The late Fred Halliday, the stellar and courageous scholar of Muslim worlds who died last year, tried to convince LSE, where he taught international relations for many years (and was Director-Designate of the LSE Middle East Centre, 2006-2008), not to take one-and-a-half million pounds from the Qaddafi Foundation. The excellent international site Open Democracy, with which I have been associated for the 10 years of its existence, just ran his dissenting 2009 memo urging the school to turn down the grant.
Halliday wrote prophetically and with an analytical acumen vindicated by recent developments:
Much is made by supporters of the [Qaddafi Foundation] grant of the fact that Libya is changing internally. This may or may not be the case—it is simply much too early to say. Certainly, the overwhelming balance of informed press conference, and the reports of human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, is that while some of the worst excesses have, for the moment ceased, Libya has made no significant progress in protecting the rights of citizens, or migrant workers and refugees, and remains a country run by a secretive, erratic and corrupt elite. Perhaps part of the problem here is a misunderstanding by colleagues of the role of the ‘liberal’ wing within such states. It is not a question of whether or not they are “sincere”—they may well be—but of what their function is: in Libya, as in such states as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran the primary function of such liberal elements is not to produce change, but to reach compromises with internal hard-liners that serve to lessen external pressure. So it has been, since 2002, with the various Libyan initiatives affecting LSE and the UK/US foreign policy establishment in general.
While acknowledging that Qaddafi had made accommodations on nuclear weapons, Halliday, who knew Libya well, cautioned that “tactical changes in foreign policy are not, for the purposes of evaluating political and academic links, sufficient.”
A good number of authoritarian governments in the Middle East (and elsewhere) have made grants to American universities. All are deeply problematic, to put it mildly. Let LSE’s Libya scandal send a message to universities everywhere: Transparency is a prerequisite of the academic process. And: Let the grantee beware.Return to Top