For various reasons, some good, many Western universities are keen to establish Islamic Studies programs. And for various other reasons, the same is true of Islamist organizations -which tend toward a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. To this end, with a professed goal of fostering "understanding" of Islam, the latter offer hefty financial endowments to universities.
Some critics worry that such a scenario may be in progress at Huron University College, an affiliate of University of Western Ontario (UWO). Huron offers post-baccalaureate and professional degree programs in theology. The College recently accepted a $2-million endowment for a new Chair in Islamic Studies within the College's historically Anglican Faculty of Theology. About half the money is to come via fundraising facilitated by the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), and the other, matching half from the Virginia-based International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). A cofounder of the latter group was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2007-2008 trial of Sami al-Arian, an Islamist academic linked to jihadism.
On April 5, 26 self-identified "alumni, friends and faculty" of the university signed on to a letter written by UWO associate professor of economics John Palmer, protesting acceptance of the endowment (Google "electecon, islamic chair" for the full text of the letter). In it, Palmer contends that although MAC and IIIT claim they are moderate and democratic organizations, their approach is influenced by Imam Hassan Al-Banna, founder and even decades after his death still ideological guru of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), who, according to the MAC website, "best exemplifies [a] balanced, comprehensive understanding of Islam."
In Egypt and elsewhere, the Muslim Brotherhood often presents itself as tolerant in its outlook. Yet it has radical roots. A 1991 memorandum written by one member of the Muslim Brotherhood Shura Council proposed that Muslim settlement in Canada and the United States be viewed as 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." To my knowledge, neither principals of MAC nor of IIIT have ever distanced themselves from or denounced this pernicious statement.
University campuses, marinated in political correctness, sometimes have provided propitious terrain for advancing radical goals. In the U.K., the London School of Economics was recently humiliated by revelations of a Gaddafi-linked donation facilitated by Gaddafi's son, while in the United States, the names of Temple University, Hartford Seminary and Harvard University Divinity School have all been besmirched by their leadership's surrender to the blandishments of Islamism-linked donors.
In a telephone interview, I asked Dr. Fulton if Palmer's letter had given her pause regarding collaboration with MAC and IIIT. She responded that "we were not naive" about the issues, and had no regrets. I asked her what due diligence had been performed. Fulton said the executive board members tasked with due diligence (notably including lawyer Feisal Joseph, who spearheaded the campaign to punish Mark Steyn and Maclean's magazine for critical writings on Islam through Human Rights Commission censure) had "reviewed the court decisions on allegations" against IIIT and its principals."
To my question of whether she felt the beliefs and principles of MAC and IIIT were "compatible with [Huron's] values," I received a prompt and firm "yes." Dr. Fulton elaborated: "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 Dr. Fulton's view, it is only a group's "actions" that would "compromise the academic pursuit."
Huron's budget is $12-million, so one can appreciate the putative additional $2-million dollars' allure. But Huron's narrowly legalistic interpretation of "legitimacy" is disturbing. For according to this curious strain of logic -and I do not believe this analogy is impertinent -an endowment designated for a course of studies in Western civilization, donated by groups with a professed ideological connection to other groups that contained white supremacists, but with no history of actual jail time, would also meet Huron's standards for acceptance.
The leaders of UWO should give this issue more consideration, for the stakes are high: If prof. Palmer and his co-signators are correct, then this controversy might affect the good name of the university -something worth far more than $2-million. Something, in fact, priceless.
- This column is a shorter, edited version of an essay written for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. The full text is available at campus-watch.org.