Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a notable supporter of women’s rights and an ardent critic of Islam, received major backlash from student organizations at Yale University, where she was invited to deliver a lecture on the “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West.”
35 campus organizations, including the Yale Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics (AHA) and Yale’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) criticized the decision made by the William F. Buckley Jr. program, a group that seeks to emphasize conservative views at Yale.
Their argument resides on the grounds that Hirsi Ali’s inflammatory statements about Muslims as a whole would be insulting to the Muslim community at the university.
The sentiment is not unwarranted. Hirsi Ali has called the Islamic religion a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death” and has said “there comes a moment when you crush your enemy” in reference to the Islamic people. She has also advocated the revision of Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, which contains important guidelines for religious freedom in the country, in order to stifle the influence of Islam and to shut down Islamic schools.
President of the AHA, Dylan Onderdonk-Snow, said on the matter, “The bottom line is that Ayaan Hirsi Ali is speaking categorically about a people when she issues diatribes against Islam. Any such categorical claim will not only be a gross exaggeration, but also stem from a deep-rooted prejudice towards another culture.”
Yale’s student organizations are not the first to display their disapproval of Hirsi Ali and her insensitivity towards Islam. Last April, Brandeis decided to cancel their plans to offer Hirsi Ali an honorary degree. “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” said the university. This was released just eight days after the announcement that Hirsi Ali would be given the honor at the May 18th commencement.
The university’s decision resulted from the action of bloggers criticizing the plan to honor Hirsi Ali and Brandeis students who organized an online petition, which received thousands of signatures. Brandeis also noted the “hurtful anti-Muslim statements and her lack of qualifications to speak broadly about Islam.”
Hirsi Ali’s life experience may be relevant; however, the Yale MSA believes that her topic should either be limited to discussion about these experiences or be accompanied by a scholar with relevant information about the topic, given Hirsi Ali’s lack of academic credentials on the subject.
While Yale students are open to “host[ing] a broad array of voices,” the dissenting groups argue that they should also be free to protest speakers and comments that they find personally offensive.
The Yale AHA released a statement via the Yale Humanist Community’s Facebook page, stating, "As a group of undergraduates with a membership that includes ex-Muslims and atheists from Islamic cultures, we do not believe Ayaan Hirsi Ali represents the totality of the ex-Muslim experience. Although we do acknowledge the value of her story, we do not endorse her blanket statements on all Muslims and Islam.”