https://registration.ft.com/registration/barrier?referer=http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ned=&q=saudi+prince%27s+gift+to+US+centres&location=http%3A//news.ft.com/cms/s/63620de6-b62c-11da-9cbb-0000779e2340.htmlPrince Alwaleed Bin Talal, one of the world's richest men, has embarked on a marketing campaign to promote his combined $40m donation to bolster the Islamic studies programmes at Harvard University and Georgetown University.
The extravagant two-page advertisements - which have run in The New York Times, The Washington Post and this newspaper among others - introduce the new programmes under the banner headline: "We share the same world." Georgetown is renaming its Islamic studies centre after the prince, and Harvard is naming its programme after him.
The adverts coincide with a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment in the US. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more than half of Americans believed there were more violent extremists within Islam than in any other religion and that the faith encouraged violence against non-Muslims. One in four Americans admitted to harbouring pre-judice towards Muslims.
Considering the prince made the twin $20m (¤17m £11m) donations in December, observers have remar-ked that this was a propitious time to draw attention to his charitable activities.
"Anyone who is engaged in Arab philanthropy now is doing so with a purpose to offset the bad press that radical Islam is getting," said James Gillespie, who works for Commonweath USA, a philanthropic consultancy. "They want people to understand that it's not all about what they see on TV."
Prince Talal's Kingdom Holdings was not immediately available for comment.
Louay Safi, executive dir-ector of the Islamic Society of North America, said it was no accident the adverts came a week after Dubai Ports World promised to divest US ports from its acquisition of UK-based P&O Group. "The rhetoric surrounding the Dubai ports deal bordered on racism and this has to be seen in that context," he said. "There has been a lot of Arab-bashing recently so it seems to me that this was Prince Talal's attempt to respond and stress our commonality."
Whether the prince's tactic will be effective remains to be seen. In many scholarly circles, Prince Talal and his money remain contentious. Over the years, the prince, a member of the Saudi royal family who has a fortune of $23.7bn, has made several sizable gifts, including $20m to the Louvre.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, he wrote a $10m cheque to the Twin Towers Fund, a charity to help survivors of uniformed workers who died in the attacks. But Mayor Rudolph Giuliani returned it when he learned that a news release quoted the prince as calling on the US to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause".
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think- tank, said: "The scepticism is due to the fact that Saudis, unlike other foreign don-ors, tend to expect a political benefit for their money. These are not disinterested programmes."