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Prince Alwaleed’s Grant Reflects Post-Sept. 11 Effort to Bridge Gap Between East and West

By Dan R. Rasmussen, Contributing Writer

After Sept. 11, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud observed a wedge being driven between his native culture and the United States, he said yesterday in a phone interview from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Educated in the United States at Syracuse University, Alwaleed also has deep financial ties to U.S. companies and said he was shocked and saddened by the Sept. 11 attacks.

He tried to donate to the Twin Towers Fund shortly after the attacks, but then-Mayor of New York Rudolph W. Giuliani rejected the donation after Alwaleed issued a statement arguing that the U.S. “must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack.”

Alwaleed later wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times stating that he “reject[s] the notion that any person or any cause can justify terrorism.” But his statement came too late.

But Alwaleed said he was not discouraged.

“It was a misunderstanding,” he said. “Life goes on. I’ve always believed in the United States system and the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. and Islam and Christianity.”

Alwaleed then started focusing his philanthropy on promoting education in both cultures.

“The world of academia is the best way to handle the whole thing,” he said.

Alwaleed first established centers for American studies at the American University in Beirut and the American University in Cairo, and then started thinking about creating Islamic studies programs at universities in the United States.

After soliciting proposals from top American universities, Alwaleed formed a selection committee a year ago to choose which schools would receive donations.

Originally, he said, he planned on creating only one center. But after the committee spent a year studying and visiting colleges, he decided to give to both Harvard and Georgetown.

Georgetown received a $20 million grant on the same day as Harvard.

“I want to bridge the gaps between the East and the West between Christianity and Islam and between Saudi Arabia and the United States,” he said. “Who is better to do this than Harvard and Georgetown?”

The gift agreement was finalized in November, said Donella Rapier, Harvard’s vice president for alumni affairs and development.

“I believe they were attracted to Harvard because of our considerable strengths in this area, which provides a very strong base to build upon,” she said.

Alwaleed said he visited Harvard when he was deciding where to complete his masters degree, but chose Syracuse because they allowed him to fulfill his requirements from Saudi Arabia.

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