For a university founded on the socialist principles of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the London School of Economics has lately become quite the sheikh’s haven for blood capitalism. The Times of London has devoted impressive column inches to LSE’s sordid relationship with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the scion of a Saddam-style crime family and lately the polished spokesperson for that family’s simulated Second Life, wherein everyone loves a dictator and only Nescafe-poisoned Al Qaeda agents are upset. LSE happens to be Saif’s alma mater -- he studied “civil society,” of all things, though he now appears to have plagiarised his dissertation -- and it has so far received £300,000 out of a pledged £1.5 million from the “foundation” he started in order to pretend he cared about human rights and political reform in Libya.
Sir Howard Davies, director of the university, is shocked and appalled that such a fine young pupil turned out to be so bad:
“I just hope that something gets sorted out in Libya very soon without any more deaths because that is the really horrible thing. All of this other stuff is embarrassment and egg-on-face territory but I keep thinking to myself I’d rather have that kind of egg on my face than to be in a street in Libya with government troops firing on me.”
Which is good of Sir Howard who had previously got the Bank of England to provide “consultancy advice” to Libya and was quite obliging of the British Foreign Office in helping to expand bilateral trade between London and Tripoli. A smart man with other people’s money, you might say. But now that LSE’s Middle East Centre has got some of its own lucre and faces a sustained pressure campaign by its more discerning alumni to hand it all back, Sir Howard has become cagey again:
Although there have been calls for the LSE to surrender all money from Libyan sources, he said that the $50,000 would not be repaid. “It will stay where it is. It may have been spent,” he said.
A formula has been agreed to cleanse the institution of its links. Already £150,000 of the money has been spent on projects to do with civil society in North Africa. Sir Howard said that the LSE would find that equivalent sum from its own resources and use it to pay for that academic work.
That will leave the £300,000, which will be diverted into scholarships.
Why does he not know whether or not $50,000 has been spent? And who in their right mind would accept a Gaddafi-minted scholarship now? That ought to be the first question the Middle East Centre’s board of managers ask themselves if “cleansing” blood money via scholarships is their idea of paying it forward. This board obviously gives a great deal of thought to the money-mouth relationship in the Middle East as half of its members are in favor of an economic boycott of Israel:
Martha Mundy, an anthropologist, is co-convener of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine. John Chalcraft, a politics expert, argued for boycotting Israel in a debate at the LSE last month. The motion was defeated. The centre was set up with £9.2 million which came partly from the Emirates Foundation, which is chaired by the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, a member of the ruling Royal Family. Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister when it was established in 2006, attended the signing of a “memorandum of understanding”.
Students objected to the subseqeunt naming of a lecture theatre in honour of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the late UAE ruler. Their union said: “To name [the theatre] after a dead dictator with suspected links to Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism is completely beyond the pale.”
Professor Mundy is an interesting sort of British academic, a woman who looks as if she might deceive an experienced undertaker into embalming on sight and yet can grow quite visibly animated when it comes to the issue of Jewish statehood and its discontents. She recently chaired an LSE “talk“ featuring Abdel Bari Atwan, a Palestinian newspaper editor living in London who has welcomed the attacks of September 11 as the end of American empire, cheered Saddam Hussein just before he was hanged in Iraq, and said, infamously, that ”If the Iranian missiles strike Israel, by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight.” The purpose of the talk, according to LSE Palestine Society, which coordinated it, was to address the “Zionist lobby in US/UK foreign policy.” In her introduction of Atwan, Mundy enthused, “In May of this year Middle East magazine named Abdel Bari Atwan one of the 50 most influential Arabs. We hope there are more like you among those 50.” Atwan then took the occasion to blame the Jews in the audience for the invasion of Gaza.
I know I risk paying too much special attention to one LSE educator here but I feel that it would be anthropologically deficient of me to point out that at yet another university-hosted debate last year, this one on whether or not a boycott of Israel was legitimate (the motion failed), Mundy was caught on film saying that she'd like to “slap” an attendee who had asked her some difficult questions. Doing so was tantamount to “professional defamation,” she said.
When asked if he didn't perhaps think that such a collection of anti-Israel ideologues was a problem for LSE’s impartiality, Sir Howard told the Times: “The biggest donor to the School in the past year is George Soros, who of course is of Jewish origin. We operate, I believe, a very balanced view.”
Which is probably as excellent a paean to the Webbs as one can find.