University funding needs more of a shake up and less of a Sheikh up...

A leading London college is exposed for its ties to Saudi Arabia and a prominent fanatic. Will they change their spots?

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The familiar SOAS logo adorns their main buildings
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Raheem Kassam
On 15 June 2011 21:59

I'll keep this brief, but I think you'll get a fair idea of what my gripe today is from the title of this piece. SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies (some have other nicknames for it) has been rumbled in a recent report written by my organisation, Student Rights, following a freedom of information campaign led by our advisory board member Robert Halfon MP.

What's is it guilty of this time? Hate-speakers? Anti-Semitism on campus? Market-rate tuition fees (perish the thought)? No. What we've uncovered at SOAS is symptomatic of the wider moral corruption prevalent within contemporary British universities.

As Martin Bright reports for the Jewish Chronicle, SOAS has taken nearly a million pounds from the Saudi Royal Family in recent years, as well as having taught one of Gaddafi's sons English in a private tutoring course. But that's just the half of it. 

While we know that the Saudis are gross human rights abusers, most recently violently squashing protests in Bahrain, there is another chilling detail. On the SOAS Qu'ranic Journal Editorial board is a man so depraved and contentious that over 2,500 Muslim scholars have spoken out against him, signing a petition declaring him persona non grata in Muslim communities. This man is banned from the United Kingdom, banned from the United States and banned from Israel for views which include endorsing the killing of homosexuals, wife beating, and suicide bombing. This man is Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

And yet there he sits, clear as day, on the Editorial board of a "respectable" journal for a "respectable" university in a Western, democratic country.

So here's the university's response:

“Professor Yusuf al-Qaradawi and some other editorial advisers from the Middle East only advise on the Arabic section of the Journal, and not on the English section. His academic peers and Muslim scholars in the UK and across the globe consider him to be one of the most outstanding scholars of the Quran in the Arabic and Islamic world. No political or other consideration was involved in asking him to be on the board.”

Of course. If you want to know the Qu'ran, ask a man who endorses the slaughter of pregnant women and encourages jihad, right? Wrong. SOAS makes the claim that this man is revered, but in reality, he is nothing like an Islamic scholar.

So why is he on the board? We can't be sure, but given Qaradawi's close ties to the Saudi regime, you'd be excused for thinking that their pumping hundreds of thousands of pounds a year into the Journal at SOAS might have something to do with it.

Take a look at the report for further details, but when you consider the levels of (increasing) funding, the gifts received, the fact that Qaradawi is on the Editorial board and various other incidents highlighted, you'll soon see that the picture being painted of British academia is distressing and depressing.

If SOAS really believes in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, gender equality, freedom of expression and taking a stand against those who violate these principles, it should terminate the relationship with the Saudi Royal Family immediately.

Heads must roll on this one.

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Let SOAS know what you think by e-mailing comms@soas.ac.uk and support Student Rights here.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator, director of Student Rights and he tweets at @raheemjkassam.

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