For various reasons, some quite innocent, many Western universities are keen to establish Islamic Studies programs on their campuses. And for various other reasons, some quite pernicious, Islamist organizations are keen to see Islamic Studies programs established at Western universities. To this end, allegedly to foster "understanding" of Islam, the latter are eager to establish Islamic Studies programs with boodle of such heft and shininess that salivating committees tasked with the decision of whether to accept or refuse the gift throw caution to the winds. But closer inspection of certain controversial donor groups might suggest that their real agenda is twofold: Islamist colonization of the institution, and image-laundering.
One such potential scenario may be in progress at Huron University College, an affiliate of Canada's prestigious University of Western Ontario (UWO). Huron offers undergrad degrees in a variety of majors, as well as post-baccalaureate and professional degree programs in theology. The College has recently accepted a $2 million endowment for a new Chair in Islamic Studies within the College's historically Anglican Faculty of Theology. Most of the money will be provided by the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) and the Virginia-based International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). The IIIT contribution amounts to around half the endowment.
On April 5, a group of twenty-six UWO "alumni, friends and faculty" signed a letter protesting acceptance of the endowment. The letter, addressed to Trish Fulton, the interim principal of Huron, was written by UWO Associate Professor of Economics John Palmer. Palmer begins by forthrightly setting out the group's belief that "it is extremely ill-advised of the College to accept funding from any organization implicated in violent jihad." These are strong words. But they are backed by strong arguments.
The letter points out that although MAC and IIIT pay lip service to the notion that they are moderate and democratic organizations, in both cases their approach is guided by "the approach of Imam Hassan Al-Banna [who] best exemplifies [a] balanced, comprehensive understanding of Islam." Indeed, MAC boldly states as much on its website.
Hassan Al-Banna is the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The MB is universally acknowledged as the root of modern Arab-Muslim fundamentalism, and the source from which al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups draw their inspiration and validation. The MB's motto is: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qu'ran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope." The captured 1991 Brotherhood strategic plan for Canada and the US declares:
The process of settlement is a 'Civilization-Jihadist Process,' with all the word means. The Ikhwan [MB] must understand that their work in America is kind of a grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house.
The letter to Fulton lays out the IIIT's disturbing background in some detail:
Two examples of IIIT's involvement with terror: In 2003, Shaykh Taha Jabir al-Alwani, a co-founder and former president of the IIIT, was cited as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the trial of Sami al-Arian, an Islamist activist who served a 57-month prison sentence in the United States for conspiring to channel funds to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a designated terrorist group in the United States and Canada. In pleading guilty, al-Arian admitted that he knew that the PIJ engaged in suicide bombings and other "horrific and deadly acts of violence" against the people of Israel.
Jamal Barzinji, founding member and current vice-President of the IIIT, has likewise been implicated in funding for terrorists. In a sworn affidavit filed in 2003, a senior special agent with the United States Customs Service testified: "I believe that Barzinji is not only closely associated with PIJ as evidenced by ties to Al-Arian...but also with HAMAS.
Fulton replied to Palmer's letter two days letter. She wrote that the "funding was approved by our Executive Board after a thorough due diligence process...[which] included reviewing the outcomes of the various decisions that were before the U.S. District Courts dealing with IIIT and its members...."
Curious to know what in this case constituted a "thorough due diligence process," I arranged for a telephone interview with Fulton, which took place on April 27. At the outset of our conversation, to make it clear that I was not calling with any motives of entrapment, I informed Fulton that I was not speaking to her in my capacity as a weekly columnist with Canada's National Post newspaper, but as a freelance writer engaged to write an article for Campus Watch, a media organ whose mandate was known to her.
I asked Fulton if Palmer's letter had given her pause or in any way persuaded her to review the decision to accept IIIT's and MAC's funding. She said that the letter did not come as a complete surprise, but that "we were not naïve" about the issues, and had no regrets.
I asked her what constituted "due diligence." Fulton said they had "reviewed the court decisions on allegations" against IIIT and its principals. They had also reviewed the experience of Temple University (alluded to in Palmer's letter). To my question of whether she felt the beliefs and principles of MAC and IIIT were "compatible with your values," she replied a prompt and firm "yes." I asked the question again, stipulating that by "your," I meant "Huron College." Again, she replied, "Yes, they are."
Elaborating, Fulton explained that for Huron, due diligence extends only to the "activities of the donors," adding, "We don't probe deeply into values held by donors." Huron, she said, is "concerned about the legitimacy and the civic presence" of donors, but "not the views they may hold on a wide variety of cultural issues." In Fulton's view, it is only a group's "actions" that would "compromise the academic pursuit."
