Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Hypocrisy at Harvard

In what can only be described as blatant hypocrisy, Harvard University wants to disallow military recruiters on its campus (while still receiving federal funds) because of their "don't ask don't tell" policy toward any recruit's sexual orientation. Harvard is a member of the Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, Inc. (FAIR) a group of 14 law schools that banded together to challenge the Solomon Amendment--that law provision that gave the government the ability to deny funding to those schools disallowing military recruiting. From

Given the military’s current exclusionary policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” for gays in the armed forces, the law schools asserted that military recruiters, insofar as they knowingly and openly violated the long-held anti-discrimination precepts of the schools, would be unwelcome at recruitment events.
There is, however, another side to this sad story.
In the same weeks that Harvard waited for high court’s response to the FAIR appeal, good fortune smiled on the institution with the announcement of a $20 million gift from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. The express purpose of the prince’s contribution, in his own words, is to “bridge the gap between East and West, between Christianity and Islam, and between Saudi Arabia and the United States.” The prince, reputed to be the world’s fifth richest man and chairman of the Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding Co., has been intent on “bridging the gap” for some time now. He was, it may be remembered, the same individual whose intended $10 million gift to families of 9/11 victims was returned by then-Mayor Giuliani after the prince off-handedly mentioned that the U.S. had to “reexamine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause . . . Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.”

Lest anyone doubt what side of the Palestinian-Israeli debate Alwaleed comes down on, one could point to yet another donation he made in 2002. During a government-sponsored, live-broadcast telethon for the benefit of Palestinian families of suicide bomber “martyrs,” which eventually raised $100 million, the prince himself made a pledge of $27 million to help show Saudi support for the Palestinian cause.

Politics aside, the prince’s donation presents a thornier ethical issue for Harvard. Considering the school’s strenuously professed commitment to equality, how is it to justify taking a major gift—and agreeing to set up an entire Middle East research center—from a donor who is a member of the ruling family of a repressive, totalitarian, sexist theocracy? The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that Harvard Law School could not abide on the part of the military is a triumph of civic tolerance compared to Saudi laws against homosexuality. In the prince’s homeland, homosexuality is a capital crime and accused homosexuals have been not only shunned but also beheaded. Shari’a law allows punishment for “deviant sexual behavior” ranging from imprisonment and flogging to death, and the self-appointed guardians of Saudi sexual mores do not hesitate to put it into practice. As a result, the country has seen the conviction by a Jeddah court of alleged transvestites, while thirty-one men suffered 200 lashes each and multi-month prison terms. Four other men in the incident received two years imprisonment and 2,000 lashes.

Still another characteristic of the prince’s totalitarian society should offend Harvard’s commitment to academic inquiry and free expression. This would be the virtual ban on any “non-conforming” speech on the part of teachers; in Saudi Arabia, apostasy is also a capital offense, and teachers who question religious dogma are at risk. This past November, for example, a high school chemistry teacher received 750 lashes and over three years in prison from a Saudi court for engaging students in discussions about Christianity, Judaism and terrorism. Similarly, in 2004, a Riyadh court permanently banned one Muhammad al-Sahimi from teaching. He received three years in prison and 300 lashes for “endorsing allegedly un-Islamic sexual, social and religious practices.”
Why would an institution sitting on a $25.9 billion endowment feel the need to pander to such ideologies?

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