Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud has decided that Islamic studies in America need help. To that end, he gave $20 million each to Harvard and Georgetown last week.
Explaining his gift to Harvard, Alwaleed said, "The understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance."
Georgetown will use the money for its Muslim-Christian Studies Center, renaming it the H.R.H. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. "This gift," said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, "will deepen Georgetown's ability to advance education in the fields of Islamic civilization and Muslim-Christian understanding and strengthen its presence as a world leader in facilitating cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue."
So let's get this straight. A member of the Saudi royal family is trying to promote religious tolerance and understanding by funding studies at American universities?
One question: Is American intolerance of Muslims really a major world problem? Isn't it more the other way around?
Who's funding religious understanding, pluralism and tolerance in Saudi Arabia?
Not Prince Alwaleed, that's for sure. For good reason. Saudi Arabia outlaws religious pluralism.
Islam is the country's official — and exclusive — religion. After oil (maybe), religious intolerance is its biggest export, with countless billions spent to promote only the most intolerant strand of Islam — what the Saudis call Hanbali Islam, and critics call Wahhabiism.
Millions pay for madrassas in Pakistan and other poor nations. And these schools teach only Islam. Indeed, since Saudi funds go only to extremist (Hanbali/Wahhabi) madrassas, some see them as breeding grounds for future terrorists.
Prince Alwaleed has funded a variety of humanitarian causes in recent years, including his attempt to donate $10 million for the victims of 9/11. (Mayor Giuliani told him to take a hike, after Alwaleed had the nerve to suggest that the United States was responsible for the attacks.)
But if religious tolerance, understanding and peace are now the prince's major concerns, he should start at home.
Let's see him fund "cross-cultural and inter-religious dialogue" at a Saudi school — such as Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University, Islamic University, King Abdul Aziz University, King Faisal University, or King Saud University.
And what about all those madrassas? Why don't those Saudi-funded schools start offering classes in religious diversity and understanding?
Such philanthropy might really help improve relations between Islam and the West, but don't hold your breath