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By Catherine Chatterley
Huffington Post, June 17, 2015
Comparing the suffering of human beings is a fruitless enterprise that breeds resentment, hostility, and competition. An old professor of mine at the University of Chicago, the distinguished historian Peter Novick, called this dynamic, appropriately, the "Victimization Olympics."
For scholars trained in specific fields of history, comparative analysis of different genocides can be valuable and productive, but for the general public, for ethnic victim groups, and even for academics with a more activist orientation to scholarship, comparing genocides often devolves into this kind of destructive competition. Often, the goal in these cases is not really comparison but equation, and even supersession, of others' experiences.
The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has just concluded its five-year investigation of the residential schools system, a traumatic program of forced assimilation imposed upon the Aboriginal populations of Canada from mid-1800s until 1996. And unfortunately, the "Victimization Olympics" have begun again.
I want to suggest that we stop comparing the experiences of victim groups and understand the specificity of each collective experience, while noting the diverse experiences of individuals within each group.
Over the last decade, students have entered my university courses on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and made instant equations made between Auschwitz and Canadian residential schools. I have learned not to react to these uneducated assumptions and explain that as students learn about Auschwitz-Birkenau these kinds of inaccurate equations disappear.
As horrifying as residential schools were for the children forced into them, they have no resemblance whatsoever to a death camp designed to gas and burn human beings, in a larger process of systematic physical annihilation across Europe. Forced acculturation is not extermination. In fact, the very concept of using education and socialization to "kill the Indian in the child" assumes that there is a common underlying humanity that is actually accessible and "reformable." This would have been a total impossibility in Nazi racial thinking.
These differences are historical facts, but they should not be used to rank the suffering of people. The Holocaust was not a universal human experience; it was a specific program to erase the Jewish people from the continent of Europe. It was the most extreme genocide in modern recorded history and therefore it should not be used as the primary meter stick to gauge human suffering or to define genocide.
There are parallels, however, between the destruction of aboriginal cultures and languages under European colonialism and the forced conversions and subjugation of Jews in Christian Europe. In the modern period, as well, the French Revolution allowed for the emancipation of Jews granting them civil rights, but with the requirement that they be "reformed" out of their Jewish identity and turned into Frenchmen. Both Jews and Aboriginals have lived under enormous assimilationist pressure and much of it violently coercive.
Facile comparisons to the Holocaust and other genocides do not do justice to the uniqueness of the Aboriginal experience either. Life was completely altered for the indigenous populations after European settlement was established in Canada, which made their traditional existence impossible. The government and churches dictated one's rights, obligations, and movements, and invaded one's most intimate setting -- the family. Having this kind of absolute control over the lives of people invited widespread opportunities for abuse and the sexual and physical violation of children by clergy is a whole other level of trauma that does damage to the very souls of people. These are enormously complex levels of abuse and damage, and they deserve scholarly attention and respectful discussion at the public and governmental level. People have a right to be angry and outraged by their experiences and by the discoveries made by the five-year commission. The people who live here now and enjoy all the benefits of Canadian society, myself included, should be aware that Aboriginal people have a very different and much more complex experience of this country.
The suffering of Jews and Aboriginal people across time is a global reality that does not have to be divisive. When one looks at the power relationships between these peoples and the church, for example, there are many relatable experiences. Productive conversations could take place between Jews and Aboriginals on how one survives traumatic racist experiences, how a community preserves its culture, language, and religion in the face of fierce assimilationist pressures and attempts at religious conversion, how to cope with the dynamics of internalized colonization and self-hatred, and even sharing lessons on human resiliency.
The word genocide is used rather freely today and the legal definition of the wordactually allows for this to be the case. Many people understand the word as requiring the physical destruction of a people, but there are ways to understand it otherwise. That brings us to the concept of "cultural genocide," which suggests the destruction of a people through the destruction of their specific cultural identity.
Scholars, lawyers, and governments will no doubt weigh in on whether or not the residential schools experience in Canada officially constitutes a cultural form of genocide. In the meantime, it is important to create a cultural and intellectual climate in this country that is flexible and sensitive enough to recognize the depth of suffering experienced by traumatized people and their children without ranking it on a destructive hierarchical scale. This is particularly necessary here in Canada where we have a very complex and unfolding indigenous experience alongside generations of immigrants from other lands, some of who have been refugees, and survivors of genocide, including the Holocaust.
