Sakset/Fra hofta

Hvorfor tok Yale University Press belastningen med å sensurere Jytte Klausens bok om Muhammed-tegningene? Svaret er ikke å finne i frykt for ny strid og «blod på hendene» som forlegger John Donatich hevdet. Det har mer verdslige årsaker: Yale beiler til den saudi-arabiske prinsen Alwaleed bin Talal om finansiering av et nytt Midtøsten-senter.

Bin Talal har finansiert slike sentre ved en rekke prominente universiteter, bla. Harvard. De har en pris: akademisk frihet og uavhengighet. Det gjør Yales avgjørelse mye skumlere.

Saudi-arabiske penger kjøper seg innnflytelse ved Vestens fremste universiteter og bruker injurielovgivningen, særlig i Storbritannia, til å stanse og inndra bøker de ikke iiker. Dette er et lite kjent fenomen. Fokus er på høylytte imamer og mobben i gatene. Saudi-araberne gjør det mer stillferdig, men mer effektivt og dermed farlig.

Når mediene ikke interesserer seg for hvor pengene kommer fra og om kjente akademikere opererer med bundet mandat, er innflytelsen fullbrakt. Da fremstår akademikerne som uavhengige. En av dem er John Esposito ved Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding på Georgetown University. Esposito er et kjent navn fra norske medier, men jeg har aldri sett hans saudi-arabiske finansering referert. Et annet navn er iranske Roy Mottahedey – jeg har selv bøker av ham i bokhylla. Han er leder av det saudi-finansierte instituttet ved Harvard. Når man ser bildene av disse «directors» sammen med prins Alwaleed bin Talals prosjektleder, innkalt til møte i London, forstår man at dette ikke er en free lunch.

Martin Kramer har en gjennomgang av historien om hvoran prins Alwaleed kjøper seg innflytelse:

Yale’s administration intervened not to prevent violence, but to prevent damage to its fundraising prospects in Araby. There’s a strong prima facie case for this, and it revolves around Yale’s courting of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Over the years, I’ve reported on Prince Alwaleed’s efforts to buy up prime academic real estate in the United States. It was six years ago, in July 2003, that Alwaleed, then the world’s fifth-richest man, announced his plan to go on what I called «an academic shopping spree.»

On a stop in Britain, Alwaleed revealed that «I am in the process of establishing centers of Arab and Islamic studies at select universities in the United States.» I made a prediction:

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. Prince Alwaleed’s buying binge is liable to reduce the entire field [of Middle Eastern studies] to a cargo cult, with profs and center directors dancing the ardha in the hope of attracting the flying prince. In the near future, don’t be surprised to see grinning university presidents posing with Prince Alwaleed. They will say there are no strings attached. Puris omnia pura: To the pure all things are pure.»

Sure enough, in December 2005, Harvard and Georgetown universities announced that they’d each received $20 million endowments from Prince Alwaleed – Harvard for an Islamic studies program and Georgetown for John Esposito’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Sure enough, a photographer captured Georgetown’s President John J. DeGioia beaming alongside the Prince, and a Georgetown administrator made the inevitable assurance: «The funds are designated, but there are no strings attached.»

The crucial thing to know about Prince Alwaleed is that he believes in «strategic philanthropy.» He’s not tied emotionally to particular universities, and he’s not interested in honors. He seeks maximum return on investment.

The two $20 million gifts he made in 2005 followed a semi-secret competition, in which half a dozen institutions put on their most Saudi-friendly face. Alwaleed later named some names in an interview with the New York Times: Harvard, Georgetown, Chicago, Michigan, «and several of the Ivy Leagues» were in the running. The interviewer pressed for more names. «Please. Keep the other universities out,» said Alwaleed. «I’d rather not embarrass them.»

Who was spared embarrassment? The Yale Daily News asked President Levin if Yale had been in the race; Levin «said two University proposals had been in the final running.» Finalist, but not a winner.

