Over at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway has been doing some excellent work chronicling media ignorance, focusing on the left-wing writers at Vox.com. Jay Leno was fond of interviewing Californians on the street and asking them simple questions about national or foreign affairs while we laughed at their ignorance. It was all in good fun and I don’t really care if a mechanic or a FedEx driver thinks there is a bridge connecting the Gaza Strip with the West Bank, but when a journalist not only thinks it but includes it in a piece purporting to explain the Israel-Gaza crisis, there’s a problem.

I put college professors in the mechanic category. Each has their area of expertise. If a mechanic tells me my seventh Fetzer valve is sticking and to prepare it with some oil and gauze pads, I listen. If an English professor tells me my take on Chaucer is incorrect, I will defer to him or her. But I don’t put much stock into what either of these people have to say about politics or foreign affairs unless they can prove some kind of expertise in the area.
For better or worse, however, most of us do put more stock in the opinion of the person with the "Dr." in front of his or her name. In turn, many of the people with "Dr." in front of their name think that title imbues them with a certain level of authority in areas that bear no relation to their field of study.
So it is with Mary Baine Campbell, Professor of English at Brandeis.
In April of this year, Brandeis revoked an invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was to receive an honorary degree. Ali is an award winning African American author, women’s rights advocate, and athiest. None of these things were a problem – although it’s funny that when conservatives criticize a black president, we’re accused of racism but when liberals demonize a black female human rights advocate they’re absolved of all such nefarious intentions.
The problem is Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a conservative who criticizes Islam.
According to Breitbart, Ms. Campbell wrote:
Houston, we have a problem…Ayaan Hirsi Ali claims to have had a difficult early life, and it may be true. However, she’s an ignorant, ultra-right-wing extremist, abusively, shockingly vocal in her hatred for Muslim culture and Muslims, a purveyor of the dangerous and imaginary concept, born of European distaste for the influx of immigrants from its former colonies, ‘Islamofascism’ – which has died on the vine even of the new European right wing. To call her a ‘woman’s rights activist’ is like calling Squeaky Fromm an environmentalist.

So much is wrong with these sentences I have to wonder how long Ms. Campbell has been suffocating in her epistemically closed campus cocoon.
Ms. Campbell says that Ali’s "claims" about her difficult life "may be true." Too bad there’s no way to verify female genital mutilation, arranged marriages, the brutal murder of a colleague or the death threats against her. Ms. Campbell thinks we’re all just taking Ali’s word for it.
She also uses the word "ignorant" to describe Ali, which is curious. Ali was raised Muslim, accepted the faith and identified as Muslim for 20 years. If anything I would say that makes her an authority on the religion, not ignorant of it. And if, as an authority on Islam, Ali is "shockingly vocal in her hatred", shouldn’t that cause Ms. Campbell to wonder why?
Apparently not, because Ali is a "purveyor" of "Islmofascism" although I can find no statements from Ali using that word. She has called it "the new fascism", but again this comes not from an ignorance of her subject but from 20 years of experience with it. Besides, something tells me that if Ali had grown up Catholic and were now criticizing the Pope instead of Islam Ms. Campbell and Brandeis would have welcomed her with open arms.
Finallly, Ms. Campbell’s last sentence compares Ali to Squeaky Fromm, a member of the Manson family who attempted to assassinate President Ford. It is almost beyond belief that Ms. Campbell can, in all apparent seriousness, equate a violent criminal with a peaceful activist fighting to prevent violence against women.
I’m eternally fascinated with the American Left’s love affair with Islam, especially given it’s ambivalence if not outright hostility towards Christians in this country. I don’t care if a Christian can’t visit Mecca or women can’t drive a car in Saudi Arabia or if a woman has to breastfeed a man she isn’t related to in order to work alongside him in an office (Google the last subject, it’s fascinating). But I can insist they not forcibly impose their views on others who don’t share their faith, and I can make my own value judgement about the type of society that not only allows but encourages this way of thinking.
Ms. Campbell can’t bring herself to make that value judgement, or more precisely she has to downplay the widespread discrimination and violence against women in the Muslim world so that she can claim to be "tolerant."Had Ayaan Hirsi Ali received an honorary degree from Brandeis, Ms. Campbell may have been forced to address these issues, and she doesn’t want to do that.
For those interested in a more balanced take on the Ali-Brandeis row, here is a good column. I don’t agree with the conclusions, but at least it gives Ali a fair shake.
In the meantime, maybe I should start talking to my mechanic about politics and foreign affairs. Something tells me he couldn’t do a worse job than Mary Baine Campbell.
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