As reported elsewhere, Canadian lawyer and Huron University College Executive Board member Faisal Joseph appears to have played an important role in the due diligence assessment. This role may have included the making of determinations about the pertinence of related US legal proceedings and the significance to be attached to an absence of such proceedings. Joseph, a noted member of Canada's Muslim community, is a controversial figure who participated in a January 2008 conference in Tripoli, Libya, a gathering sponsored by the World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a creation of Libya's Gaddafi regime. (In early May, its Canadian branch, WICS-Canada, saw its Canadian charity tax-status revoked over concerns of radicalism and possible financial links to the foiled 2007 JFK International Airport bomb plot.)
Huron's budget was $12 million before the $2 million endowment, so the temptation was obviously great. But given the sulphurous fumes arising from IIIT's history, associations and stated beliefs (not to mention probable "actions" in terms of abetting terrorist entities), Huron's decision not to assign an ethical dimension to the principle of "legitimacy" in performing their due diligence is disturbing.
For according to this curious strain of logic, an endowment designated for a course of studies in Western civilization, donated by white supremacists who had no history of actual jail time, would also meet Huron's standards for acceptance. But of course that would never happen, because the "legitimacy and civic presence" of white supremacists is a non-starter in our society. And yet the analogy is not impertinent.
As noted, Fulton was familiar with the case of Temple University, summarized in Palmer's letter: "In 2008, Temple University refused $1.5 million in funding from the IIIT for a chair in Islamic Studies. University President Ann Weaver Hart explained in a statement that Temple University had decided not to act on "this generous offer" by the IIIT, "until post-9/11 federal investigations of the IIIT are complete."
But Temple's case is by no means unique. Fulton and her committee might also wish to ponder a case of attempted Islamism-linked funding at Harvard University Divinity School (HDS), a gift that was accepted and only reversed after strenuous efforts by a few determined activists. The case should also be studied by the twenty-six signatories to Palmer's letter. For as it makes clear, once universities have accepted these gifts, they are loath to reverse their decision, and in Harvard's case did not do so without unrelenting and widely publicized protest.
Here is the story in brief. In 2000 the Harvard Divinity School received an endowment of $2.5 million for the creation of a chair in Islamic Studies from anti-American, Holocaust-denying Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, thirty-three-year ruler of the UAE. Zayed had been frequently condemned by human rights organizations for such abuses as starving a slave ring of Bangladeshi children for competitive advantage as coerced camel jockeys, a fact that had to have arisen during the due diligence process.
Controversy over the endowment only arose in 2002, however, when a spunky HDS graduate, Rachel Fish, met with dean William A. Graham, presenting him with a seventy-page indictment of Sheikh Zayed, requesting that the dean eschew funds from sources that promoted anti-Semitism. Fish founded a group, Students for an Ethical Divinity School, created a website, "Morality not Money" and, when the dean did not respond to her urgings, raised public awareness through the press in a years-long campaign of research-sharing with the general community.
Like the pharaoh in the Exodus story, Graham would not budge. In a bold gesture, Fish accepted her diploma from Graham with one hand, and with the other handed over a 130-page dossier of documented evidence against Sheikh Zayed, as well as a petition with 1,500 signatories expressing concern to Harvard's administration.
In the end it was not Harvard that terminated the endowment, but the UAE that decided to close the Zayed Center, citing activities by the Center that "starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance." Harvard cracked; they put the funds on hold with a promise of further assessment. Under media pressure, Sheikh Zayed also cracked. He requested the funds be sent back.
Another case in point is Hartford Seminary (HS) in Connecticut (alluded to in Palmer's letter). HS boasts the oldest Islamic Studies program in America. Several of its faculty members endorse and promote Islamist views, most notably Ingrid Mattson, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
A year ago HS accepted a $1-million gift from the IIIT. The money will be deployed in strengthening an Islamic Studies program that is deeply at odds with classical liberal principles of untrammeled academic inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. The troubling nature of the courses is well fleshed out in the published narrative of Andrew Bieszad, a Catholic HS graduate with a master's degree in Islamic Studies. Bieszad's thoughtful chronicle of his 2007-2010 sojourn in HS' allegedly mainstream program reveals a harrowing portrait of Islamic privilege run amok.
