The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University has been renamed after Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal donated $20 million to its projects. And while that may be just the tail, the dog appears to be moving away from its historic Catholic and Jesuit teaching philosophy too.
The Center's leaders say it now will be used to put on workshops regarding Islam, fostering exchanges with the Muslim world, addressing U.S. policy towards the Muslim world, working on the relationship of Islam and Arab culture, addressing Muslim citizenship and civil liberties, and developing exchange programs for students from the Muslim world.
The "Christian" part of the center's projects at the university that has a history of 200 years of higher education following its Christian founding, is conspicuous by its absence in its website plans for its 10-year future.
But that won't be a surprise to leaders of a number of Christian evangelical groups whose leaders recently were told to leave the campus and not list Georgetown University as a site for operations in the future.
That story, reported by WND earlier, still has folks wondering what happened to cause Georgetown officials to ban InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and others. InterVarsity spokesman Gordon Govier said the organization still doesn't know why the move was announced by university officials, who did not return WND messages left inquiring about the situation.
"We still are a little bit confused about what happened," he told WND. "We haven't been able to identify clearly what happened."
He said Christians in the InterVarsity organization still are meeting at Georgetown, but they have no official sanction and are meeting without recognition, much as many Christian churches in nations where religion is regulated meet.
He said there is a committee meeting that is supposed to hear concerns from Christians, and InterVarsity is hopeful there will be a positive outcome, but there's no time frame set.
But the time frame for other interests that have become relevant to Georgetown are a little more apparent. The school's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding confirmed several months ago that the $20 million donation was made by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and a short time later the Center was given the added moniker as Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
The organization now features a number of pro-Muslim statements and articles, with little reference to any Christian statements or understandings. It even has co-sponsored events with CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
CAIR is a spin-off of the Islamic Association for Palestine, identified by two former FBI counterterrorism chiefs as a "front group" for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Several CAIR leaders have been convicted on terrorism-related charges.
The center's chief, John L. Esposito, summarizes the goals of the organization clearly: "The Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding is concerned with Islam and the West and Islam in the West. The Center, since its creation in 1993, has built bridges of understanding between the Muslim world and the West, addressing stereotypes of Islam and Muslims and issues and questions such as the clash of civilizations, and the compatibility of Islam and modern life – from democratization and pluralism to the status of women, minorities and human rights – and American foreign policy in the Muslim world."
The Center says it recognizes the increasing demands because of the world's "critical turning point in the history of Muslim-Christian relations" so it will expand its expertise base and operations, "as well as strengthen the website as a source of critical information about Islam and the Muslim world."
The Center's assistant director, Huma Malik, told WND that the $20 million came from the prince because the center is working on projects that interest him, but she could not comment on the influence of the donation or why the evangelical Christians were barred from campus.
The center was founded in 1993 in cooperation with the Fondation pour L'Entante entre Chretians at Musulmans in Geneva "to build strong bridge of understanding between the Muslim world and the West as well as between Islam and Christianity."
The message of acting as an information source for Islam was reinforced in the fact that while the Center's website includes a link for Islamic Resources, there is none for Christian resources.
It also takes a distinct policy stance, with Esposito noting in a recent posting that "despite 'HAMAS' victory in free and democratic elections, the United States and Europe failed to give the party full recognition and support," he wrote.
That type of behavior, he said, provides reasons for "many Muslim autocratic rulers' to retreat from democratization, and he cited a Gallup World Study that says it is the policies of the U.S. that generate hurt in the Muslim world.
"One billion Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia … tell us that U.S. policies, not values, are behind the ire of the Arab/ Muslim world," he wrote.
Those voices, he wrote, say that while America and the United Kingdom are disliked, other Western nations such as France and Germany are not. He also wrote that the U.S. is suspected because of its relationship to Israel.
"The United States failed to support UN mediation in the face of clear violations of international law, refused to heed calls for a ceasefire and UN intervention, and continued to provide military assistance to Israel," he said of the recent conflict, triggered by a military attack on Israeli soldiers.
"America's unconditional support of Israel cast it in the eyes of many as a partner, not simply in military action against HAMAS or Hizbollah militants, but in a war against the democratically elected Palestinian government in Gaza and the government of Lebanon, a long-time US ally," he said.
"The primary victims in Gaza and Lebanon were hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, not terrorists. In Lebanon, more than 500 were killed, 2,000 wounded, and 800,000 displaced. Israeli's military destroyed the civilian infrastructures of both Gaza and Lebanon."
He said "HAMAS and Hizbollah" both are elected political parties, even though the U.S. and others have labeled them "terrorist organizations."
The Center, on a daily news clip posting, highlighted stories quoting a Mecca Imam saying non-Muslims are attacking Muslims out of fear of being over-run by Muslims and the London mayor noting that Muslims in Britain are being "demonized," comparing their recent treatment in London to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.
Faculty members also are being interviewed by al-Jazeera, a network with sources in many terrorist camps.
The prince, who controls tens of billions of dollars in investments in Morgan Stanley, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Deutsche Bank, Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, The Walt Disney company and ebay, works through the Kingdom Holdings company.
He also had given a similar $20 million gift to Harvard, which sponsors a Harvard Law School Islamic Legal Studies Program, and the Islamic Finance Project, which looks at the legal and sharia points of view of situations, officials said.
The Alliance Defense Fund earlier wrote a letter to Georgetown asking for reconsideration of its ban on several Christian groups. Officials said no response was received.
Those in a position to know have reported that the Christian groups were booted from campus for being too evangelical, because student clubs promoting Muslim and Jewish beliefs were allowed to continue existing with the formal campus structure.
The Christian groups' brush-off letter from the university starts: "Blessings and may God's peace be upon you!" but deteriorates shortly later to: "Protestant Ministry has decided to move in another direction."
As a result, Georgetown said, "Your ministries will no longer be allowed to hold any activity or presence (i.e. bible (sic) studies, retreats with Georgetown students, Mid-week (sic) worship services, fellowship events, move-in assistance, SAC Fair, etc.) on campus."
Further, the school told the ministry organizations, "All websites linking your ministries to a presence at Georgetown University will need to be modified to reflect the terminated relationship. Your ministries are not to publicize in any literature, media, advertisement, etc. that Georgetown University is or will be an active ministry site for your ministry/church/denomination."
Kevin Offer, who worked with the InterVarsity program at Georgetown, said something had been developing, because the university also recently had started requiring student ministry leaders to meet for formal meetings with the school.
"School officials asked questions about what they 'tell students behind closed doors,'" he said.