Friday, April 22, 2011

Saudi Arabia: Friend or Foe?

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

April 21, 2011
Saudi Arabia Reaches Out to Foreign Colleges at Conference
By Ursula Lindsey
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Tens of thousands of young Saudis mill around in the halls of the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center, where the country's second International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education took place this week.

The exhibition is part of the kingdom's efforts to improve, expand, and internationalize its universities—and thereby, it is hoped, diversify its oil-based economy and fight the unemployment that affects as much as 30 percent of its youthful population. More:

Jim Castagnera
Sep. 23, 2008
It is widely known that the overwhelming majority (15 of 19) of the Nine-Eleven terrorists were Saudi Arabians. This fact did not go unremarked in their homeland. The Saudi PR/philanthropic campaign includes Saudi Arabia’s 2005 gift of $20 million to Harvard. In the words of the Boston Globe, “A Saudi Arabian prince who is one of the world's richest people is giving $20 million to Harvard to establish a university-wide program in Islamic studies, Harvard officials said yesterday.” i

The story went on to note, “Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine this year as $23.7 billion, is also donating $20 million to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue and understanding.” ii

This latter gift also has not gone un-remarked, albeit only in 2008 did a member of Congress take an overt interest in it. In February 2008, the Washington Post reported, “A Virginia congressman has asked Georgetown University to explain how it used a $20 million donation from a Saudi prince for its academic center on Muslim and Christian relations. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) sent a letter yesterday to university President John J. DeGioia expressing concern about the donation and asking whether the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has ever produced any reports critical of Saudi Arabia.” iii Congressman Frank’s letter reads as follows:

February 14, 2008

Dr. John J. DeGioia


Georgetown University

37th & O St NW

Washington DC 20057

Dear Dr. DeGioia:

I write today to share with you my long-standing concerns about the influence and activities of the Government of Saudi Arabia, both within its own borders, in America, and around the world. This concern was heightened by the recent Washington Times article (enclosed) reporting about Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's $20 million donation to Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The article attempted to provide details about this donation and the center's operation, but I found that the story raised more questions than were answered. Some observers quoted in the article openly question whether the center's academic independence could be compromised by this gift.

I would appreciate your assistance in providing information about the center's mission at Georgetown in the context of its training program for U.S. foreign service personnel, but before I outline my questions in that matter, it may be helpful if I first explained my concerns about the Saudi government.

Despite agreements reached between the Saudi government and the U.S. to improve religious freedom and human rights in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government's promises remain unfulfilled. The Saudi government continues to permit textbooks to contain inflammatory language about other religions. Restrictions on civil society and political activists continue to be pervasive. No changes have been made to the underlying legal authority relating to non-Muslim worship that the Saudis have relied on to enforce these rules. The Saudis have cleansed their own country of religious liberties by severely restricting public religious expression to their interpretation and enforcement of wahhabism.

Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there also have been reports of individuals and institutions associated with the Government of Saudi Arabia financing activities that allegedly support Islamic militants and extremists throughout the world. The majority of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

These concerns have led me to take a number of steps to identify and counter the level of negative influence that Saudi policies are having on the world. I have asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the effectiveness of the revolving door that senior officials are required to go through before lobbying for the government of a country where they served.

I was so troubled after reading Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower," which illustrates in disturbing detail the nature of Saudi activities around the world, that I have begun circulating copies to my colleagues in Congress. Saudi Arabia only constitutes 1 percent of the world's Muslim population, and yet supports 90 percent of the expenses of the entire faith through its financing of wahhabist mosques and madrassas around the globe.

Given Saudi Arabia's record on human rights, women's rights and religious freedom, and the inconsistency of its policies with U.S. priorities and values, I do not support the sale of advanced weapons to the Saudi military. I am a cosponsor of Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-NY) resolution of disapproval for this proposed $20 billion arms sale.

Because of the depth of my concern regarding Saudi activities and influence and as a graduate of Georgetown Law, I hope you can understand my dismay after reading The Washington Times article in light of Georgetown's role in training American foreign service personnel and diplomats. Former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes was recently quoted as saying she was influenced by the center.

I therefore feel compelled to seek further information and request your assurances that, as this center carries out its mission of "building a stronger bridge of understanding between the Muslim world and the West," it maintains the impartiality and integrity of scholarship that befits so distinguished a university as Georgetown and that is required by the exigencies of national security for training American officials.

Specifically, I would like to know if the center has produced any analysis critical of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for example, in the fields of human rights, religious freedom, freedom of expression, women's rights, minority rights, protections for foreign workers, due process and the rule of law.

It is also important to know if the center has examined Saudi links to extremism and terrorism, including the relationship between Saudi public education and the Kingdom-supported clerical establishment, on the one hand, and the rise of anti-American attitudes, extremism and violence in the Muslim world, on the other.

