One of the most popular lines of argument in the Ali apologias is that Brandeis is guilty of applying an outrageous double standard, one that allows for the hateful criticism of Judaism, but not a fair critique of Islam. Bill Kristol complains that while the university refuses to honor Ali, they saw fit to bestow a degree on playwright Tony Kushner in 2006, despite the fact that Kushner had “called the creation of Israel as a Jewish state ‘a mistake’ and attacked Israel for ethnic cleansing.” Andrew Sullivan echoes this complaint, writing in the Dish:
Kushner was challenging his own ethnic group just as powerfully as Hirsi Ali is challenging her own. But here is the question: why is he lionized and Hirsi Ali disinvited? Why are provocative ideas on the “right” less legitimate than provocative ideas on the left?
The irony of this argument is that by equating Kushner’s anti-Zionism with Ali’s condemnation of Islam as a “nihilistic death cult,” Kristol and Sullivan exemplify a double standard exactly opposite to the one they allege.
Whatever one’s opinion on the necessity of a Jewish state, it is a fact that a portion of the Jewish community has been opposed to state Zionism for centuries. Whatever one’s feelings on Israel, it is a fact — confirmed even in the work of Zionist historians like Benny Morris – that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes by Israeli soldiers in 1948. Thus Kushner’s statements align him with a minority position in the Jewish community, and assert a historical fact.
Ali’s statements assert that no form of Islam deserves our tolerance, because inherent to the religion is a violent fascism that must be defeated. Kushner asks Jews to question the violence required to establish and maintain a majority Jewish state, in a region densely populated by Palestinians. Ali asks the U.S. government to declare war on the Muslim faith. Her “provocative” ideas aren’t less legitimate because they come from the right. They’re less legitimate because they assert that every “true” follower of Islam subscribes to an ideology of terror.
I have not seen where Hirsi Ali has called on the US government to declare war on Islam – since that would obviously require suspension of the First Amendment. Her crude rhetoric against the religion is, I’d say, of a piece with much of the new atheists’ contempt, with a unique, female edge. Would Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris have an honorary degree retroactively revoked and only allowed to speak on campus if rebutted in the same forum? Levitz also specifically calls me out here:
Curiously, not one of the pieces protesting Brandeis’ decision actually quotes Ali’s past rhetoric. Instead, they refer obliquely to her “stinging attacks on non-Western religions,” “provocative ideas” or, most opaquely, her “life and thought.” The simplest explanation for this chronic omission is that to actually engage with Ali’s rhetoric would be to expose the absurdity of the Judeo-Christian persecution complex that informs so much of the genre.
I really don’t think I can be accused of harboring a Judeo-Christian persecution complex. And, of course, the Dish ran a number of dissents that highlighted Ali’s most reprehensible rhetoric. Since I’ve been careful over the years to distinguish between Islamism, modern Islamist fundamentalism, and the entire civilization and history of Islam over the centuries, I understand why Ayaan’s rhetoric – especially in one critical interview – can be seen as over-the-top. This piece by Ira Stoll is as good a defense of Brandeis as I have read.
I’d just proffer the notion in response that if you had been genitally mutilated and nearly forced into an arranged marriage … you might get a little over-the-top as well. When you’ve had a death threat attached to a knife in the corpse of your film-making partner, I think you get something of a pass for being over-the-top at times. And usually, a woman who had endured such trials would gain a sympathetic audience in a university campus.
Meanwhile, Freddie deBoer, reflecting on the Eich and #CancelColbert affairs and others, scrutinizes the hard left:
The congealing conventional wisdom among progressives now is that the right to free expression has only been abridged if government literally physically prevents you from speaking. Absolutely every other way in which your right to express yourself is fair game. So when I wrote about a University of California Santa Barbara professor who physically ripped a sign from the hands of another person in an attempt to silence that sign’s message– her quote was literally, “I’m stronger so I was able to take the poster”– it was patiently explained to me by patiently explaining liberals that there was no actual abridgment to free speech, because the government hadn’t sent tanks to silence those protesters. What that professor did was “direct action” and was thus permissible. Why that person using her physical advantage to silence someone amounts to direct action, and a crowd beating up antiwar protesters would not, I have no idea.
Waldman worries about an unintended consequence of such intolerance, especially in cases like Eich’s – donor secrecy:
Here’s a sign of what’s to come. Charles Krauthammer, the most influential conservative pundit in America, has published a broadside against campaign disclosure, in which he says he used to favor the combination of no limits on contributions and full information on who’s donating. “This used to be my position,” Krauthammer says. ”No longer. I had not foreseen how donor lists would be used not to ferret out corruption but to pursue and persecute citizens with contrary views. Which corrupts the very idea of full disclosure.”
Beware of unintended consequences and of over-reach.