Georgetown has had an Arab Studies department for quite some time. The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies is probably one of Georgetown's better known and better funded centers. That it has received funding from Gulf monarchies is a fact advertised on the portraits hanging in the CCAS itself.
Yet for the first time, the center's lesser known counterpart, the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has received a significant chunk of money from the Arab world, specifically from one of the richest Muslims in the world, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia.
It is interesting to note the Georgetown community's reaction to this donation, especially in contrast to Harvard, which received an equal donation for the same purpose. The Harvard Crimson's editorial pages were filled with quite a stirring debate about whether or not the university should be accepting money from the Saudi monarchy, which has allegedly been supporting terrorism. The perception was that the money was somehow "tainted."
Little such reaction has been seen here. I do not recall any significant protests at the donation. This may partially be due to the fact that we are much poorer than Harvard and in less of a position to refuse money, especially when it comes in such large sums. Protests by some members of the Harvard community were mainly ignorant diatribes by people who alleged that Alwaleed was somehow involved in terrorist funding or that the university's academic freedom to critically analyze the region would somehow be compromised.
Perhaps they were unable to distinguish between the fringe of Saudis who attacked the United States on 9/11 and the overwhelming majority who wish it no ill. Or perhaps they thought that the Saudi royal family could coerce Harvard into producing obscurantist propaganda.
Georgetown is fundamentally different from other universities in many other ways as well. For one thing, we have a very large number of students who take Arabic. Our Arab studies department is quite renowned. Cairo remains one of the most popular choices among Hoyas for study abroad. So what does all of this mean?
Well, for one thing, it means that Hoyas have, perhaps a much better understanding of the Arab world than most other college students across the country. For this, I salute you, Georgetown! (Please note that many Muslims are not Arab. Therefore, the Arab world forms quite a small portion of the Islamic world as a whole.) This, however, does not mean that we as Hoyas are incapable of looking at the Arab world critically. Quite the contrary. It can be said that we have a much more holistic view of the Arab world, producing some of the best American literature on the subject, both appreciative and critical.
With that said, Georgetown is quite accommodating of the needs of its Arab and Muslim students. We were the first university to hire a fulltime Muslim chaplain. We are one of the few to have Muslim interest housing. And our Muslim prayer room compares favorably to any across the country.
Having now used the terms Arab and Muslim interchangeably, I will now try to distinguish between them. As I have mentioned earlier, we have an amazing Arab Studies program. For quite some time, however, the CCAS and CMCU have been trying to introduce a full-fledged Islamic Studies program at the graduate level. The newly received funds should hopefully be directed towards these efforts.
The current faculty of CMCU is amazing. Professors like John Esposito and John Voll, among many others, form a highly distinguished faculty. For a graduate Islamic Studies program, the university, however, may need to add more professors, especially those who specialize in Islamic theology and Muslim societies. One name that comes to mind is Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss academic who currently resides in Oxford. Widely regarded as one of the best academics in the field of Islamic studies, he was hired by University of Notre Dame before having his visa cancelled by the U.S. government. It would most certainly be worth Georgetown's efforts to try and get him to come to the United States. Perhaps we will have more luck than Notre Dame.
There are many other scholars whom the university could consider for the program. One only hopes that Georgetown continues its tradition of making its most sincere efforts to increasing the understanding of the Arab and Islamic worlds in the American intellectual arena. Our contributions have made us a leader in this field. We should try to retain our position.