Here, for instance, is Bieszad's account of what transpired during a class in "interfaith dialogue":
I had done interfaith dialogue before, so this was not a new experience for me. We were separated into groups for the dialogue, and when I was permitted to speak, I said, 'I am Catholic, and I do not believe in Islam.' Following me, one of the Muslim students spoke. She said that she was Muslim, and then she addressed me directly. In a soft, Arabic accented voice, she told me, 'You are an infidel because you do not accept Islam' and that 'according to Islam you do not deserve to live.' A second Muslim student heartily agreed, and after repeating the first student's comments, she added that 'in Islam, the Koran and the tradition of the prophet are very clear about this' and that 'you deserve to die.'
This was one of several publicly-made threatening statements and insults that I would receive from Muslim seminary classmates for my open disagreement with Islam.
Not a single student, Muslim or non-Muslim, spoke up for Bieszad's right to express his opinion without intimidation or censure. In class,
Non-Muslim students and even professors showed a disproportionate respect for Muslim students when speaking about Islam, would not criticize certain matters, and even apologized for asking questions. Muslim students, on the other hand, were free to speak critically and even condescendingly about Christianity without any objection from my classmates and professors.
Islamic proselytizing literature was made freely available to students, but when Bieszad inquired about dispensing Christian materials, he was refused on the grounds that it would be "offensive to Muslims." These examples are a few of many crimes against the principle of free academic inquiry universities are pledged to support. A full reading of Bieszad's sojourn through this – I hardly know whether Kafkaesque or Orwellian best describes it – scholastic bordello will make the hair on the neck of any self-respecting critical thinker rise in fearful disbelief.
Bieszad's troubles were compounded when he sent a private email to a blogger friend in which he mentioned one of his professors, Ingrid Mattson, (then) president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The context of his remark was recent events in the news surrounding Mattson, ISNA, and "its indictment by the federal government over terrorism charges." The blogger published the email, and Bieszbad was essentially excommunicated. He eventually got his degree by the proverbial hook and crook.
Bieszad concludes that "The greatest threat to Islamic studies today is that the intellectual freedom that characterizes the Western approach to scholarship will be abolished if the discipline operates in accordance with Islamic principles."
Huron College was incorporated on May 5, 1863, as UWO's founding college. The responsibility to protect a venerable institution's good reputation should weigh very heavily on those tasked with vetting would-be donors. If the unsettling ideology to which MAC and IIIT openly subscribe is not a deterrent to collaboration with them, the numerous fiascos attached to donors representing Islamism-linked sources in other jurisdictions I have mentioned, as well as many I have not, should act as cautionary tales.
But then again, why should institutional leaders, hungry both for money and for the social capital they accrue nowadays from promoting Islamophilism, feel the need for caution, when so few of their constituents protest their feckless disregard for their institution's academic honor?
Notable in the story of Harvard Divinity School was the absence of support for Fish's efforts amongst faculty (exactly one member supported her), fellow Jewish students, and the Muslim student population at HDS, many of whom Fish knew personally from classes. The latter acknowledged that the source of the funds was tainted, but according to Fish argued, "We can do good things with bad money."
Can institutions do good things with bad money? Perhaps, if the people giving the bad money acknowledge that it is from a bad source, and dedicate it to the institution's purposes with no strings attached. But here is the real problem with bad money: Once it has been accepted, the bad-money group's name is inextricably linked with the good-reputation institution that accepts it. The bad-money people have gained international legitimacy through this donation, and thenceforth the good-reputation institution's name will be bruited forth internationally as a guarantor of the bad-money group's legitimacy. Isn't the good name of a university worth more than $2 million? Isn't the good name of a university...priceless? This is a question UWO must consider with extreme prejudice to its own interests and integrity.
In the case of Huron College, Palmer's letter of protest to Fulton is a good beginning. But he and his twenty-six signatories should have no illusions about the battle before them, which is part of a greater war that must be fought campus by campus. The war will be long and hard. In their battle, Palmer and his supporters will encounter apathy or hostility. Most mainstream media will ignore them or worse, denounce them as Islamophobes. But they have thrown down a gauntlet from which they cannot in conscience retreat.
 Another affiliate of UWO, nominally Catholic Kings College, is extremely invested in its own Abrahamic-inspired interfaith project, The Centre for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim Learning. There is reason to fear that Islamism may be a problem there as well, as prefigured in the case of the neon "Tughra" to which I devoted a column in September 2007: http://www.barbarakay.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=118&catid=1%3Anationalpost&Itemid=1
 The IIIT home page sports the rather curious motto: "Towards Islamization of knowledge and reform of Islamic thought." The first half – which has the virtue of candor – articulates the inherent danger in accepting funds from IIIT. The second half, if conceived in good faith, stands in contradiction to the first half.
 Idem, p 113
 Academics Against Israel and the Jews, ed by Manfred Gerstenfeld, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2007), p. 111