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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Women’s Rights Activist Criticizes Brandeis’s Decision to Cancel Her Honorary Degree

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s rights advocate and critic of Islam, said in a statement on Wednesday that Brandeis University had betrayed the principles of freedom of expression and religion by rescinding an invitation to her to receive an honorary degree.

“Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say,” Ms. Hirsi Ali said in the statement. “They simply wanted me to be silenced. I regret that very much.”

As reported on Wednesday, Brandeis withdrew its invitation to Ms. Hirsi Ali because of her past statements about Islam, saying they did not reflect the university’s core values. The university had been sharply criticized for extending an invitation to honor Ms. Hirsi Ali at its commencement on May 18.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali in 2007.Nicole Bengiveno/The New York TimesAyaan Hirsi Ali in 2007.

A native of Somalia, Ms. Hirsi Ali rebelled against a Muslim upbringing in which she endured genital cutting and her family tried to force her into an arranged marriage. She moved to the Netherlands, where she was later elected to Parliament. After she and Theo van Gogh made a film critical of Muslim treatment of women, they received death threats, and Mr. van Gogh was murdered.

First known as a campaigner for women’s rights, she has also become known for sharp comments about Islam, including calling it a “nihilistic cult of death” and “the new fascism.”

The full text of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s statement:

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 â€" just a few hours before issuing a public statement â€" 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 â€" lines from interviews taken out of context â€" 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 â€" 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 women and girls everywhere.

Artists Try to Prick Conscience of Drone Operators With Giant Portrait of Orphan in Pakistani Field

A new art installation unveiled in Pakistan this week features a huge image of a child reportedly orphaned in a drone strike in 2009.notabugsplat.comA new art installation unveiled in Pakistan this week features a huge image of a child reportedly orphaned in a drone strike in 2009.

While a series of deadly bombings in Pakistan this week threatens to undermine peace talks between the government and the Taliban, a group of rights activists and artists have launched a campaign to draw attention to the human cost of another sort of violence â€" American drone strikes aimed at militants, which have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians in recent years.

The centerpiece of the “Not a Bug Splat” campaign is a photograph of a child reportedly orphaned in one attack, which was made into an enormous poster and installed in a field in Pakistan to stare up at the pilots who operate the unmanned aerial vehicles by remote control. The project â€" which is the work of Pakistanis, Americans and the French street artist JR â€" takes its name from a piece of military software that generates computer models of the destruction a bombing raid might cause. When projected onto overhead images, those models are said to look something like the remains of a squashed insect on a windscreen.

The art project is described as an attempt to counter the dehumanizing implications of that metaphor. “Humans appear as disposable bugs when viewed through a traditional drone camera,” the group writes next to an overhead image on its website. “We changed this. Now, a drone will see an actual face of a child, creating dialogue and, possibly, empathy.”

A screenshot from the "Not a Bug Splat" website.A screenshot from the “Not a Bug Splat” website.

One of the activists, Akash Goel, told The Lede in an interview that the poster was made from a photograph first published by Wired in 2010, of a young girl whose parents and brother were killed in a drone strike near the Afghan border on Aug. 21, 2009. The photograph was taken in the North Waziristan village of Dande Darpa Khel by a photographer from the region, Noor Behram, who works to document the impact of drone strikes by photographing children orphaned or killed in the attacks. (His images have been distributed by the British legal charity Reprieve.)

The missiles used in that 2009 strike killed 12 people, including women and children, when they struck a compound near an Islamic school set up by Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan fighter and senior Taliban member, Pakistani officials told my colleagues Pir Zubair Shah and Lydia Polgreen at the time.

Another spokesman for the collective, Saks Afridi â€" a Pakistani-American creative director in New York â€" said that the project was part of the artist JR’s “Inside Out Project,” a series of large-scale photographs installed in public settings around the globe, supported by a $1 million grant from the TED foundation, awarded in 2011.

The trailer for a documentary about the French street artist’s participatory art project, “Inside Out.”

Although the poster was installed in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province by Pakistani artists, Dr. Goel â€" an Indian-American physician in New York who has worked for the Clinton Foundation â€" said that the group wants to draw attention to what it sees as a global problem, the dehumanizing effect of the U.S. war by remote control, rather than a regional one. Asked what message the group hoped to send to the drone pilots, Dr. Goel said, simply, “This isn’t a video game.”

He also said that data compiled by the New America Foundation and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests that only about two percent of those killed by the C.I.A. in Pakistan were high-profile militants targeted in the attacks. Noting that estimates of the total number of deaths vary from about 1,500 to more than 3,500, Dr. Goel added: “It is morally reprehensible that we don’t even know who they are how many there are.”

Images posted on Instagram by Insiya Syed, a Pakistani photojournalist, showed her traveling with some of the “creative masters” behind the project, and curious onlookers watching the installation near the town of Swabi in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on March 28.