One might say that Canada is in a unique position to find its way through this labyrinth and try to arrive at a fair and just resolution for indigenous peoples that recognizes their specific experience in this country. It would be a positive step forward if the Truth and Reconciliation Commission could also solidify our national commitment to fighting crimes against humanity, especially those perpetrated against women and children, horrifying crimes that continue unabated at this very moment.
To be effective in this struggle, we must keep division and competition at bay, while learning to accept and witness differing experiences of trauma and suffering without rank or hierarchy.
By Catherine Chatterley
The Huffington Post, February 24, 2015
The Antisemitism Institute I direct in Canada received several inquiries about the accuracy of an article published under the provocative title Ukrainians Forgotten Heroes of Auschwitz, in the local daily, the Winnipeg Free Press. The questions centered on the following paragraph:
"My father spent nearly two years in Auschwitz for opposing the German Reich's occupation of Ukraine. More than a million Ukrainians were incarcerated there. I was brought up on his stories about those historic times."
The author is not a historian or a scholar and appears to have imbibed this wild invention of "one million Ukrainians incarcerated in Auschwitz" from her father.
One might expect after so many years of public Holocaust education and memorialization in Western societies that the facts about Auschwitz would be clear, and that newspaper editors printing so-called "analysis" on the very anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation might recognize such distortions, and maybe fact check their opinion writers.
Readers may wonder: what exactly was Auschwitz? Who was murdered there and how many people were actually incarcerated there? Was it a prison or a death camp?
The Germans called Auschwitz Anus Mundi, or Arschloch Der Welt, meaning "asshole of the world," which should give one an idea of the type of place we are discussing.
Between May 1940 and February 1945, 1.3-million people were deported to Auschwitz, which was located about 50 km west of Kraków in Oświęcim, Poland. Auschwitz consisted of three main camps: Auschwitz I was a prison, built largely to house Polish prisoners; Auschwitz II, known as Birkenau, was a killing center built specifically to gas and burn Jews, which also housed a small number of forced laborers; and Auschwitz III, a synthetic rubber factory known as Monowitz.
Just over 1.1-million people were murdered at Auschwitz and one million of those people were Jews, accounting for 91 per cent of the people murdered there.
The remaining 100,000 or so people killed include approximately 64,000 Poles; 21,000 Roma (better known as Gypsies); 14,000 Soviet prisoners of war; and over 10,000 members of other European nationalities (Soviet civilians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, French, Germans, and Austrians).
Of the 200,000 people incarcerated in Auschwitz: 140,000 were Poles; 21,000 were Roma; 12,000 were Soviet captives; 9,000 Czechs; 6,000 Belarusians; 4,000 Germans; 4,000 French; 1,500 Russians; Yugoslavians (mostly Slovenians, but also Croatians and Serbs), and Ukrainians. As well, dozens of Albanians, Belgians, Danes, Greeks, Hungarians, Italians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Luxembourgians, Dutch, Norwegians, Romanians, Slovakians, Spaniards, and Swiss were held as prisoners in the camp.
Due to the meticulous record keeping of the Germans, historians have been able to reconstruct the victim groups in the Nazi concentration and death camps, which clearly illustrate the specific targeting of Jews, and Jews alone, for total destruction across Europe.
The numbers from Auschwitz also clearly demonstrate the fact that Ukrainians had one of the smallest rates of incarceration in the camp, even if there were Ukrainians included in the general Soviet numbers, which scholars believe is the case.
Over 6.3-million Jews were murdered across Europe by the Nazi regime and its collaborators during WWII. The assault on Jews, however, began before 1939. Hitler's anti-Jewish policies were unleashed within days of his appointment as Chancellor on January 30, 1933. His tactics evolved over time, beginning with social isolation and enforced emigration for German Jewry from 1933-1939.
Once he invaded Poland, however, he was faced with millions of Jews under his control. Hitler planned for their removal, first to the far reaches of the eastern end of the Reich (somewhere in Russia), then to the island of Madagascar. That plan was finally abandoned when he failed to cow the British into submission in September 1940.
He forced the large Jewish populations of Eastern Europe into over 1,100 ghettos and sealed them from the outside world. With the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Hitler made the decision to exterminate European Jewry, and this process began immediately with the mobile killing units of the Einsatzgruppen, who followed the German army into Eastern Poland and the USSR.
After experimenting on Jews with a number of killing methods, the Germans settled on an industrialized assembly line process and built six death camps in Poland for the specific purpose of "liquidating" the Jews of Europe.
