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Racism

On the need to balance endowments and academic integrity

On the need to balance endowments and academic integrity


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
The article in The Atlantic, The Emir of NYU (MAR 13, 2013), touched on a very important issue: academic integrity. It came on the heels of the no-confidence vote NYU’s faculty in the College of Arts and Science delivered against the president, John Sexton. Sexton is renowned for creating satellite research and teaching centers around the world through a strategy he called The Global Network University. Specifically, the article pointed to the full degree-granting campus in Abu Dhabi and to faculty’s concerns “about academic freedom, diluting NYU’s brand, human rights violations in Abu Dhabi, and discrimination against gay and Israeli students.”

The article did not address the critically important issue of striking a balance between the need for funding higher education and preserving academic and scientific integrity. This problem is not new. Research scholars and institutions in some STEM (exact/hard) sciences faced similar ethical and legal issues since they first took money from pharmaceuticals, agricultural companies involved in GMOs, defense industries, and government security and intelligence agencies.

The current economic conditions are forcing universities to cut programs and/or raise money. These trends are likely to have an immediate and disproportionate impact on liberal arts and humanities programs–hence the vote from NYU’s College of Arts and Science faculty. Moreover, creating liberal arts and social sciences programs in places like the Persian Gulf States requires more scrutiny. The limitations on freedoms, the lack of transparency and shared governance, and the treatment of minorities in those countries are addressed through disciplines within liberal arts and social sciences. For this reason alone, establishing campuses or taking money from governments and private individuals from that region ought to be done with extreme prudence.

GCC countries do not operate according to the same rules enjoyed in American institutions (See the statement about banning a scholar from entering UAE). For instance, early this year, the editor of prominent magazine from one of the GCC States asked if I could write a short essay predicting that the Arab Spring will reach the GCCcountries. Presumably, another scholar was asked to argue the other point of view. Aware of the restrictions on freedom of expression in that country, I insisted that my article not be edited. With that understanding in place, I wrote what was, in my opinion, a restrained 250-word piece (see article below). A day later, the editor wrote back saying, “thanks very much for your honest and well-written article. However, because of legal constraints […], we can’t publish anything that criticizes the ruling royal family.”

If a government is threatened by a staged prediction written by a professor more than 6,000 miles away, can this same regime (and the regimes like it) allow a center of critical scholarship to thrive within its territory and in contact with its population? I doubt it. The same concern might apply to endowed chairs in many American universities. Can a researcher, whose position is funded by a prince from Saudi Arabia or the government of Bahrain, for example, provide critical and unbiased research about social and religious issues in one or all those countries or relating to Islam in general? I doubt that, too. 

Some of the most apologetic works about Wahhabism came out from institutions and by researchers who received considerable money from donors from GCC countries. Even if one were to assume that the holders of endowed chairs funded by princes from GCC countries have the integrity to tell scientific truths, their email signature and titles will always function as an implicit endorsement that polishes the names of the donors. Every time they introduce themselves to an audience they become engaged in gratuitous character rehabilitation and/or public relations endeavor on behalf of regimes and individual donors.

Islamic studies endowments created by ostensibly Muslim individuals and governments are even more suspect from the point of view of Islamic law and cultures. According to Islamic ethical practices, charity and gifts, including endowments, are supposed to be given discretely to the extent that when “it is given by the right hand, the left hand would not notice.” In Islamic cultures, advertising the name of donors nullifies its rewards. 

Endowments are given with a purpose and some time that purpose conflicts with the stated aims and mission of educational institutions. During the past decade alone, enough dubious endowments have been discovered to give administrators and faculty members pause. For instance, after the fall of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, a formal inquiry uncovered that the London School of Economics had accepted at least £1.5m donation from Saif al-Islam. If receiving money from the son of a dictator was not marring enough, the origin of such money should be: the investigation uncovered that the donations “may have been money paid to the dictator’s son as bribes.”

