An update on London university's Saudi links

The Saudi Arabian Ambassador has responded to a report outlining the links between SOAS, Saudi Arabia and Yusuf al-Qaradawi

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Qaradawi and the King of Saudi Arabia
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James Gourlay
On 22 June 2011 10:03

With the recent explosion of dissent in the Middle East one interesting side affect has been the unveiling of the numerous Western universities receiving funding from autocratic regimes in that region.

In the past week my organisation, Student Rights, and I released a report detailing the financial and academic links that have interwoven the Saudi Arabian government with the School for Oriental and African Studies. The Saudi Royal Family and other organisations closely linked to them have donated £755,000 over four years and have forged strong links with the Islamic Studies department at the university.

In addition, the management at SOAS has been lavished with gifts including, for example, a crystal sculpture of an eagle. And in addition to that rather tasteless piece of decadence, a “set of cufflinks made of Quarter silver Riyals from Arts of Heritage, Saudi Arabia. By way of extraordinary coincidence, SOAS announced in May 2011 a new Research Fellowship with the Art of Heritage.

It has also been discovered that Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who has endorsed suicide bombings and the murder of pregnant women, is on the advisory board of the Journal of Quranic Studies produced by the university.

The malignant presence of al-Qaradawi is horrifying and the fact that despite being banned from the UK and US he remains in this esteemed position shows how corroded the sense of morality at UK universities may have become. 

Al-Qaradawi’s venomous outpourings have not evaded Muslim Scholars. In 2004 over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals signed a petition to the United Nations calling for an international treaty to ban the use of religion for incitement to violence, in which al-Qaradawi was referenced as one such individual doing so. So how, when it is so clear to people from all sides of the spectrum that Qaradawi should be shunned, can SOAS draw him to their bosom?

One should ask if SOAS would allow a Rabbi or a Bishop who had justified the killing of pregnant Muslim women to preside over a Journal of Torah or Biblical Studies, respectively. The answer is of course "no", and this should always be the case. But SOAS clearly does not agree.

Furthermore, it is entirely unacceptable for a man who is not allowed in this country to then advise on the content of academic literature produced here; it is both senseless and callous. It in effect gives him the reach which his banning from the UK is meant to stop. His presence on the advisory board of the journal also lends him significant legitimacy as, despite issues such as the one we are discussing, SOAS is a highly esteemed institution, a compliment which it may no longer warrant if matters are allowed to continue in this fashion.

The only logical and reasonable solution is to remove Qaradawi from his position and end this relationship once and for all.

The Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the UK, HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud, responded to our report in an open letter to members of Parliament stating that: “These donations have been voluntarily made and are a matter of record.  If Saudi money is questionable then following a change in British law we will willingly abide by this and change our policy accordingly”.

This is exactly the point: the money is questionable. Universities cannot take money from tyrannical governments and still claim to be bastions of enlightenment within our free society.

Thus, the responsibility does not in fact lie with the Saudi Arabian regime to change their policy. It lies with our universities to change theirs.

James Gourlay is a Research Assistant at Student Rights: Tackling Extremism on Campuses. He tweets at @jamesg8891

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