George Mason University and George Washington University (pictured) in the Washington, D.C. area, have each received tens of millions of dollars in Saudi-affiliated funding, according to a report in the Daily Caller. (Image source: Ingfbruno/Wikimedia Commons)
Why would the center of illiberalism, religious fanaticism, and misogyny ever sponsor the center of liberalism, secularism, and gender equality?
This is the question that crops up when one considers the largesse that human-rights-abusing Saudi Arabia bestows on the leading universities — those putative bastions of progressive, free thinking — in the United States.
According to a recent report in the Daily Caller:
"... elite U.S. universities took more than half a billion dollars from the country [Saudi Arabia] and its affiliates between 2011 and 2017. Saudi Arabian interests paid $614 million to U.S. universities over a six-year period, more than every country but Qatar and the United Kingdom."
What would cause Saudi Arabia, which represents much that is regressive and barbarous — from having elite units dedicated to apprehending witches and warlocks, to legitimizing paedophilia — to become a leading financial supporter of America's liberal arts? Certainly, it is not because the Saudis are randomly lavish with their money and award gifts to all and sundry. Reports often criticize citizens of the kingdom for being "stingy" and not spending on causes that others consider worthy.
"These gifts and contracts," the report relates, "in some instances, are intended to influence students' and faculty experts' views on the kingdom."
While this explanation may make sense to those of Western sensibilities, who tend to think in terms of nation-states, Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is apparently influencing "views" on Islam. Saudi society and politics are virtually synonymous with Islamic society and politics — or, in a word, Sharia, Islamic canonical law that is based on the Quran and the Hadith (the acts and teachings of Muhammad).
Muhammad and Islam, born in what is today Saudi Arabia, have made the Arabs of the peninsula the descendants of Islam's first Muslims. Since the seventh century, Muslims have conquered much of the post-Roman Christian world, all of North Africa and the Middle East, and for a while, the Balkans, Greece and most of Spain — and in so doing, transforming vast swaths of land into the Muslim and Islamic world (see Chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Sword and Scimitar).
The importance of Islam to Saudi Arabia — and vice-versa — is expressed on the website of the Saudi embassy in Washington DC:
For centuries the people of the Arabian Peninsula have possessed a strong identity based upon the tenets of Islam. Saudi Arabia... adheres to Islam, honors its Arab heritage and tradition, and presses vigorously forward in the service of Islam... The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the heartland of Islam, the birthplace of its history, the site of the two holy mosques and the focus of Islamic devotion and prayer. Saudi Arabia is committed to preserving the Islamic tradition in all areas of government and society..... The Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the Kingdom and Shari'ah (Islamic law) is the basis of the Saudi legal system.
That Saudi Arabia's identity — that it is "based upon the tenets of Islam; " that it "presses vigorously forward in the service of Islam," and that the "Qur'an is the constitution of the Kingdom, and Shari'ah (Islamic law) is the basis of the Saudi legal system" — should make clear that the Saudi worldview is quite antithetical to the spirit of Western liberal education.
Capital punishment in the desert kingdom still takes place (as seen in this video of a hysterical woman being incrementally beheaded); child-marriage and slave-like conditions are rampant; "apostates" are persecuted and sometimes sentenced to death; churches and other non-Muslim houses of worship are strictly banned, and Christians quietly worshipping in their homes are regularly arrested, imprisoned and tortured.
Saudi Arabia has online a fatwa, an Islamic-sanctioned opinion — in Arabic only — entitled, "Duty to Hate Jews, Polytheists, and Other Infidels." It comes from the fatwa wing of the government, meaning it has the full weight of the government behind it.
Written by Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz (d. 1999), former grand mufti and highest religious authority in the government, it still appears on the website.
According to this governmentally-supported fatwa, Muslims — that is, the entire Saudi citizenry — must "oppose and hate whomever Allah commands us to oppose and hate, including the Jews, the Christians, and other mushrikin [non-Muslims], until they believe in Allah alone and abide by his laws, which he sent down to his Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him."
To prove this, Baz quotes a number of Koran verses that form the doctrine of Loyalty and Enmity — the same doctrine every Sunni jihadi organization evokes to the point of concluding that Muslim men must hate their Christian or Jewish wives (though they may enjoy them sexually).
These Koran verses include: "Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your friends and allies" (5:51) and "You shall find none who believe in Allah and the Last Day on friendly terms with those who oppose Allah and His Messenger [i.e., non-Muslims] — even if they be their fathers, their sons, their brothers, or their nearest kindred" (58:22; see also 3:28, 60:4, 2:120).
After quoting the verses, Baz reiterates:
Such verses are many and offer clear proofs concerning the obligation to despise infidels from the Jews, Christians, and all other non-Muslims, as well as the obligation to oppose them until they believe in Allah alone.
It is hard, therefore, not to conclude that the Saudis are awarding large gifts to institutions against whom they are openly preaching hate — universities in the liberal West — in order to mold perspectives and produce future leaders. In other words, they seem to be bribing and winning over people who are in positions to criticize and expose things about Islam and its greatest sponsor, Saudi Arabia.
In fact, the Saudis simply seem to be following a page from Muhammad's playbook. During the "Battle of the Trench" (627), when Muhammad and his Medinan followers were surrounded by the Meccans and other hostile tribes, the Muslim prophet bribed the Ghatafan, the largest tribe, to break from the Meccans by offering them one-third of Medina's date harvest. Osama bin Laden cited this anecdote when legitimizing the bribing of hated infidels, as you can see in The Al Qaeda Reader, pp. 26-27.
Just as Muhammad's bribe saved Islam then, the hope may be that Saudi Arabia's gifts will save Islam's image in American universities, from where policy-shapers and worldviews emerge. As the Daily Caller report states:
"Much of the international affairs literature that informs the U.S. posture toward foreign nations is developed at elite institutions like George Mason University and George Washington University in the D.C. area, whose experts are widely cited. Those universities are among the top recipients of Saudi government funds."
In an article from Vox, "How Saudi Arabia captured Washington", a DC "insider," discussing Saudi largesse and American universities, states that Saudi funding of an academic "doesn't mean that he's bought and paid for." Rather, "there is a kind of silencing effect. It's more about what doesn't get written about... there may be some self-censoring on certain topics you don't raise unnecessarily, topics that are sensitive to the Saudis."
In short, no matter how important scholarly inquiries may be from a Western perspective, everything that might present Islam in a negative light is presumably to be ignored. Rather than honest examinations and exposés on subjects such as the role of Islam in terrorism, gender inequality, or hostility toward religious minorities, universities that receive, or hope to receive, Saudi funding, are, it would seem, expected to set aside or whitewash all such topics.
As documented in Simon Ross Valentine's book, Force and Fanaticism: Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia and Beyond, the desert kingdom, America's "friend and ally," has spent $100 billion to spread radical Islamic teachings and materially support Islamic terrorists around the world (15 of the 19 suicide-hijackers who orchestrated the terror strikes of 9/11 were Saudi citizens).
Thus, Saudi Arabia appears to give with one hand and take away with the other. It gives money to the supposed intellectual elite of America with one hand, and takes away knowledge of Islam from the public with the other.
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.