U.S. university drops plan to honor activist critical of Islam

by Reuters
Wednesday, 9 April 2014 14:03 GMT

BOSTON, April 9 (Reuters) - A private university outside Boston has decided not to award an honorary degree to a Somali-born women's rights activist who has branded Islam violent and "a nihilistic cult of death."

Brandeis University said it had decided not to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian who has been a prominent critic of the treatment of women in Islamic society.

Hirsi Ali in a 2003 interview with a Dutch newspaper said that by modern standards, the prophet Mohammed could be considered a pedophile, and in a 2007 interview with the London Evening Standard called Islam "a destructive, nihilistic cult of death."

"We cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values," the university said in a statement late Tuesday. "We regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier."

The move followed an open letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the university's president, Frederick Lawrence, saying that to do so was "unworthy of the American tradition of civil liberty and religious freedom."

Nihad Awad, the group's national executive director, said, "offering such an award to a promoter of religious prejudice such as Ali is equivalent to promoting the work of white supremacists and anti-Semites."

Hirsi Ali could not be reached for immediate comment.

Hirsi Ali, a supporter of atheism, has been a prominent critic of the practice of female genital mutilation, the partial or total removal of external female genitalia. The practice, which causes health problems, is for cultural and religious reasons and is prevalent in 28 African nations, as well as parts of the Middle East and Asia.

Located in the Waltham suburb of Boston, Brandeis was founded in 1948 with a Jewish tradition and has about 3,600 undergraduate students, according to its web site.

The school came under fire in 2009, when the school's then-president proposed selling the $350 million art collection at its Rose Art Museum to raise money in the midst of declining enrollment during the global financial crisis. In the face of criticism from alumni and donors who had provided much of the art, the university backtracked in 2011 opened a renovated facility to show of its collection. (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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