Losing Veritas

I recently learned that Harvard Divinity School accepted money from the President of the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, for the creation of an endowed professorship in Islamic Religious Studies. As a student of Islam, I was pleased that the Divinity School sought to expand its scholarship of religious studies to Islam. However, upon detailed research I discovered that the man donating the money, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, was involved in egregious acts that I could not condone and toward which I could not remain indifferent.

As ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Zayed is responsible for his nation’s poor human rights record, which includes, according to Amnesty International, corporal punishment of dissidents, lack of democracy, and the use of child slave labor in the camel racing industry. Zayed also funds the “Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up,” the major think tank of the Arab League, in Abu Dhabi—described on its website “as the fulfillment of the vision of Sheikh Zayed.” The Zayed Centre holds regular lectures and symposiums, and produces publications that spew anti-Jewish and anti-American rhetoric. American extremist Lyndon LaRouche told an audience that the United States was involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Umayma Jalahma, a Saudi professor who has declared, “The Jewish people must obtain human blood so that their clerics can prepare for holiday pastries,” was invited to speak at the Zayed Centre. Atallah Hannah, spokesperson of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, was invited by the Zayed Centre to deliver a lecture in which he praised Palestinian suicide bombers.

Not only does the Zayed Centre promote intolerance and hatred toward America, Jews and Israel, but it also attempts to deny the atrocities of the Holocaust and allows individuals such as notorious Holocaust deniers David Irving and Roger Garaudy, a forum to promulgate their propaganda.

In August 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Zayed Centre’s executive director, Mohammed Murar, proclaimed, “the truth is that the Jews are the enemies of all nations.” This followed the publication of a Zayed Centre report stating, “the Zionists are the people who killed the Jews in Europe.” Recently the Zayed Centre published and promoted the Arabic translation of Theiry Meyssan’s Appalling Fraud, which claims that the U.S. military was behind the September 11 attacks.

It is appalling that an extraordinary institution like Harvard would accept money from an individual who does not condemn outrageously slanderous speech and libelous writings promulgated by those representing institutions that he founded and can control. Harvard would never accept money from an individual who has connections with the Ku Klux Klan or other racist organizations that demean women or homosexuals. So why is it acceptable for Harvard to accept money from a man who does not recognize the legitimacy of an entire nation, religion, culture, tradition and people? During a time of rising anti-Jewish rhetoric within Europe, the Arab world and even in our prestigious universities, it is imperative that we acknowledge the realities in which we live.

Zayed made his donation in 2000. The acceptance of the money brings immediate concerns regarding Harvard’s policies governing endowments and its apparent lack of investigation of sources. To state that all money is tainted is merely apologist and begs the larger issue of ethics. Harvard deserves a modicum of credit for not having rushed into the naming of a recipient of the endowed chair and for launching research into the source of this gift. It is, however, too little and too late. The investigation should have occurred three years ago and lacking that occurrence, a report from the Dean to the president of the University should expeditiously have been made. Of course, the current dean inherited this quandary; the resolution, however, remains his responsibility. The faculty, deans, administration and student body must be held accountable and cannot turn a blind eye—otherwise the pursuit of veritas has been trampled upon. Everyone affiliated with the University has a moral obligation to speak out against hate money at Harvard and call on University President Lawrence H. Summers and Divinity School Dean William A. Graham to return Zayed’s donation.

Harvard is a place in which the motto veritas is strewn upon banners, etched within century-old cement and placed upon all hall corridors. The search for veritas is of utmost importance and cannot and should not be relegated to a subordinate position. But the question that exists is whose veritas is heard and acknowledged? Harvard, of all academic institutions, has a responsibility and an intellectual obligation to adhere to this timeless motto that inspires and seduces so many enthusiastic minds.

Throughout the centuries, Harvard Divinity School has evolved and transformed into an institution that espouses pluralism, tolerance, and equality for all religious denominations, races, and genders, not merely white Christian males. Moral leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois and Ralph Waldo Emerson studied at Harvard Divinity School and went on to affect history, society and the study of religion. During my time at this institution, I believed that my studies would be shaped by the thoughts of these principled people as well as the esteemed faculty. Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that Harvard Divinity School lacks the moral clarity that used to envelop the institution, thereby obstructing the path to veritas.

Rachel Lea Fish is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School.