Thursday, February 28, 2008


Saudis donate $20 million to Georgetown University

Saudi Arabia has taken over a center that trains U.S. diplomats.

A leading Saudi prince linked to King Abdullah has donated $20 million to the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The center, part of Georgetown University, trains U.S. Foreign Service personnel in dealing with the Arab and Muslim world.

"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," wrote Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, in a letter to Georgetown University president John DeGioia.

Since the donation, the center has been renamed the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Alwaleed has donated at least $60 million to major U.S. universities, including Harvard University, to establish or support pro-Saudi centers.

"If you want a fabulously wealthy Saudi royal to drop out of the sky in his private jet and leave a few million, you had better watch what you say—which means you had better say nothing," said Martin Kramer, a prominent Middle East researcher at Harvard University's Olin Institute.

In 2001, Alwaleed sought to donate $10 million to a fund for victims of the al Qaeda strikes in the United States in 2001. Then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected the gift after the prince suggested U.S. policy in the Middle East contributed to the strikes, which killed around 3,000 people.

In his Feb. 14 letter, Wolf sought information on the center's mission at Georgetown, his alma mater, in training personnel for the U.S. Foreign Service. He said despite the 9/11 strikes, Saudis associated with the government in Riyadh continue to support Islamic militants and extremists throughout the world.

Wolf's letter has reflected increasing unease in Congress over the Saudi campaign to ensure influence over the next generation of Middle East policy advisers. Wolf has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the growing trend of senior officials who leave government and join lobbying efforts of Saudi Arabia and other pro-jihad states.

The center, directed by John Esposito, a former State Department analyst who in the 1990s downplayed the Islamic terror threat, has influenced the view of Islam at the State Department. Former Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, who led a U.S. outreach to American Muslims and Muslim countries, said she was influenced by the center.

"There's a danger in making Bin Laden the poster boy of global terrorism, and not realizing that there are a lot of other forces involved in global terrorism," wrote Esposito in The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs weeks before the al Qaeda suicide strikes against New York and Washington in September 2001. "Bin Laden has become the new symbol, following in the footsteps of Qaddafi, Khomeini, and Sheikh Omar Abdur Rahman. Bin Laden is a perfect media symbol: He's tall, gaunt, striking, and always has a Kalashnikov with him. As long as we focus on these images we continue to see Islam and Islamic activism through the prism of ayatollahs and Iran, of bin Laden and the Afghan Arabs."

Esposito has defended Alwaleed's rhetoric against the United States. He has also praised other anti-U.S. Muslim clerics, particularly Sheik Yusef Qaradawi, who uses his sermons on A-Jazeera television to praise the use of Palestinian suicide bombers and the killing of American soldiers in Iraq.

Wolf, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations and co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, asked whether the center has published any studies on human rights, religious rights or minority rights in Saudi Arabia. He also asked whether the Georgetown facility 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."

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Saudis donate $20 million to Georgetown University

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