Harvard, the institution that produces the ruling elite in the United States, unashamedly collected money from individuals and governments from GCC States, too. In 2004, the Boston Globe reported that Harvard returned $2.5 million from the ruler of the United Arab Emirates. The university returned the money because the donor had ties to “an Arab League think tank with alleged anti-American” views. Apparently, Harvard, which shared with Georgetown University more than $40 million donation from a Saudi Prince in the last decade alone, refused money from a person who might have connections to an organization that might criticize U.S. foreign policies. But Harvard leaders see no harm in taking money from members of the ruling families of some of the GCC states, who are known for their wanton abuse of foreign workers, minorities, and women. 

Another Ivy League school needed to address its ties to donors who were on the wrong side of history, Brown. The University is now attempting to polish its own image after it had become known that it had ties to slave traders. It was revealed recently that “some of the University’s early benefactors were involved in the slave trade.” Specifically, a reportproduced by a commission established by the University confirmed that “slave labor was used to construct the oldest building on campus and said many of the university’s early benefactors were slave owners.”

The conflict between supporting education and polishing donors’ image is not new. However, now, the need for a new paradigm that could encourage people to give to education without risking academic integrity is paramount. For long, private universities have enjoyed limited restrictions on their efforts to raise money from private donors. Many state universities are now forced to adapt and administrators are aggressively seeking alternative sources of funding. Research grants and private endowments are two attractive streams of revenues. However, endowments do come with strings attached–some strings are obvious and others are subtle. Balancing the need to raise money and preserve academic integrity is a difficult challenge but it can be overcome if administrators and faculty members work together on drawing up sound policies.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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Are the Gulf countries in danger of facing an Arab Spring?

Will the GCC countries face an Arab Spring? The answer is simple: Yes. In fact, the Spring has already bloomed in the Gulf region. When powerful Emirs are threatened by poets, multi-billion dollar military is mobilized to crush peaceful protesters, and official muftis find it necessary to issue fatwas prohibiting protest at home while their governments are involved in arming opposition groups elsewhere, I would say the Spring is already in the Gulf.
In the past, the Gulf States’ rulers shielded themselves from change by seeking shelter behind world superpowers, and by amassing sophisticated weaponry. At that time, they feared the specter of foreigners invading their lands.
Today, they face a threat that cannot be defeated by international alliances, exclusion walls, arbitrary borders, and Patriot missiles. Some groups of their people are already calling upon them from within to end clan privilege, cruel sectarian and ethnic supremacism, boorish double standards, demeaning gender discrimination, and flagrant disregard to common decency, because these attitudes are an affront to dignity.
The first and second rounds of protest in Tunisia and Egypt tell us—in no uncertain terms—that the Arab Spring is not about economics, democracy, or ideology. It is about reclaiming human dignity and ending fear. It is not about who governs; it is about how they govern. These continued struggles tell us that no context can excuse the abuse of human dignity. Therefore, I am as sure that the people will rise up for dignity in the Gulf region as I am sure that the sun will rise from the east tomorrow.

The Foundation of Supremacy: Racializing Human Acts

The Foundation of Supremacy: Racializing Human Acts

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

I vividly remember the day of the Oklahoma bombing. Not because of the news reports—I was too busy working and with school to watch the news. Consequently, I was not aware of what had happened that day until late in the afternoon. But as I walked into my workplace after a long day of school, I felt the stares and tension from almost all my co-workers. Many ignored me when I greeted them. While waiting for my shift to start, I entered the break room where a friend sat reading the newspaper. It took him a moment before awkwardly asking me what I thought of the “terror attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma.” I thought, “Terror? Murrah? Oklahoma?

As a new transplant who knew very little English at that time, none of those words made sense to me. I certainly did not understand the definition or meaning of “terror.” I definitely did not know the meaning of “Murrah” or what the “Murrah Building” was. And I did not know where or what is “Oklahoma.”


