Jewish Ideas Daily: The best universities money can buy

The true nature of some regimes can no longer be hidden, except perhaps by paid-for savants in the West.

This article was first published by and is reprinted with permission.
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.
Alwaleed 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 United States.”
Alwaleed’s terms had been on even brighter display years earlier.
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 cheek.”
Then-mayor Rudy Giuliani promptly spurned the money.
What Giuliani explicitly rejected, universities have implicitly embraced.
The 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.
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), 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 locally.
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 allowed).
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.
Saif 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.