Hirsi Ali at Yale—A Rare Victory for Free Speech

Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke at Yale Monday to a packed auditorium of more than 300 people, with hundreds more turned away due to lack of space, and received many standing ovations. The speech’s success was especially heartening in light of the Yale Muslim Students Association’s (MSA) efforts to block it.

When the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale announced the lecture, one of MSA’s representatives, Abrar Omeish, initially requested that we disinvite Ms. Hirsi Ali. Told no, she asked if the Buckley Program would “be willing to have another speaker offer an alternative perspective that is more representative and qualified in the discussion.” Another suggestion was to restrain Ms. Hirsi Ali from discussing Islam.

When we failed to budge, the MSA tried to intimidate us with an open letter criticizing Hirsi Ali and our program. While the MSA’s letter to the Yale community claimed to be acting on “Yale’s fundamental values of freedom of speech and diversity of thought,” that statement seemed hard to square with the facts: the MSA dismissed Ms. Hirsi Ali’s credentials (even going so far as to refer to female genital mutilation as “unfortunate circumstances”), noted that it felt “highly disrespected” by her invitation to speak, and repeated the demand for the addition of a second speaker. The repeated insistence on inviting another participant to our lecture on the basis that Ms. Hirsi Ali is not qualified to speak on Islam suggests that the MSA was less interested in advancing the free exchange of ideas than marginalizing ideas with which they disagree.

The MSA then developed an ethical problem, affixing the names of several organizations to its letter without their consent. These organizations include the Slifka Center (Yale’s Hillel), Yale Friends of Israel, and the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Instead of issuing a public apology to these organizations, four days later, the MSA simply issued a corrected list. On Monday, Ms. Omeish offered a series of excuses:

Could we have sent additional confirmation emails to signatories? Probably. Could we have arranged for an alternative meeting time for those student groups that could not attend to review the letter? Most likely. As a group of full time students with less than two weeks to coordinate with over 100 people, we were doing our best to handle email after email on this issue. It was very difficult and we ask that our fellow Yalies understand that.

It is hard to believe that just one sentence earlier, she wrote: “We are truly sorry for any trouble this may have caused and we have already sent out a number of emails clarifying and apologizing to the relevant groups.”

“I’m sorry, but my inbox was cluttered” is not exactly the kind of apology one issues after misrepresenting the views of numerous groups.

Hopefully, this success in sponsoring Ayaan Hirsi Ali will encourage other colleges and universities to not cave in to the pressure of self-appointed speech police.

Lauren Noble

Lauren Noble is the founder and executive director of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale.

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