Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) sent a letter yesterday to university President John J. DeGioia expressing concern about the donation and asking whether the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has ever produced any reports critical of Saudi Arabia.The financial gift at issue comes as no surprise, many members of the Prince's family are Georgetown alumni. Surely many Congresspeople have given money and endowed institutes at institutions of higher learning near and dear to their hearts? Frank Wolf himself praised his undergraduate alma mater, Penn State, in the Congressional record.
Wolf has been critical of Saudi Arabia and what he calls its influence on U.S. affairs for some time. His letter to Georgetown states that the Saudi government has financed activities that is suspected of supporting Islamic militants and extremists. He asks for assurances that the center "maintains the impartiality and integrity of scholarship" befitting a great university. - The Washington Post
From December 2005, when the gift was given, until January 2006, Frank Wolf was in the majority in the House of Representatives. During that entire time, he expressed no concern with a center promoting dialog and understanding. During a period when he actually had some power to wield, he chose to fund people in other states to look at online porn instead. In 2005 and during the 2006 election season, the fear of terrorism and Islamic extremism was a much larger concern than it is today, so why is Congressman Wolf only raising this issue now? Could it be that in the six years he was in the majority after 9/11 he simply did not notice the Center at his Law alma mater, and it was only brought to his attention when faced with Judy Feder, his strongest Congressional challenge ever?
Frank Wolf's critique of Georgetown is a rather ham-fisted and nativist attempt to rally the most fearful and xenophobic of his 10th District base. The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding has been around since 1993. The center's naming gift was given by Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal in December 2005, who simultaneously endowed centers for American studies in Cairo and Beirut. In effect, Frank Wolf has criticized a gift from a Saudi Prince who has gone out of his way to try to promote understanding of America in the Muslim world!
What is most interesting is Frank Wolf's concern about the mission and integrity of Georgetown University. Let us take Frank Wolf at his word for a moment and examine how the Center matches with the goals of the University.
Georgetown University can be seen as having three mandates, one academic, one social and one religious. Georgetown has an academic mandate, to promote the education of our citizens and provide qualifications of the highest order to its graduates (like Frank Wolf, LAW '65). Georgetown also has a social mandate, to promote the quality of public discourse and understanding as the top-ranked University in our nation's capital. Finally, Georgetown University, as a Catholic university, has a religious mission, to further the values and goals of the Church from the unique perspective of an American liberal arts institution.
Dialog between Christianity and Islam is a goal of the papacy and the world church.
"The best way forward is via authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, based on truth and inspired by a sincere wish to know one another better, respecting differences and recognizing what we have in common," [the Pope] said in an address at the Directorate of Religious Affairs. - CNNThe church is striving to improve and expand discussion with the Muslim world. The Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown is an agent of that goal. Georgetown University itself has history of promoting religious dialog and understanding with the goal of peace.
In April 2006, Georgetown University, the Comunità di Sant'Egidio, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Catholic University of America cosponsored an international interreligious conference on peace, "International Prayer for Peace 2006, A Meeting of Peoples and Religions in the Spirit of Assisi," annually organized by the Community since 1987, the year after the Prayer for Peace called in Assisi by Pope John Paul II. The Comunità di Sant'Egidio has established a network of friendships between representatives of different faiths and cultures from more than seventy countries, promoting an annual pilgrimage that has taken place throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. - Georgetown UniversityIt is unclear how Frank Wolf, an alumnus of Georgetown Law, could have misunderstood the fact that Georgetown is a Catholic institution with a strong liberal arts tradition of inter-community dialog and understanding, dedicated to peace and cooperation. It is amazing that Frank Wolf cannot see that Georgetown is not only following its academic mission in promoting education about Islam for its students, it is not only following its social mission in promoting dialog between two cultures with such difficult history, but it is also following its religious mission, as promoted by the Pope himself!
Furthermore, Frank Wolf ought to have a care how he concerns himself with the outcomes of donations. If it is fair game to criticize a world-renown University for how it may be influenced by donations, can we not also ask a Congressman how he deals with those who give him campaign contributions?
If Frank Wolf can ask if Georgetown has ever criticized Saudi Arabia, we should ask the Congressman for examples of criticism of Defense contractors (SAIC - $10,000, Raytheon - $3,250. Electronic Warfare Associates - $3,000), or real estate companies (Long & Foster - $2,800, Allen Properties - $2,598, Peterson Companies - $2,500, NV Commercial - $2,300). Indeed, such donations have a far more deleterious effect on our polity than any Center promoting international dialog. For example, poor oversight of Congressman Wolf's government contractor friends has a direct impact on the quality of our criminal investigations. And five years after Enron, some more of Frank Wolf's friends were accused of cooking the books, and defrauding investors of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Frank Wolf's criticism of Georgetown University is either the basest of political grandstanding and pandering, or else manifest, willful ignorance and hypocrisy. Neither are worthy of the 10th District. Thankfully, we will have a choice in November, and can send Judy Feder to Congress in his place.
(Crossposted from Leesburg Tomorrow.)