I also would ask whether the center has examined and produced any critical study of the controversial religious textbooks produced by the government of Saudi Arabia that have been cited by the State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and non-governmental groups for propagating extreme intolerance? Has it published anything on the impact of the Kingdom's dissemination of such texts throughout much of the world?

Finally, I request information on whether any of the Saudi-source funds have been used in the training, briefing or education of those going into or currently employed by the U.S. government.

I appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

Best wishes.


Frank R. Wolf

Member of Congressiv

On February 22, 2008, President DeGioia replied, “I want to reassure you that I am completely confident that the center's work, to borrow your words, ‘maintains the impartiality and integrity' that we expect of all research conducted at Georgetown. Since Georgetown University accepted the gift in 2005, all activities of the center have been conducted in the most appropriate manner and with no outside interference of any kind." v Georgetown’s CEO continued, “Multiple U.S. government departments and senior officials — particularly ones with extensive sophistication in issues of international concern — have relied upon the center's scholars for their expertise. Clearly, many high-level government officials have recognized the high quality of the center's scholarship and have confidence that it maintains its integrity and impartiality."

Berkeley and Duke universities also reportedly received major gifts from members of the House of Saud. vi

These donations have the pro-Israeli neo-cons hopping. An example is Clifford May, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democraciesvii, who wondered aloud, “There's a possibility these campuses aren't getting gifts, they're getting investments. Departments on Middle Eastern studies tend to be dominated by professors tuned to the concerns of Arab and Muslim rulers. It's very difficult for scholars who don't follow this line to get jobs and tenure on college campuses. The relationship between these departments and the money that pours in is hard to establish, but like campaign finance reform, sometimes money is a bribe. Sometimes it's a tip." viii

Such critiques seem to have dissuaded neither the Saudis nor their beneficiaries. In June 2008 The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that “12 Scientists Will Share $120-Million from Saudis.” ix Each of the lucky dozen, all involved in some way in alternative energy or energy conservation research, will receive $2-million per year for five years. One of the recipients, tongue apparently firmly in his cheek, complained, “It’s hard to spend all that money.” The Chronicle reporter explained,

In interviews with The Chronicle, several of the researchers explained what getting some of the most generous science financing available means for their careers.

Grants to individual investigators from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and other government and philanthropic organizations rarely exceed $1-million. Multi-investigator grants, such as NSF's engineering research centers, are the only things that come close. x

The story jumps inside, where the newspaper asks, “What Would You Do With $10-Million?” xi The answers include:

William J. Koros, Georgia Institute of Technology: “large-scale processes that remove contaminants, like sulfur and carbon dioxide, from commodities like oil and natural gas.”

Edward H. Sargent, University of Toronto: “works on solar energy, attempting to transform the sun’s energy into electricity both efficiently and inexpensively.”

Bruce E. Logan, Pennsylvania State University: “works with bacteria in novel types of fuel cells to generate either electricity or hydrogen fuel.”

Peter A. Markowich, University of Cambridge: “an area of mathematics called nonlinear partial differential equations. He explains that the equations he studies can describe biological properties and nanotechnological properties equally well.” xii

Charles A. Radin, “Saudi donates $20m to Harvard. Money will fund Islamic studies,” The Boston Globe, December 13, 2005, (downloaded June 8, 2008).


Valerie Strauss, “$20M Saudi Gift Is Questioned,” Washington Post, February 15, 2008, at B-3, (downloaded June 8, 2008).

See, "Wolf Seeks Additional Details From Georgetown University About Gift to Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding." Press Release, February 14, 2008,;=6§iontree;=6,34&itemid;=1056 (downloaded June 8, 2008).

Kathleen Nahill, “DeGioia Insists Center Neutral Despite Saudi Funds [incl. John Esposito, John Voll, Amira Sonbol, Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding],” Campus Watch, March 14, 2008, (last accessed on Sepember 7, 2008).

Nina Shea, “A Medal for Brass: A brazen publicity stunt from the House of Saud,” Weekly Standard, 13, 35, May 26, 2008.

Which sent this writer, along with 43 other academics, to Israel in 2007 as an Academic Fellow on Terrorism.

Accessed at (downloaded June 8, 2008). (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note here that in 2007 I accepted a Fellowship on Terrorism from the FDD, on whose nickel I spent 10-days visiting classified facilities in Israel.)

Lila Guterman, “12 Scientists Will Share $120-Million From Saudis,” Chronicle of Higher Education,44, 41, June 20, 2008, at A-1.


Ibid. at A-6.

Ibid. at A-6, A-7.

(Jim Castagnera is the Associate Provost/Associate Counsel at Rider University. He is writing his 14th book, which deals with the impact of terrorism on higher education, under contract to Praeger.)And here's the book:

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