Brandeis University has cancelled a plan to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of the way women are treated in Islamic societies.

Fox News reports:

The university said in a statement posted online that the decision had been made after a discussion between Ali and university President Frederick Lawrence. 

"She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women's rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world," said the university's statement. "That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values."

I guess these “past statements” came to light after the university originally decided to award the honorary degree.

Otherwise, we’d have to accuse the great university of cowardice. And it was a situation that called for courage:

More than 85 of about 350 faculty members at Brandeis signed a letter asking for Ali to be removed from the list of honorary degree recipients. And an online petition created Monday by students at the school of 5,800 had gathered thousands of signatures from inside and outside the university as of Tuesday afternoon.

"This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students," said senior Sarah Fahmy, a member of the Muslim Student Association who created the petition said before the university withdrew the honor.

"But it's not just the Muslim community that is upset but students and faculty of all religious beliefs," she said. "A university that prides itself on social justice and equality should not hold up someone who is an outright Islamophobic."

If anybody deserves to have honors heaped upon her, it is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the bravest women on the planet.

It is true that Hirsi Ali has renounced the Islamic religion in which she was raised and admires the freedom of the West. I guess that is what qualifies as a hater nowadays.

Hirsi Ali first came to international attention in 2004 when she was working with Dutch film director Theo van Gogh on a movie about the cruel treatment of women in Islamic societies. Van Gogh was slaughtered by a militant Muslim. There was an indication that Hirsi Ali was next.

The Somali-born Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch parliament, lives under a fatwa in the Unites States. She runs the AHA Foundation, which “works to protect and defend the rights of women and girls in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.”

As Tom Wilson over at Commentary notes, she is a heroic figure:

Having been raised in Somalia, and then forced to flee ‘tolerant’ Holland when police informed her they could no longer protect her from those threatening to kill her as an apostate, Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly knows about the dark side of hard-line Islam.

Once she’d escaped her background, it would have been so easy for someone who suffered the abuse Ali did to have simply kept her head down and lived a quiet life. Instead she has valiantly and tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights in the Islamic world and having served as a member of the Dutch parliament she is now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

An honorary degree from Brandeis would have been just a small token of recognition to her unimaginable fearlessness.

Shame on Brandeis, whose failure to stand up for a brave woman is a large token of the recognition that American academia is no longer a haven where ideas can be expressed in an atmosphere of liberty.

The degree wasn't that big of a deal–but the caving is.