By Farzana Hassan
April 17, 2014
It’s been a year since two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon.
Three people lost their lives in the attack, including a young child, yet it is still taboo in many quarters to criticize the ideology that sparked such senseless violence.
Islam’s fundamentalists can still scare Westerners away from defending intellectual freedom — including some we expect to show backbone.
Brandeis University in Boston was to confer an honorary degree on well-known author and apostate of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for her extraordinary research and scholarship on worldwide Islamic issues.
Fundamentalists at the Islamic Society of North America, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and at its student body, the Muslim Students Association, launched a campaign at Brandeis against Hirsi Ali and the university withdrew its offer.
The West has come to cower in the face of such protests.
The first case in recent memory where we had to confront radical Islam’s ferocious intolerance was over Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, a fictional account of an incident narrated in Hadith, Islam’s secondary texts.
Islamic countries banned Rushdie’s book and a bounty was placed on him.
The West at that time was less afraid of radical Islam’s outrages than it is today and continued to promote and honour the book.
But this sort of courage has now become rare.
Today, parochial Muslim students need only howl about imagined or manufactured insults to Islam, and institutions are bullied into trembling compliance.
Such protests have seen books withdrawn and independent-minded professors silenced.
This Hirsi Ali fiasco is only the latest assault on free speech.
In Cleveland, the same crowd is challenging another professor, Samir Abdul Latif, for opposing jihad.
Central to the West’s stance on freedom of conscience is the notion that almost any opinion has the right to be held and heard, even if it is manifestly mistaken.
But Hirsi Ali, of all public intellectuals, need not defend the validity of her views, when she so sensibly asks: “Is the concept of holy war compatible with our ideal of religious toleration? Is it blasphemy — punishable by death — to question the applicability of certain seventh-century doctrines to our own era?” Her courageous intellectual challenge to political Islam’s equivocation about the roots of terrorism and her valiant crusade for universal women’s rights are things the Western world should cherish.
We should seize any opportunity to acknowledge publicly women like her and to uphold them as role models.
The broader issue is how long the West will tolerate assaults on intellectual freedom.
The Western way of life is being blatantly compromised, yet few are brave enough to man the barricades.
North American universities must resist kowtowing to radical Islam’s agenda of quashing free speech.
They must ponder the consequences of caving in to radical Islam’s increasingly outrageous demands.
There must be some serious soul-searching here.
It is time to protect the long-cherished ideal of free, critical thought, which the West has fought for through many of its own convulsions.
It is time to formulate a cogent response to Islamist assaults on freedom of speech and to implement it in an unflinching manner.
The comment of Brandeis president Fredrick Lawrence that the university chose to back down over the issue of Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree because of “certain of her past statements”, shows there is no place for him on the barricades of freedom.