The most lethal death camp in the Nazi system was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is the largest killing site in recorded history. Never before or since has a state designed, built, and maintained factories for the deception, murder, gassing, and burning of babies, children, women, and men. Never before or since has the world seen the establishment of a small city of about 45 square kilometers, surrounded by 45 satellite slave labor camps built for the dedicated purpose of annihilating an entire people. Never before or since has the world seen a human killing facility that at peak capacity (in May of 1944) was murdering 10,000 Jews every day.
The clothing and belongings of these individuals were recycled and dispersed among the German population (the mountains of clothing, suitcases, razors, eyeglasses, brushes, children's toys, prosthetic limbs), their hair was shaven and used to stuff German mattresses, their bones and ashes used as fertilizer. Jews were also reserved for so-called "medical experimentation," where they were tortured with a variety of methods; and once they were killed, their body parts and skeletons were sent back to scientists in Germany and even housed in university collections.
Let's be clear: Auschwitz was not the Arschloch der Welt because it was a prison for 200,000 people, composed of over 20 different nationalities. Auschwitz is synonymous with abject evil because of the gas chambers and ovens of Birkenau, which were designed and built specifically to annihilate the Jewish people in Europe.
Today, the pressures to universalize the Holocaust experience are immense. It seems that everyone wants a piece of Auschwitz. One of the costs of the massive bureaucratization of Holocaust education and memorialization over the last decade in Western societies is the distortion of Hitler's Holocaust into something that everyone experienced. This constitutes nothing short of a second annihilation, or a double murder, and I, for one, refuse to countenance such a distortion of historical reality and violation of Jewish memory.
If readers are interested in the detailed numbers on Auschwitz, they are available here online.
Follow Catherine Chatterley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drchatterley
By Catherine Chatterley
The Huffington Post, January 27, 2015
Writer Karen Armstrong recently made the following statement in a Dutch interview: "The supermarket attack in Paris was about Palestine, about ISIS. It had nothing to do with antisemitism; many of them are Semites themselves. But they attempt to conquer Palestine and we're not talking about that. We're too implicated and we don't know what to do with it."
The Germans have a wonderful word that means nonsense, or bullshit, depending on the context: Quatsch.
The criminal terrorist assault on the kosher grocery in Paris on January 9, 2015 had everything to do with antisemitism, which is now unfortunately exacerbating an already complex and intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Arabs are not Semites and neither are Jews. Semites are a fictitious product of the European racial imaginary, and one would have hoped that a popular and opinionated writer like Armstrong would know that very important historical fact. Jews and Arabs are speakers of Semitic languages, Hebrew and Arabic respectively. It was this linguistic categorization that European thinkers racialized in the 19th century. Antisemitismus, a German word popularized by Wilhelm Marr in 1879, was used to modernize the more traditional Judenhass (Jew hatred), and it was never applied to anyone but Jews.
To disconnect the murders of French Jewish customers in a kosher grocery store from the antisemitic ideology of ISIS, to which their murderer Amedy Coulibaly pled allegiance, is a serious error. To try to connect these murders to Palestine is not fair to Jews or to Palestinians, and does nothing to improve the chances for peace in the region. Who exactly is conquering Palestine in Armstrong's words is not clear, but I think it's fair to assume that she means Israel. Again, this appears to have Armstrong justifying the violence against those same French Jews, buying milk at the corner store, as somehow retaliatory and therefore logical.
Denying the Jihadist roots of the recent antisemitic violence in France is not helpful to anyone, because it is fundamentally untrue. The intention of this denial is to shield the Muslim minorities among us in Western societies from a backlash of hostility and criticism, and to avoid feeding the Jihadist propaganda machine that promotes war between Western civilization and their imagined global caliphate. These are noble and respectable intentions but they cannot override or replace an honest and principled confrontation with today's reality, however complex and upsetting.
Just as Nazism grew out of German history and culture, and then hijacked a respected cultural heritage for its own nefarious purposes, strains of Islamic thought likewise inspire the growing variety of Jihadist movements that perpetrate horrendous violence on Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and other "infidels," as well as women, girls, and gay people, in the name of Islam.
Jihadist Islam is as much a hate-filled supremacist ideology as was Nazism, except that it uses religion instead of race as its organizing principle. Crucifying Christians, raping and enslaving women and little girls, throwing gay men to their deaths off buildings, massacring whole towns and villages, Jihadist Islam is as ruthless and barbaric as Nazism, and all decent people should condemn it in the same vociferous terms. Just as we condemn Nazism today as a dangerous form of racial supremacism, we should all condemn and isolate Jihadist Islam as a dangerous form of religious supremacism.
