Brandeis Gets It Right on Islam

Huff Post: by Eric H. Yoffie —

The task of American Jews and all Americans is to join with our Muslim friends in the fight against religious fanaticism in Islam and in all other religious traditions; it is to promote the values of justice, love, and moderation that are common to all the major religious faiths. But we cannot do that if we insist on honoring those who, however sympathetic their backgrounds and moving their personal stories, have made the mistake of demonizing all Muslims and bashing Islam.

Brandeis University, a Jewish-sponsored university and my alma mater, has withdrawn its offer to give an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, Brandeis changed its mind eight days after announcing the honor to Ms. Hirsi Ali, who was born in Somalia and served in the Dutch Parliament. The president of Brandeis, Fred Lawrence, said in his announcement of the change that “we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

In this case, Brandeis got it right.

Ms. Ali has referred to Islam as “the new fascism” and “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” and has said that “violence is inherent in Islam.”

“We are at war with Islam,” she has proclaimed, asserting that it must be defeated.

Others have pointed out — and I am quick to admit — that Ms. Hirsi Ali has an inspiring personal history and has done much in her life that is heroic. And she personally has suffered at the hands of radical and extremist elements of the Muslim world. That such elements exist is beyond question. Terrorists and fanatic religious groups in Muslim countries often dominate the media; when they kill and torture in the name of God, they hijack Islam in the process, subverting its image by professing to speak in its name.

But in this instance, none of that is relevant. Ms. Hirsi Ali’s sweeping statements of condemnation do not make vital distinctions that civilized people must always make. I am referring to the distinctions between radical and fanatic versions of Islam and moderate and centrist versions of Islam. As we Jews know very well, there are real consequences when entire populations are represented in the public imagination by their worst elements.


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