America is a tolerant and expansive nation, having taught the world that a variety of beliefs and lifestyles can thrive across a diverse and prosperous fruited plain. It’s also a nation where tolerant folk are frequently called on to tolerate the intolerant, the price we pay for the right to speak freely. But the abusers of tolerance must be called to account.
Apologists for certain primitive practices of the Islamic faith have recently demonstrated the power of intolerance. They cowed Brandeis University to withdraw an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken critic of mistreatment of women and abuse of little girls in the name of Islam. Ms. Hirsi Ali, who fled her Muslim-dominated native Somalia, is the object of worldwide attention for her criticism of female genital mutilation, forced marriage and other barbaric practices common and commonly defended in the Islamic world.
This should have been a good teaching moment for Brandeis, but the teachers took a holiday. On April 8, President Frederick Lawrence rescinded the honorary degree that would have been conferred on her at the university graduation on May 21, caving to pressure from bloggers and online petitioners who say Ms. Hirsi Ali is unduly critical of Muslim “traditions.” Said a statement in the name of the university: “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” Some values. Some core.
Ms. Hirsi Ali doesn’t mince words when she lectures and writes from her position as a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. Calling her native religion “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” isn’t meant to make friends, but to awaken the naive to the nature of Islamic excesses. Her critics on the campus and in the faculty lounge at Brandeis have likely never seen the flash of a sharp knife meant for their own private parts.
Similar intolerance forced Brendan Eich to resign as the CEO of Mozilla, the software company and creator of the popular Firefox Web browser. Mr. Eich made the unforgivable “mistake” of donating $1,000 to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 referendum to amend the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. He was in good company; a decisive majority of Californians approved Prop 8.
Detractors of Ms. Hirsi Ali and Mr. Eich beat down reason with lies. When Mark Twain observed that “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” he couldn’t have imagined that in the 21st century lies travel much faster than that. Bloggers took up the campaign that started on the Brandeis campus, and intolerance “went viral.”
The tolerance of other views that is held a virtue in America enables bigotry a voice, too. Like opposing armies, apologists for radical Islam and homosexual privilege chip away at the forbearance and good will that made America the great melting pot, transforming “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” into a nation and society of free men and women.