I remember a widely distributed line from one of the so-called “terrorism experts” in a local paper the next day. It read along these lines: “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it is probably a duck – this looks like Islamic terror.” Then, everything started to make sense. If a bomb explodes anywhere in the world, look around and check on the Ahmeds around you: if they did not do it, they should know something about it. The Ahmeds of the world are – at least in the eyes of my co-workers that day – terrorists, potential terrorists, or experts on terrorism. In all cases, being an Ahmed, in the eyes of my co-workers, I deserved the accusing looks and cold shoulders, if not a direct accusation.

Days later, when the actual bomber was identified and his associates were revealed, no one asked my friend Tim about it, though he is a Christian with hyper-critical views of the government and politicians who he thought were jeopardizing the true American values. In the end, it was very easy for the media to make Tim the Bomber unique and so unlike any other American Tim.

I revisited these thoughts and feelings the week another non-Muslim terrorist attacked in Norway. This time it was not because of the accusing looks and cold shoulders, but rather because some media outlets thought that I was an expert on terrorism and I should have something to say about the Norway bombing and shooting. As if being an academic with some research expertise on Islam and the Middle East qualified me to be an expert on terrorism. Those questions suggested that Islam and terror are one and the same.

American media and government agencies have contributed to this racialization of violence. People with no credentials except a minimum proficiency in Islamic studies and an ardent zeal for constructing a threatening image of Islam have suddenly become experts on terrorism. They are called upon by the Defense Department, the State Department, the media, and the public to explain the connections and workings of “Islamic terrorism.”

One example of a self-proclaimed expert is Robert Spencer, whose biography lists his connection to popular and official channels of power and influence. He publishes books and articles at the same rate I change my socks. His outline of Islam and its portrayal as a violent threat to the Western way of life inspired the brutal murders in Norway. The connection is not an assumption, but is based on the words of the confessed bomber/shooter. 

Importantly, the connection can be derived from Mr. Spencer’s own logic. In one of the Frequently Asked Questions on his website, Mr. Spencer states:
Q: Why should I believe what you say about Islam?
RS: Pick up any of my books, and you will see that they are made up largely of quotations from Islamic jihadists and the traditional Islamic sources to which they appeal to justify violence and terrorism.
In the Norwegian terrorist manifesto, Mr. Spencer was quoted 64 times. Using Mr. Spencer’s logic, it follows that since his writings are one of the main sources of the Norwegian terrorist, they served to justify violence. This is proof that in Mr. Spencer’s writings, violent haters, racists, and bigots find inspiration.

Mr. Spencer’s logic, the practices of Reverend Jones, the ideology of the British E.D.L, the legal war waged on Muslims by David Yerushalmi, and the agenda of David Horowitz runs a continuous line of hatred toward specific religious and/or ethnic groups. These individuals and institutions have found in the terror attacks of 9-11 the perfect cover to publicly unleash what would otherwise be recognizably bigoted views.

Mr. Spencer and his colleagues may argue that being quoted by a terrorist is not evidence of their guilt. It is not. But it is evidence of a direct connection between the audiences that they inspire and the ideology that they promote. It is evidence of where they belong in the spectrum of social and political discourses. They belong in the extreme. Mr. Spencer’s ideology mirrors the ideology of al-Qaeda’s ideologues. After all, those self-declared protectors of Islamic culture are saying the same thing, with minor adaptations: modern day crusaders (mirroring Jihadists in the anti-Muslim lexicon) are a threat to their way of life and must be fought on all fronts. 

While Mr. Spencer points to about 1% of Muslims living in any Western country as inassimilable aliens that are a threat to Western way of life, al-Qaeda ideologues point to the Western armies in Muslim countries as forward bases of the Christian and Zionist crusades. The two camps share the ideology of exclusion. They racialize victimhood the same way they racialize ethnic and religious supremacy. They are two sides of the same page, which catalogues the ideals of supremacism.

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