Tariq Ramadan, the darling of the British political and security establishment which foolishly and ignorantly believes his aim is to modernise Islam whereas his actual agenda is to Islamise modernity, has for some years beenreferred to as an Oxford professor. This was not actually true; he was not a professor at Oxford University but a mere research fellow of St Anthony's College, Oxford. But now the wish has become father to the deed. In the depths of the long vacation, the Oxford University Gazetteannounced that Ramadan had been appointed
His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies with effect from 1 October 2009.
Gratified as I'm sure everyone will be to hear that Tariq Ramadan (who was barred from the USA in 2004 and again in 2006 for allegedly giving money to a charity supporting Hamas, a ruling revoked by a federal court in July) can now really call himself an Oxford professor, there are disturbing implications for academic integrity when an Oxford University chair can be purchased in this fashion by an interest group – the Islamic world – which does not share the western understanding of academic objectivity. The chair is funded by a benefaction from Qatar, of which the Sheikh is the Emir. (The Sheikh is also one of the Arab associates of the 'Oxford College for Research and PhD Studies' -- which, since it poses with heraldry and Oxford blue logo, might be thought by the unwary to be a real Oxford University college when it is not.)
This needs to be put in the context of more general concern about the way in which Arab and other foreign governments are increasingly funding British universities, set out in the important report by Robin Simcox, A Degree of Influence, published earlier this year by the Centre for Social Cohesion. As CSC Director Douglas Murray writes in the preface:
At a time when Islam is receiving an unprecedented amount of public attention, it is more vital than ever before for universities to engage in free and open research, all the while retaining their reputation as impartial, objective centres of academic excellence. Yet the evidence uncovered by this report suggests that universities are placing their objectivity at risk by accepting huge financial donations without putting in place safeguards to ensure that they retain their neutrality.
In addition, the apparent inability of universities to implement any quality control over the bodies and individuals from whom they are receiving cash means that some of the finest higher education institutes in the UK are taking money from unelected, despotic governments. Many of these regimes commit gross human rights violations; yet the universities appear to have few qualms about accepting donations from such sources.
In the report itself, Simcox notes:
...an academic chairing a public event on terrorist networks in Europe at St Antony's College, Oxford, stifled discussion on the sources of funding for these networks after a fellow academic raised the subject. The Brunei Gallery at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was also forced to take down a photograph taken by a Saudi artist at their gallery after it was deemed to be insulting to Muslims and Islam...
The way in which universities are being run has been altered to match the wishes of donors. For example, the management committee at Islamic Studies centres at the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh contain appointees picked by Prince Alwaleed, their principal donors. Furthermore, a variety of universities have altered their fields of study in line with the interests and wishes of donors.
Specialist teaching and research centres have been set up with a specific political agenda. For example, the Al-Maktoum Institute, an independent institution which has its degrees validated by the University of Aberdeen, was established in order to disseminate the 'vision' of its primary donor and namesake. Furthermore, when British universities establish Confucius Institutes, an arm of the Chinese government, the curriculum and teaching standard is decided by the regime, with the university required to accept 'operational guidance' from this regime.
On Oxford University's Middle East Centre at St Anthony's College, Simcox writes:
The MEC has received substantial sums of money from sources in the Middle East. The way in which this money has been used means there is a clear risk that donors will seek to influence the output and activities of the MEC. In addition, many large donations to the MEC have been anonymous, creating a lack of transparency. In many cases Oxford has knowingly accepted money from undemocratic states with poor human rights records...Several agreements made between the MEC and donors appear to indicate that funders have sought to influence the centre's output and activities.
With the connivance of the university authorities, the surrender of Britain's cultural independence to both the lure of untold riches and the pressure of intimidation inexorably continues.