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Anwar at Georgetown: A Case Study in the Shaping of Expert Opinion

Anwar's affection for and ties to the most influential Muslim Brotherhood cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, are also extremely well-known to those paying any attention at all--that would be "Hitler didn't finish the job" Qaradawi; that would be "I encourage the mutilation of women's genitals" Qaradawi; that would be "Rape victims should be flogged" Qaradawi... Wouldn't you think Georgetown would be wary of inviting such a speaker to present the views of "moderate Muslims" about the Muslim Brotherhood?



Ricochet
February 17, 2011
Washington, D.C.

Prompted by Harlech's question, I want to offer some thoughts about why we're having a serious debate in America now about the Muslim Brotherhood's aptitude for "moderation."

I should say that his comment seems to have annoyed quite some number of Ricochet members, but I appreciated it. I have a better sense now of what many outside of the small community of American Ikhwan-watchers must be thinking: "Surely the people who are calling the Muslim Brotherhood moderate, or otherwise benign, couldn't be that wrong? They are, after all, experts, no?"

Those of us who follow the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood closely keep smacking our foreheads in bewilderment at these blithe pronouncements, unable to comprehend how this could be a matter of debate at all. There are serious debates to be had about the Ikhwan, but they're not debates about whether they're moderate. They are debates about how powerful they really are--in Egypt, for example--and what their strategy is apt to be at a moment like this, which appears to have caught them by surprise as much as it has everyone else. These are questions worthy of debate and difficult to answer.

That we're having a serious discussion, however, at high levels of our foreign policy establishment, about whether the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate should be seen not as a sign that those who say they are might be right, but as a symptom of a pathology in our foreign policy apparatus. It's important to recognize just what has happened to our intelligentsia--our experts, in other words--and to evaluate what they're saying in this light.

One part of it, a plain fact that's poorly appreciated but demonstrably true--not a conspiracy theory at all--is that the Saudis and other Gulf regimes have poured breathtaking amounts of money into American universities and think tanks since the 1970s. The Saudis spend $4 billion per annum to promote a particular view of Islam. This exceeds the Soviet Union’s budget for foreign subversion during the Cold War. A mind-boggling amount goes to funding America's top-tier universities, and of course this has an influence.

Now, I am not claiming that the Saudis have made explicit conditions for the receipt of this money, but I am certainly claiming that people are human. I'm not pure. Ricochet has financial backers, too, and you sure won't find me going out of my way to criticize them. When you're talking about Saudi money, though, it doesn't just all balance out in some big marketplace of competition for influence--they have enough to make whole university departments appear overnight. Or disappear, a fact that will weigh particularly on the mind in a recession.

Let's look at just one example--Georgetown. In 2005, Georgetown accepted a $20 million donation from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, whose money was contemptuously rejected by Mayor Giuliani in the wake of the September 11 attacks. This was used to finance Georgetown's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. (Muslim-Jewish understanding wasn't a priority, I guess.) What does it do with this money? Well, for example, it hosts symposiums such as this one, in 2007: “Islamophobia and the Challenge of Pluralism"--co-host, CAIR.

In 2008, Representative Frank Wolf asked wrote to Georgetown to ask whether “the center has produced any analysis critical of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for example in the fields of human rights, religious freedom, freedom of expression, women’s rights, minority rights, protection for foreign workers, due process and the rule of law.” Georgetown president John DeGioia didn't answer the question directly, but said instead something quite important:

Our scholars have been called upon not only by the State Department, as you note, but also by Defense, Homeland Security and FBI officials as well as governments and their agencies in Europe and Asia. In fact, a number of high ranking U.S. military officials, prior to assuming roles with the Multi-National Force in Iraq, have sought out faculty with the Center for their expertise on the region.

Do you see what might ensue from this? Mitchell Bard has provided the most patient and detailed account I've seen of the amount of money flowing from the Gulf to our universities in The Arab Lobby, which I reviewed here--behind the firewall, alas. That's a book that should have forever put paid to the idea that it's the Israel lobby running the show, but that idea, alas, dies hard.

So let me point out something that happened recently at Georgetown that should give you a feel for things. This past week, Anwar Ibrahim visited Georgetown for a discussion titled "Revolution and Democracy in the Muslim World." He argued there--and this was widely reported in the media--that the United States shouldn't fear the Muslim Brotherhood. It should rather "engage them," because it was "crucial to support peoples' choices in the Islamic world."

First let's start with the assumption that the Muslim Brotherhood is the peoples' choice in the Islamic world. That alone is an insane and unsupported assertion; we have no evidence of this. A lot of Muslims I know are terrified of them. The idea then goes cheerfully unchallenged in conventional wisdom, although I dare say these Malaysian women would find the idea quite remarkable.

But that's not even the main point. The main point is the way Georgetown billed this speaker. Do you not feel it would have been minimally responsible, since the media covered this event and policy makers no doubt paid attention to it, for Georgetown to have mentioned that where the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned, Anwar is not neutral? That he himself co-founded the IIIT, a major Muslim Brotherhood think tank in the United States? Don't you think it might be relevant to note that the Justice Department named the IIIT as unindicted co-conspirators in a crucial terrorism-financing case involving the covert channeling of funds to Hamas through the Holy Land Foundation? Or perhaps they might have mentioned that the survivors of September 11 sued the IIIT for “rendering material support to radical Islamism?” None of this is a secret; it has been widely reported.

Anwar's affection for and ties to the the most influential Muslim Brotherhood cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, are also extremely well-known to those paying any attention at all--that would be "Hitler didn't finish the job" Qaradawi; that would be "I encourage the mutilation of women's genitals" Qaradawi; that would be "Rape victims should be flogged" Qaradawi; that would be "Kill pregnant Israeli women because their unborn children are future soldiers" Qaradawi. And Anwar's anti-Semitism is so notorious and vulgar that the B'nai Brith has begged US officials to cut ties with him. Wouldn't you think Georgetown would be wary of inviting such a speaker to present the views of "moderate Muslims" about the Muslim Brotherhood?

And if they did invite him--out of the sense, perhaps, that universities should promote open debate, even with radicals--wouldn't you think they'd signal something to the media about their guest's intellectual pedigree by means of a word such as "controversial," or "Islamist," or anything, really, but "respected internationally as a leader in interreligious dialogue?"

And you know, Anwar isn't just a one-time guest. He's a distinguished visiting researcher at the university--at the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Do you see how crazy this is? Do you see why our experts might be a bit confused? I want to take pains to say that Georgetown still produces important and valuable scholarship, and that I don't believe this is a plot or a conspiracy. But I do think it's a culture--a culture in which you don't point certain things out or ask too many questions, and at a certain point you don't even realize how strange it is that you're not, because extremism has come to seem mainstream.

It's only one part of the explanation, but it's an important part.


 

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