Thursday, April 17, 2014

The view from the other side

When I wrote about Brandeis and Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently, I ran across some bits and pieces I think are worth noting although they didn’t fit neatly into my post.

A little data dropout

It’s instructive to note the difference between how the New York Times reports Ms. Hirsi Ali’s background and how the Brandies student newspaper does so. The New York Times:

Even some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics say they understand her hostility to Islam, given her experiences, though they think she goes too far. 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.

She moved to the Netherlands as a young woman, and she was later elected to the Dutch Parliament. She wrote the screenplay for “Submission,” a 2004 film critical of the treatment of Muslim women. Shortly after its release, the director, Theo van Gogh, was murdered on an Amsterdam street by a radical Islamist, who pinned to the victim’s body a threat to kill Ms. Hirsi Ali as well.

Brandeis student newspaper*:

Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born women’s rights activist who has campaigned against female genital mutilation [snip] She formerly lived in the Netherlands and was a member of Dutch Parliament until it was discovered that she had provided false information on an asylum application to gain entry into the country. In response to this, Hirsi Ali claimed that she lied on her asylum application because she was fleeing a forced marriage. She had also previously disclosed inaccurate information through several sources before the controversy, including through her book The Son Factory.

After resigning from her position due to the ensuing scandal, she moved to the United States to join the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute—an organization dedicated to expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity and strengthening free enterprise according to its website—where she is now a visiting fellow.

So the New York Times omits the fact that Ms. Hirsi Ali lied on her Dutch asylum application. The Brandeis student newspaper finds the room to devote two and a half sentences to the asylum application issue** and a paragraph/sentence to her ties to AEI; but omits the facts that Ms. Hirsi Ali underwent genital cutting; that she wrote the screenplay for a movie opposing the subjugation of women; that the director of that movie was murdered by “a radical Islamist”; and that the murderer threatened to kill Ms. Hirsi Ali.

I think the Times made the better decision here although I would probably have included a brief reference to the asylum application dustup. On the other hand, the information omitted by the university newspaper is the entire context for her support for women’s rights and for her opposition to Islam. Omitting it seems a little, I don’t know, non-contextualized.

Turf wars and gatekeepers

In a faculty petition urging that Ms. Hirsi Ali be dis-invited to receive an honorary degree, we find the following sentence:

We further urge you to reinstitute the past practice of a faculty committee that vets potential honorary degree recipients.

In an interview with the Brandeis University newspaper:

Prof. Mary Baine Campbell (ENG) said [snip] that she was concerned about the awarding of the degree because of a lack of consultation with the faculty during the selection process. In an email to the Justice, she wrote that she was “astonished to find out that this choice, to honor Ms. Hirsi Ali for her contributions to ‘women’s rights,’ had been made without consulting the WGS Core Faculty.” s=She noted that the core faculty in the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies program had not been contacted either.

This sounds to me like the faculty (at least some of the faculty) have their noses out of joint and are happy to use the Hirsi Ali bandwagon as a way to leverage more power. Tiresome and discouraging but remarkably human.

I find the idea of a gatekeeper more disturbing. The use of quotations marks around “women’s rights” and the apparent belief that only the Women and Gender Studies “Core Faculty” can determine whether someone is really contributing to “women’s rights” is anathema to someone like me, whose ideas of feminism go back to the 1970s. Part of feminism then was the refusal to allow gatekeepers to tell women what was and was not valid about their own experience and about their perceptions of that experience.

It’s interesting to contrast this attitude with that of David Silverman, a Brandeis graduate and president of the American Atheists. In an open letter to the president of Brandeis University, Mr. Silverman recalls his pride in Brandeis’ activism during his student days and goes on to decry:

Brandeis [caving] to religious intolerance masquerading as political correctness and [uninviting] a valuable voice in the discussion of religion in public life, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

In detailing what Brandeis has done by disinviting Ms. Hirsi Ali, Mr. Silverman says:

Ms. Hirsi Ali’s experiences, however, are different.

Her background allows her to speak with clarity about one of the most challenging questions of our time: whether a robust commitment to equality, diversity, dialogue, and social justice is possible when we look the other way when confronted with the realities of Islamic extremism.

What you have done to Ms. Hirsi Ali is rob her of such an opportunity. You have robbed her of the opportunity to speak to Brandeis students about her lived experiences as a child in Somalia and Kenya. You have ended the “dialogue about these important issues” before it has even begun.

Apparently, Mr. Silverman is stuck in the same time warp I am, remembering fondly the idea that a woman’s “lived experience” is worth listening to, regardless of what the self-appointed gatekeepers say. Perhaps we are both pre-post-modern.

A little comic relief

In the same faculty petition I mentioned above, I read this:

Please know that, like Ms. Hirsi Ali, we fully recognize the harm of forced marriages; of female genital cutting, which can cause, among other public health problems, increased maternal and infant mortality; and of honor killings. These phenomena are not, however, exclusive to Islam.

The selection of Ms. Hirsi Ali further suggests to the public that violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus.

Who knew that Brandeis was a hot-bed of forced marriages, female genital cutting, and honor killings? That the campus was plagued with the kidnapping of schoolgirls and the murder of film directors? And I had no idea that women were not allowed to drive, vote, or own property on the Brandeis campus. Perhaps someone should look into that.

Oh, and “Two-Thirds World”? A real phrase, not invented by the faculty specifically for this petition. It’s apparently not even an invention of the Left. I wonder if the faculty at Brandeis is aware they’re using a term reportedly used “mostly by evangelical Christians”.



* I snipped the description of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s “critical view of Islam. The Times covered that separately and I consider it part of the controversy rather than part of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s background. I believe including the controversy itself as part of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s resume is an example of either poisoning the well or assuming the conclusion. Or something like that.

** Just to clarify the following sentence (a Herculean task):

She had also previously disclosed inaccurate information through several sources before the controversy, including through her book The Son Factory.

I read this to mean that Ms. Hirsi Ali had made false statements not only on her asylum application but also “through several sources”. However, if Wikipedia is to be believed, Ms. Hirsi Ali in those “several sources” gave the true versions of the information she had lied about on her asylum application. I tend to believe Wikipedia since it lists the “several sources” (which can therefore be checked) and since it mentions these sources to explain why the accurate information was “considered by many to be public knowledge”.

The most charitable explanation for the misleading wording in the sentence is that Brandeis is not teaching its students to write. The less charitable explanations are left as an exercise for the reader.

1 comment:

E Hines said...

I see much of the overwrought polemics of the Brandeis student newspaper as typical of the overwrought polemics of newly on their own children and of some children not so newly on their own--the upperclassmen involved. The failure here strikes me more a failure of the pseudo-adults responsible for teaching them than of the students themselves.

Campbell's crocodile dudgeon is simply an illustration of that failure. Professors--and college/university management (I hesitate to call it leadership, or even to use the formal terms, including President)--need to be reminded of who is (or ought to be) in charge. My wife and I will be homeschooling our grandchildren as we added to our daughter's public school education. Hopefully with our grandchildren, St Ignatius was right.

The cynic in me says that Silverman was only defending a fellow atheist, and nothing more. Still, his words are correctly formed.

Who knew that Brandeis was a hot-bed of...plagued....

Maybe the petition was written by your favorite baseball announcer? But then, you knew that. [g]

Eric Hines