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Brandeis and Double Standards

6:01 PM, May 12, 2014 • By JAY BERGMAN
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But even if one accepts the view that the Muslims Ms. Ali condemns are not representative of Islam, there is no reason why her courageous battle for women’s rights—of which many of her detractors claim to approve—cannot be divorced from her views on Islam. In the case of Desmond Tutu, on whom Brandeis conferred an honorary degree even after he called Israel a Nazi state, the university made precisely the distinction it has refused to make in Miss Ali’s case—namely honoring Tutu for his struggle against apartheid in South Africa while (one hopes) tacitly rejecting his anti-Semitic bigotry.

In fact, Tutu's smear of Israel is far worse—far more vicious, far more absurd, far more defamatory, far more indicative of bigotry—than anything Ms. Ali has said about Islam. Her opinions, unlike Tutu's, are grounded in evidence.  Millions of Muslim girls have had their genitals mutilated.  Many are the victims of honor killings.  Many have been forced to marry persons they did not wish to marry.  But there is nothing that Israel has done in the sixty-six years of its existence that is even remotely comparable to Nazism. (It goes without saying that when bigots say that Israel is like Nazi Germany, what they have in mind is not the construction of the autobahns or the achievement of full employment.)

But of course when Tutu was awarded an honorary degree, the Brandeis faculty who now malign Ms. Ali were mute. The double standard and hypocrisy this suggests is repulsive. The fact that when Tutu received his honorary degree he did not—on the day he received the degree—smear Israel is true but trivial. The same applies to the playwright Tony Kushner, another recipient of a Brandeis honorary degree, whose claim that the most repugnant American Jews are those who strongly support Israel is the kind of ad hominem attack one would expect from a hyperactive undergraduate, not the recipient of an honorary degree. Kushner, of course, provided no evidence for his smear because none exists.

As for the argument that awarding Ms. Ali an honorary degree might cause discomfort for Muslim students who disagree with her, the proper response is that that should not trump academic debate and discussion, without which the central obligation of the university—the dispassionate and disinterested pursuit of truth—cannot be fulfilled. Ensuring that all students always feel comfortable when their religion, or any other aspect of their lives, is discussed and evaluated is to ensure that universities have no students at all.  Feeling uncomfortable when opinions contrary to one’s own are expressed is an integral part of college, and an inescapable part of life.

Notwithstanding Ms. Ali’s critics, her supposed intolerance is actually laudable because what she is intolerant of is intolerance itself. And in purely human terms, her willingness to risk her life pursuing the laudable objective of saving the lives of Muslim women—they constitute 91 percent of the victims of honor killings in the world today—fully justifies her receiving an honorary degree. (Of course courage alone is hardly cause for awarding honorary degrees. Were that the case, they would be given to persons who climbed Mount Everest.)

Finally, one can only describe as unbelievable the claim of Frederick Lawrence, the president of Brandeis, that no one in the his administration knew anything of Ms. Ali's views on Islam prior to the demands of CAIR and a significant minority of Brandeis faculty that Ms. Ali be denied the honorary degree she had previously been promised. But even if his claim is true, Brandeis should not have yielded.

Given the outcry outside of academia that followed Lawrence’s decision, the absence of comparable condemnation from within it might seem incredible to persons unfamiliar with the shibboleths of political correctness that constitute the conventional wisdom in academia today. But the reason for this silence is not hard to find: college campuses are liberal-left echo chambers almost totally devoid of dissenting (i.e. conservative) opinions.  With a fanaticism that borders on the pathological, American colleges and universities seek cosmetic diversity, but not intellectual diversity, which is the only kind of diversity that matters in higher education.

Jay Bergman is a graduate of Brandeis University and a professor of history at Central Connecticut State University.

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