Big imam on campus

Yesterday’s New York Times Magazine featured a highly illuminating interview of Harvard/Georgetown benefactor Alwaleed Bin Talal by Deborah Solomon. It’s short and pointed:

Since you’re said to be worth more than $20 billion, with major holdings in Four Seasons Hotels, Saks Fifth Avenue and Murdoch’s News Corporation, why not give an unrestricted gift instead of such a narrowly focused one?
The gift is unrestricted!
No, it’s not. It has to be spent on Islamic studies. Georgetown is renaming a center after you, and Harvard is naming a program after you.
Well, sure! The studies that concern me and fit my overall global vision – they’re Islamic studies. As you know, ever since 9/11, we have been trying to bridge the gap between West and East.
Which has backfired at least once. You became notorious in New York when Mayor Giuliani declined to accept a $10 million donation from you to victims’ families after you suggested that the U.S. was too friendly with Israel.
By the way, my check was taken to the bank and cashed. The problem was with my statement. I accepted that. Subject closed.
Subject reopened. The money was returned to you. Have you told Harvard, as you told the City of New York, that the U.S. needs to “adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause”?
Let me tell you my position. We need to have good relations between the Arab world and Israel. When I sold my Plaza Hotel in New York, it was sold to Elad, which is an Israeli company.
Doing business with the citizens of a country is not the same thing as believing in that country’s right to exist.
We are doing so many things to bridge the gap between Christianity and Islam and Judaism. For example, at my hotel in Paris, George V, you are going to find the Christian Bible, the Jewish Bible and the Islamic Koran in each single room.
That’s a wonderful idea, but a luxury hotel in Paris is a long way from Saudi Arabia, where you could surely spend more money on Judeo-Christian studies.
Look. You have to understand that the population of Saudi Arabia has zero Christians.
That’s the point. Why shouldn’t you should spend your millions educating your own students before you educate kids at Harvard?
Obviously, it could be something we are contemplating.

It is great fun to see the Times turn a gimlet eye on the prince. The prince, however, is a royal Saudi pursuing the interests of the Saudi regime. It would be far more impressive for the Times to focus its attention on the prince’s American retainers at Harvard and Georgetown.

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