Denials of reality about the Jihadist roots of this violence are already feeding frustration in Western populations who know better. The well-intended strategy of protecting Muslims in the West will actually do the opposite -- it will very likely guarantee a backlash against Western Muslims by a growing right-wing movement. We already see an expansion of right wing support on this issue across Europe and even the UK, which has no well-established fascist tradition of which to speak. Here, we have a case of the West bringing about precisely what it seeks to avoid, and this must be stopped immediately.
If the individuals leading society were to begin an immediate and honest confrontation with the problem of Jihadist religious supremacism, in the West and throughout the world, we may see a reduction in support for right wing reactionary solutions. This would be a step in the right direction as it might actually build a genuine multicultural unity in Western societies, based upon our commitment to democratic principles of freedom and equality, which is what we all desire. It is in our common interest that we all vow to disassociate ourselves from ideologies, both religious and racial, committed to the destruction of others.
By Catherine Chatterley
The Huffington Post, December 31, 2014
Antisemitism presents a serious challenge for the global community today. The last decade has seen a shocking growth in antisemitic rhetoric and agitation, and routine acts of violence against Jews have returned to European cities 70 years after the Holocaust.
The battle between Israel and the Palestinians has become intractable, and the idea of a "peace process" that might finally resolve the issues is not taken as seriously as it was years ago. This fact does not bode well for Israelis or Palestinians, and given the obsessive focus on this conflict by the media and by both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel activist organizations, the lack of resolution and mounting frustration is an ongoing concern for all of us.
Today, we face a major impasse in our discussions about antisemitism: Where many Jews see a new or resurgent antisemitism, non-Jews are more likely to see political protest or a backlash against Israeli actions and policies. In truth, both characterizations can be accurate depending on the specific circumstance. Increasingly, however, this chasm in perception between Jews and non-Jews about the nature of antisemitism is widening, and it is one reason why there is a distinct lack of concern about the problem on the part of the world community today.
Along with news and debate about the conflicts in the Middle East, the Internet, satellite television, and social networking via cellphone allow people across the planet to share an enormous amount of explicit antisemitic material that is, quite frankly, poisoning the relationship between humanity and the Jewish people, making an intractable conflict even more difficult to resolve. This new reality is enormously threatening to a tiny people whose parents and grandparents survived being slated for extermination in Europe 70 years ago.
Antisemitic incitement breeds fear and anxiety in Jews and it destroys trust and goodwill, which makes authentic peacemaking between Jews and Arabs impossible. Anyone who claims to want to build peace between Jews and Arabs, especially those who want the Palestinians to build a positive peaceful future in their own state, should also commit to working against the problem of antisemitism and to help retard its growth, in the West and in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Antisemitism is one of the most serious impediments to peace in the Middle East, and that is why it should concern all of us.
Jews are an extremely small community of people on this planet, and non-Jewish attitudes and perceptions about Jews and Israel really do matter, especially in an increasingly globalized reality. In a world population of over 7 billion people, there are approximately 14 million Jews, and almost all of them live in only two countries: Israel and the United States. This means that Jews constitute 0.002 percent, or one fifth of one percent, of the entire human population on planet earth, which in turn means that while Jews know and interact with non-Jews, the vast majority of non-Jews will never meet a Jewish person. If this is our human reality, then what does it mean when 24 percent of the planet holds opinions deemed to be antisemitic, as reflected in the ADL's recent survey of 100 countries?
Obviously we have a phenomenon that is not based in reality or in actual human experience but is communicated and circulated through libel, rumor, mythology, and imagination, as it has been for 2,000 years. Given this, the new media presents a very significant challenge for those of us working to combat the lies and libels of antisemitism. Jewish existence is by necessity dependent upon, and determined by, relationships with the non-Jewish world. Antisemitism is a real and present danger to those relationships, and therefore it remains a threat to Jewish existence.
Our challenge for this new year is to clearly identify antisemitism as the conspiratorial and libelous phenomenon it in fact is so that people might consciously separate themselves from it and help mitigate the damage it does to Jews, their neighbors, and human societies.
Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2014
We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking.
On Tuesday, after protests by students, faculty and outside groups, Brandeis University revoked its invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree at its commencement ceremonies in May. The protesters accused Ms. Hirsi Ali, an advocate for the rights of women and girls, of being "Islamophobic." Here is an abridged version of the remarks she planned to deliver.
