This article was first
published by www.jewishideasdaily.com and is reprinted
The prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) is shocked – shocked! – to
discover that Muammar Gaddafi is a very bad man. So the once-venerable
institution is diverting some of the $2.5 million pledged by his son Saif al-
Islam into a scholarship fund for Libyan students. As for the doctorate bestowed
on the young man for a 2008 dissertation on (if you please) the virtues of
global democratization, he will be keeping it. After all, in the words of one
faculty member, there is “no substantial evidence” to support long-standing
allegations that someone else wrote the work.
A crazy dictator like
Gaddafi gets attention, but his is hardly the only corrupt regime in the
Arab/Muslim world to have invested in Western universities. When another of
these governments falls, will its academic beneficiaries suddenly discover that
the money they took has been similarly tainted? The transparency of programs
like the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding –
established in 2005 with the Saudi royals’ $20-million gift to Georgetown
University, and staffed with reliable apologists – is glaring.
himself could not have been clearer, stating that because of 9/11, “the image of
Islam [had] been tarnished in the West”; hence his donation to Georgetown (along
with one to Harvard) was intended “to teach about the Islamic world to the
Alwaleed’s terms had been on even brighter display years
Offering $10 million to New York in the immediate aftermath of
9/11, he noted that “the United States of America should reexamine 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
Then-mayor Rudy Giuliani promptly spurned the money.
Giuliani explicitly rejected, universities have implicitly embraced.
effect has been felt most 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 motive was so
blatant that three years later the money was returned with interest.
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), was
merely the prelude to a flood.
BETWEEN 1995 and 2008, according to
researcher Stanley Kurtz, Arab Gulf states gave $234 million in contracts and
about $88 million in gifts to American universities. Although only a drop in the
bucket of total endowments, such targeted gifts, like the $20 million
contributed by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to the University of Arkansas, and
various multimilliondollar donations to Berkeley, Cornell, Princeton, Texas
A&M, Columbia, Rutgers and other schools, have meant a great deal
The aims of these investments are the creation of a particular
sort of cultural “understanding.” And 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 need of “understanding” – it was
downplayed both before and after 9/11. Instead, the supposedly “separate
political wings” of Hamas and Hezbollah, the way elections in the Arab world
allegedly “moderate” radical groups and the socalled “incrementalism” toward
democracy of tyrants like Gaddafi were held up as hopeful signs. To this day,
the Palestinian cause has been presented as the key to everything one would ever
need to know about the Middle East.
Despite the strong anti-Israel bias
coming out of these programs, the US government has abetted them 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 stank 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 genocide against Armenians in World War I. But this
was a rare exception.
In 2003, 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 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
British universities have also benefited from Middle Eastern
largesse. In Great Britain, indeed, the teaching of Middle Eastern history and
Islam is now primarily conducted by Muslim Middle Easterners.
Gaddafi’s alma mater has been a particular hotbed of anti- Israel bias; calls
for the boycott of Israeli scholars are frequently voiced by LSE faculty,
including heads of its Middle East Center (set up with a grant from the Emirates
Foundation, and also funded by Libya).
Today, Libya is noticeably more
murderous than it was a few weeks ago. But Saudi Arabia has for decades been a
reliably oppressive, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian supporter of
terrorism and radical Islam. Is the idea that these countries are free to
oppress their religious minorities, incite against Jews, flog as many Indonesian
maids, hang as many gay teens and, in extreme cases, fire on as many protesters
as they please – and that American and European universities get to keep their
money, at least until the revolution shows signs of succeeding? It would appear
so. With recent events in the Arab and Muslim world being televised, YouTubed,
tweeted, and e-mailed, the true nature of some regimes can no longer be hidden,
except perhaps by paid-for savants in the West. After the revolution (and
assuming a moderately happy outcome) the citizens of these countries would be
well advised to demand their money back.The writer is a research scholar
with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.