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May 14, 2015 3:13 pm

Brandeis Must Explain its Selective Support for Free Speech

avatar by Abraham H. Miller

Brandeis University. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A year after disinviting human rights advocate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Brandeis University has extended an invitation to career diplomat Thomas Pickering as commencement speaker for this Sunday. The contrast between the two underscores Brandeis’ surrender to fashionable political correctness.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali ran into a wall of opposition from organized Muslim students and their leftist sympathizers who believe that their outrage trumps the rights of others to hear an internationally recognized champion against the Islamic world’s oppression of women. Born in Somalia and herself a victim of female genital mutilation, Ali’s life is a living testament to the cruelty and intolerance endemic to fundamentalist Islamic culture.

At a time when criticisms of Islam are routinely dismissed as Islamophobia or bigotry, she exposes Islam as aggressor rather than victim. Victim status is the ticket to preferential treatment on campus. It provides for both the exercise of a veto for campus events that are found offensive and the administrative tolerance for the right of organized disruption should such events occur.While white students are admonished to check their privilege, designated ethnic victims luxuriate in theirs.Victimhood confers such privileges on campuses that groups compete to establish which among them suffered the most at the hands of their “oppressors.”Ali’s speech threatened the politically correct Brandeis narrative on Islam. Consequently, she was silenced.

American diplomat Thomas Pickering is a proponent of the ideas that resonate at Brandeis and most campuses. Ali’s withdrawn invitation followed a year later by an invitation to Pickering speaks volumes about the dominant attitude toward speech on campus. Pickering has been a virulent critic of Israel, a position that is in keeping with the left’s politically correct account.

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Do not expect the “hurt feelings”of Jewish students to engender the same response from the administration that it bestowed upon Muslim students in rescinding Ali’s invitation. After all, Jews—despite their tragic history—are not victims.They are privileged whites, and when it comes to Pickering, they will need to check their privilege.

As ambassador to Israel and later to the United Nations, Pickering was an outspoken critic of the government’s exile of Palestinians who advocated, assisted, or participated in violent uprisings against the Jewish state. Pickering saw Israel’s exile of Palestinians as a human rights violation, but when he was ambassador to Jordan, Pickering was not moved to remind the monarchy that the very institution itself is a violation of human rights. Recently, Pickering has been a strong supporter of the Obama administration’s deal that permits Iran to keep and expand its nuclear infrastructure, while reiterating its goal of annihilating Israel. For Brandeis, a human rights advocate who is an embarrassment to Islam is silenced, but a severe critic of Israel is more than acceptable. This is the mentality of political correctness that dominates not just Brandeis, but most institutions of so-called “higher education.”

Does Pickering embody the ideals of Brandeis’namesake, a fervent Zionist? Of course not. But then Brandeis is no longer an institution rooted in Jewish traditions. Pickering does, however, represent what Brandeis has become. In an ideal world, students would be able to hear both Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Thomas Pickering. Their speeches would offend some, even lacerate their sensitivities, and they would be provoked to think about what they heard. That is what universities are supposed to be about.

But in the real world of academia, certain sensitivities are to be protected while others are to be eviscerated. Thomas Pickering’s speaking should not be the issue. The issue is that some are to be heard and others silenced, depending upon which set of designated victims can make the most noise.

Universities teach not only through the classroom, but also by example. Brandeis students will have pause to reflect that the university has decided what ideas they are permitted to hear.

This article was originally published by the Jewish Advocate.

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