But everyone assumes that Alwaleed will run another competition. He isn’t worth as much as he was a few years back, but according to Forbes, he’s still worth over $13 billion. (In March, he summoned a Forbes reporter to spend a week with him, just to prove he’s still living the opulent life. «Observing wealth on this scale, even for a seasoned billionaires reporter, was staggering.»)


Filantropi

And he’s still in the academic market – so says Muna AbuSulayman, executive director of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation: «Because of what is happening (in the markets) people might think he is stopping his philanthropy; on the contrary he is fully committed to his charity goals no matter what happens.»

According to her, the Alwaleed Foundation has set aside $100 million for its Islam-West dialogue project, which endowed the centers at Harvard and Georgetown.

This same Muna AbuSulayman is also Alwaleed’s point-person for his academic programs. «I used to work with him at Kingdom Holding, I was head of strategic studies, and I was given the assignment of doing the first centers in the US. I guess I did such a good job that he actually offered me the foundation.»

Alwaleed with Harvard’s provost (she’s the one with the hijab).

AbuSulayman continues to monitor the Alwaleed centers; in March, she convened their directors in London for their first joint planning meeting. (In this photo, she’s surrounded by the directors of the endowed centers, including Georgetown’s John Esposito and Harvard’s Roy Mottahedeh.)

Beleilig stipend

Now it gets interesting. In April, Yale named Muna AbuSulayman a «Yale World Fellow» for 2009.

This isn’t some honorific, and she’ll reside from August through December in New Haven. (Her Facebook fan page, August 16: «I need help locating a Town House/condo for short term leasing near Yale University… Anyone familiar with that area?»)

Can you imagine a better way to set the stage for a major Alwaleed gift? Hosting for a semester the very person who structured the Harvard and Georgetown gifts, and who now directs Alwaleed’s charitable foundation? A stroke of genius.

Imagine, then – and we’re just imagining – that someone in the Yale administration, perhaps in President Levin’s office, gets wind of the fact that Yale University Press is about to publish a book on the Danish cartoons – The Cartoons That Shook the World.

The book is going to include the Danish cartoons, plus earlier depictions of the Prophet Muhammad tormented in Dante’s Inferno, and who-knows-what-else. Whooah!

Good luck explaining to people like Prince Alwaleed that Yale University and Yale University Press are two different shops.

Hva gjør man?

Hvordan kan man unngå å blande kortene? Eller rettere: hvordan oppnå målet om sensur uten at det sees ut som sensur? Her kommer ekspertene inn. De er en nyttig «krykke».

The university can’t interfere in editorial matters, so what’s to be done?

Summon some «experts,» who’ll be smart enough to know just what to say. Yale will be accused of surrendering to an imagined threat by extremists, but so be it: self-censorship to spare bloodshed in Nigeria or Indonesia still sounds a lot nobler than self-censorship to keep a Saudi prince on the line for $20 million.

Yale has seen its endowment suffer billions in losses, and its administration has the mission of making the bucks back. Yale’s motto is lux et veritas, light and truth, but these days it might as well be pecunia non olet: money has no odor -whatever its source.

Still, that isn’t the mission of Yale University Press, which seeks to help authors of exceptional merit shed full light on the truth.

Skjult innflytelse

Hvis saudiene skal ha innflytelse må den være skjult, det må ikke fokuseres på pengene og professoratene de kjøper.

More than three years ago, I warned against «the deep corruption that Prince Alwaleed’s buying spree is spreading through academe and Middle Eastern studies.» If this is what caused Yale University to trespass so rudely against the independence of its press, then the rot has spread even further than I imagined.

I’ve been a reader for Yale University Press, which I think publishes a more interesting list in Middle Eastern studies than any university press. But if editorial decisions are to be subjected to vetting and possible abortion by Yale’s money collectors, why bother?

Ignore all the denials, and watch for a hefty gift from Arabia, perhaps for another Alwaleed program in Islamic apologetics. Fat endowments speak louder than words – or cartoons.


Some day, Yale’s prince will come