Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal--million dollar benefactor of Middle East studies programs at Harvard University, Georgetown University, and beyond--spoke at Harvard this past Wednesday. The prince touts himself as a model of liberalism in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia--in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he advocated for reform among Middle Eastern monarchies in response to the demands of the "Arab Spring"--and he has always claimed that his funding for Middle East studies in the U.S. springs from nothing more than a desire to promote cross-cultural understanding.
Yet, as the following excerpt from this Harvard Crimson article reveals, the underlying reason for his largesse likely has more to do with promoting a positive image of Islam in the West. Hence the whitewashing of Islamic history that routinely occurs in the programs he funds and via the professors, such as Georgetown's John Esposito and Harvard's Ali Asani (both are quoted in the article) whom he has tapped to direct them:
For Alwaleed, the donations were intended to promote an international dialogue between Islamic nations and the West, according to Asani. The initiative began as an effort to combat Islamophobia after September 11.
'The whole idea behind these centers is to bridge gaps and bring people closer together. In the end, it's about breaking misconceptions,' said Nadia H. Bakhurji, secretary general of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation. 'Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how much publicity we do, in the end, there is such an anti-campaign against Islam in general in the world.'