One year ago, the city and suburbs of Boston were still in mourning. Families who only weeks earlier had children and siblings to hug were left with only photographs and memories. Still others were hovering over bedsides, watching as young men, women, and children endured painful surgeries and permanent disfiguration. All because two brothers, radicalized by jihadist websites, decided to place homemade bombs in backpacks near the finish line of one of the most prominent events in American sports, the Boston Marathon.
All of you in the Class of 2014 will never forget that day and the days that followed. You will never forget when you heard the news, where you were, or what you were doing. And when you return here, 10, 15 or 25 years from now, you will be reminded of it. The bombs exploded just 10 miles from this campus.
I read an article recently that said many adults don't remember much from before the age of 8. That means some of your earliest childhood memories may well be of that September morning simply known as "9/11."
You deserve better memories than 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing. And you are not the only ones. In Syria, at least 120,000 people have been killed, not simply in battle, but in wholesale massacres, in a civil war that is increasingly waged across a sectarian divide. Violence is escalating in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Libya, in Egypt. And far more than was the case when you were born, organized violence in the world today is disproportionately concentrated in the Muslim world.
Another striking feature of the countries I have just named, and of the Middle East generally, is that violence against women is also increasing. In Saudi Arabia, there has been a noticeable rise in the practice of female genital mutilation. In Egypt, 99% of women report being sexually harassed and up to 80 sexual assaults occur in a single day.
Especially troubling is the way the status of women as second-class citizens is being cemented in legislation. In Iraq, a law is being proposed that lowers to 9 the legal age at which a girl can be forced into marriage. That same law would give a husband the right to deny his wife permission to leave the house.
Sadly, the list could go on. I hope I speak for many when I say that this is not the world that my generation meant to bequeath yours. When you were born, the West was jubilant, having defeated Soviet communism. An international coalition had forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The next mission for American armed forces would be famine relief in my homeland of Somalia. There was no Department of Homeland Security, and few Americans talked about terrorism.
Two decades ago, not even the bleakest pessimist would have anticipated all that has gone wrong in the part of world where I grew up. After so many victories for feminism in the West, no one would have predicted that women's basic human rights would actually be reduced in so many countries as the 20th century gave way to the 21st.
Today, however, I am going to predict a better future, because I believe that the pendulum has swung almost as far as it possibly can in the wrong direction.
When I see millions of women in Afghanistan defying threats from the Taliban and lining up to vote; when I see women in Saudi Arabia defying an absurd ban on female driving; and when I see Tunisian women celebrating the conviction of a group of policemen for a heinous gang rape, I feel more optimistic than I did a few years ago. The misnamed Arab Spring has been a revolution full of disappointments. But I believe it has created an opportunity for traditional forms of authority—including patriarchal authority—to be challenged, and even for the religious justifications for the oppression of women to be questioned.
Yet for that opportunity to be fulfilled, we in the West must provide the right kind of encouragement. Just as the city of Boston was once the cradle of a new ideal of liberty, we need to return to our roots by becoming once again a beacon of free thought and civility for the 21st century. When there is injustice, we need to speak out, not simply with condemnation, but with concrete actions.
One of the best places to do that is in our institutions of higher learning. We need to make our universities temples not of dogmatic orthodoxy, but of truly critical thinking, where all ideas are welcome and where civil debate is encouraged. I'm used to being shouted down on campuses, so I am grateful for the opportunity to address you today. I do not expect all of you to agree with me, but I very much appreciate your willingness to listen.
I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women's and girls' basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.
The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.
So I ask: 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? Both Christianity and Judaism have had their eras of reform. I would argue that the time has come for a Muslim Reformation.
Is such an argument inadmissible? It surely should not be at a university that was founded in the wake of the Holocaust, at a time when many American universities still imposed quotas on Jews.
The motto of Brandeis University is "Truth even unto its innermost parts." That is my motto too. For it is only through truth, unsparing truth, that your generation can hope to do better than mine in the struggle for peace, freedom and equality of the sexes.
Ms. Hirsi Ali is the author of "Nomad: My Journey from Islam to America" (Free Press, 2010). She is a fellow at the Belfer Center of Harvard's Kennedy School and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Dear President Lawrence:
As a scholar whose 1981 PhD comes from Brandeis, I read the news that you rescinded the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali with particular disgust and anger. Your decision is an act of cowardice and appeasement to those 85 faculty members who signed their document of intolerance, and it has done deep and long-lasting damage to a university whose very existence is predicated on redressing the damage that discrimination within the academy had done to American Jews for so many years. Unless you can find some way to repair the damage you have done, I will not identify with or support Brandeis as long as you are its President.
