Follow the money

Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, October 13, 1998

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Alex Joffe on Yale:

It is well known, for instance, that Yale has long been seeking support from wealthy Arab donors. In particular, it has wooed Saudi Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, who in 2005 gave $20 million apiece to Harvard and Georgetown for Islamic-studies programs. (Yale, which competed vigorously for the prize, made it to the final round.) True to their donors’ intent, such academic programs are faithful disseminators of the “narrative” of Muslim victimization. In the same connection, it should likewise be borne in mind that in 2009, alerted to the imminent publication by its own press of a scholarly book on the Danish-cartoons controversy, the Yale administration summarily intervened to yank images of the cartoons from the final product—on the grounds that their appearance might elicit “violence.”

And, from March, on the bigger picture:

The transparency of programs like the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding—established in 2005 with the Saudi royal’s $20-million gift to Georgetown University, and staffed with reliable apologists—is glaring. Alwaleed himself could not have been clearer, stating that because of the events of 9/11, “the image of Islam [had] been tarnished in the West”; hence, his donation to Georgetown, along with one to Harvard in the same amount, was intended “to teach about the Islamic world to the United States.”

Alwaleed’s terms had been on even brighter display years earlier. Offering $10 million to New York City in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he noted pointedly that the “United States of America should re-examine its policies in the Middle East” since “our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.” Then-mayor Rudy Giuliani promptly and publicly spurned the money, calling Alwaleed’s statement not only wrong but “part of the problem.” What Giuliani explicitly rejected, universities have implicitly embraced.

The effect has been felt most saliently in academic studies of the Middle East. An early and rather clumsy attempt at influence-buying, as Martin Kramer notes in his Ivory Towers on Sand, was a 1977 grant to Georgetown from Libya; the motives behind it were so blatant that three years later the money was returned with interest. But this, like earlier sallies by the Shah of Iran (to endow chairs of Iranian studies) and the Turkish government (for an Institute of Turkish Studies in Washington), was merely the prelude to a flood of oil money.

Between 1995 and 2008, according to the researcher Stanley Kurtz, Arab Gulf states gave $234 million in contracts and about $88 million in gifts to American universities. Although amounting to only a drop in the bucket of total university endowments, such targeted gifts, like the $20 million contributed by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to the University of Arkansas, and various multi-million-dollar donations to Berkeley, Cornell, Princeton, Texas A&M, Columbia, Rutgers, and other schools, have meant a very great deal locally.

The aims of these investments are very specific: the creation of a particular sort of cultural “understanding.” And in this respect they have paid off, especially in the area of faculty hiring and concentration. Early on, there was much touting of secularization in the Middle East, a commodity that failed to materialize. As for radical Islam, a subject in much greater need of “understanding,” it was downplayed both before and even after 9/11. Instead, the supposedly “separate political wings” of Hamas and Hizballah, the way that elections in the Arab world allegedly tend to “moderate” radical groups, and the so-called “incrementalism” toward democracy of tyrants like Qaddafi were held up as hopeful signs. To this day, even as the study of Israel itself has been marginalized, the Palestinian cause has been presented as the pivotal issue of all time and the real key to everything one would ever need to know about the Middle East.

Although report after report has documented the strong anti-Israel bias coming out of these programs, the U.S. government has also abetted them financially through Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1998, which provides funds to centers of Middle East studies undertaking language instruction and, ominously, outreach to local primary and secondary schools. But the American government is one thing, foreign donors something else, and these particular foreign donors something else again. Here the fundamental issue remains: why was the money taken in the first place?

Sometimes, to be sure, the deal stinks a little too much. In a surprising display of backbone, UCLA returned a $1-million gift from Turkey after it was revealed that scholars would be prevented from using Ottoman archives that might confirm evidence of genocide against Armenians in World War I. But this was a rare exception. In 2003, the Harvard Divinity School would have been happy to take $2.5 million from Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi, despite his support for Holocaust denial, were it not for the activism of one persistent student. The next year, back at the trough, Harvard accepted two $1-million gifts from unnamed donors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and another $14.5 million two years later. In 2008, thanks to a gift of $50 million, New York University set up a campus for international students in the UAE (sorry, no Israelis allowed), as have other American universities.

And, from across the Atlantic, Student Rights report:

Our latest report uncovers the links with the Saudi Arabian Regime which has resulted in SOAS directly receiving £755,000 from the Saudi Arabian Royal family. Further scandals are also uncovered by this report.

The briefing unveils the fact that SOAS provided Mutassim Gaddafi, the National Security Advisor to the Murderous Gaddafi regime, with private English tutoring and that an agreement between SOAS and Al-Fateh University in Tripoli was signed just months before the uprisings began in Libya.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric who is banned from the UK and US for endorsing suicide bombings and the killing of pregnant women, is on the editorial board of the SOAS journal of Quranic Studies. Al-Qaradawi has in addition been condemned by over 2,500 Muslim scholars worldwide.

An article on our report has been written by The Jewish Chronicle and the brief is also the subject of a new Early Day Motion proposed by Robert Halfon MP.

And from back in April:

It has emerged that the august institution of St. Andrews, the UK university renowned for its ties to the British Royal family, has been taking money from Bashar Assad’s despotic Syrian regime.

As democratic protesters are slaughtered in their hundreds in Syria,The Guardian has uncovered that over £100,000 has moved from the Syrian government to St. Andrews.

“Opened in November 2006 as part of the university’s school of international relations, funding for the centre was only secured with the assistance of Khiyami, who, according to the centre’s head, Prof Raymond Hinnebusch, persuaded Syrian-born British businessman Ayman Asfari to pay for it.”

Raheem Kassam, Director of counter-extremism pressure group Student Rights has said, “It is deplorable that in the wake of the LSE-Libya scandal, universities have not come forward and ceased to work with murderous regimes across the Arab world.  If these institutions persist in taking money from dictatorships who insist on oppressing their people, then the UK government should immediately cease funding to them.”

The Guardian has quoted Robert Halfon MP, advisory board member for Student Rights:“We need to learn from what’s happened with Libyan funding of our universities, that universities should not accept money from governments like Syria, or those with connections to the Syrian government. The danger is that you get compromised by the amount of money, and it inevitably influences your outlook on the Middle East. I’ve argued that universities that take money from dictatorships should receive a reduction in their public subsidy.”

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