free life in Kenya before immigrating to the Netherlands. There she was elected to Parliament and allied with the anti-immigrant far right and warned against the dangers of accepting immigrants from Muslim countries (Asian Tribune, 5/20/06), essentially kicking the ladder out from under her.
Forced to resign from parliament over her fabrications, Hirsi Ali accepted a position at the war-hungry American Enterprise Institute and became an overnight darling of neoconservatives—who in the latest controversy have been her loudest defenders. Iraq war cheerleaders Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard, 4/9/14) and John Podhoretz (Commentary, 4/9/14) blasted liberals for supposedly silencing a feminist icon, while Zev Chafets, a pro-Israel fanatic, went so far as to liken Brandeis’ treatment of Hirsi Ali to an “honor killing” (Fox News, 4/10/14).
Conversely, Hirsi Ali’s loudest critics have always been Muslim feminists. In the Netherlands, they told Reuters (4/25/07) they were relieved to have her gone:
Hirsi Ali is held responsible by many in the Muslim community for “Islamis-ing” the Netherlands’ migrants, polarizing communities and diverting attention from those trying to boost integration in what they see as a more constructive approach.
“Let her call one woman forward and show how she really helped her,” said Famile Arslan, a 35-year-old family lawyer.
Muslim feminists in the US are equally repelled by Hirsi Ali’s hatemongering. But their voices were largely absent from mainstream coverage of the Brandeis controversy, with Al Jazeera America (4/14/14) being one of the few outlets to quote several American Muslim women.
Progressive women’s rights activist Linda Sarsour explained to AJA, “The problem we have with Ayaan Hirsi Ali is not that we invalidate her own experience, but she equates violence against women to Islam.” Sarsour added that “her story does not represent Islam or all Muslim women” and Hirsi Ali “has few allies among Muslim women around the world.”
And who can blame them? A vocal proponent of bombing majority-Muslim countries, Hirsi Ali believes the US should have attacked both Iraq and Iran after the September 11 terrorist attacks (Guernica, 2/27/07). How does dropping bombs on Muslim women and vilifying their faith help advocate for their rights?