Ms. Hirsi has had the courage to say unpopular things about the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism. In two of my prize-winning books, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Yale University Press, 2009) and The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda during World War II and the Holocaust (Harvard University Press, 2006), I have had occasion to address the role of Islam and Islamism in fanning the flames of Jew-hatred. In publishing work that documents the role of the Islamist interpretation of the Koran in promulgating the most absurd and idiotic ideas about the Jews, I have faced intolerance from scholars working on the Middle East. They have denounced well-founded scholarship as “Islamophobia” or “Zionist propaganda” and denied that the Koran or Islamism could possibly have anything to do with anti-Semitism. Like Tony Kushner and Desmond Tutu, to whom Brandeis has given honorary degrees, they have erroneously argued that Arab and Islamist antagonism to Israel is exclusively the result of the alleged sins of Israel. As far as I know, neither has had anything of substance to say about the role of Islam and Islamism in fanning the flames of hatred of the Jews and of Israel. These critics have said that those of us who point to the anti-Jewish elements of the Koran and the Jew-hatred of modern Islamists are guilty of intolerance towards Muslims. I have seen this up close for years now. The last place I expected to find groveling, embarrassing appeasement of this rubbish was from the president of Brandeis University.
No doubt, Hirsi’s comments about Islam offend many believers. The same was true of Sigmund Freud’s Future of an Illusion. Freud, you will recall, dismissed religion as the product of a universal infantile neurosis of humanity. Yet I doubt that if Freud were alive today, those 85 faculty members would have protested his honorary degree. On the contrary, his criticism of religion in general, especially of Judaism or Christianity, would be seen as simply an entry ticket into intellectual respectability.
Your decision reflects a now-widespread double standard of broad criticism of Judaism and Christianity combined with fear—yes it is fear—to write and speak with equal critical spirit about Islam. We historians of modern Germany and Nazism know that the Nazi interpretation of Christianity as well as the core texts of the Christian tradition itself, were used by the Nazis to justify their mass murders. In our own time, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brothers, Al Qaeda and the government of Iran, despite their differences, all draw on phrases from the Koran and in the texts of subsequent Islamic commentaries to find theological justification for antagonism to Jews, Zionism and the state of Israel.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been willing to point this out, something Kushner and Tutu have never done. That the president of a university founded by Jews in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust should have rescinded an honor to a woman who has had the courage to attack the most important source of Jew-hatred in the world today is a disgraceful act and a failure of leadership. Instead of appeasing intolerance in your faculty, you should have taken this moment to reaffirm the values for which Brandeis has stood for so long and reconfirm the place of universities as models of tolerance and enlightenment in our troubled society. Once a proud alumnus, I will be forced to disavow my relationship with Brandeis in the future.
Professor, Department of History
University of Maryland
The Weekly Standard, April 9, 2014
Ayaan Hirsi Ali has just released this statement in response to Brandeis University's decision to rescind her invitation to receive an honorary degree:
“Yesterday Brandeis University decided to withdraw an honorary degree they were to confer upon me next month during their Commencement exercises. I wish to dissociate myself from the university’s statement, which implies that I was in any way consulted about this decision. On the contrary, I was completely shocked when President Frederick Lawrence called me—just a few hours before issuing a public statement—to say that such a decision had been made.
“When Brandeis approached me with the offer of an honorary degree, I accepted partly because of the institution’s distinguished history; it was founded in 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, as a co-educational, nonsectarian university at a time when many American universities still imposed rigid admission quotas on Jewish students. I assumed that Brandeis intended to honor me for my work as a defender of the rights of women against abuses that are often religious in origin. For over a decade, I have spoken out against such practices as female genital mutilation, so-called 'honor killings,' and applications of Sharia Law that justify such forms of domestic abuse as wife beating or child beating. Part of my work has been to question the role of Islam in legitimizing such abhorrent practices. So I was not surprised when my usual critics, notably the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), protested against my being honored in this way.
“What did surprise me was the behavior of Brandeis. Having spent many months planning for me to speak to its students at Commencement, the university yesterday announced that it could not “overlook certain of my past statements,” which it had not previously been aware of. Yet my critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree.
“What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The 'spirit of free expression' referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.
“Not content with a public disavowal, Brandeis has invited me 'to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues.' Sadly, in words and deeds, the university has already spoken its piece. I have no wish to 'engage' in such one-sided dialogue. I can only wish the Class of 2014 the best of luck—and hope that they will go forth to be better advocates for free expression and free thought than their alma mater.
“I take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported me and my work on behalf of oppressed woman and girls everywhere.”
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