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March 07th 2011 print

Merv Bendle

The LSE and the Dictator

All of this has occurred because Western universities have enthusiastically grabbed at the vast flood of petro-dollars channeled into the West to influence and ultimately subvert the intellectual life, culture, and politics of Western societies.

LSE and Libya-Gate: The implications for Australia 

The catastrophe engulfing the London School of Economics because of its ill-advised linkages with Muammar Gaddafi’s increasingly murderous regime in Libya has many elements. These include its extensive and mutually beneficial relationship with the regime, despite its long-term sponsorship of terrorism and its kleptomaniacal character; LSE’s acceptance of large amounts of funding for dubious purposes from Gaddafi; its agreement to train hundreds of members of the regime’s future ruling elite; its awarding of a PhD to Gaddafi’s son, and suggestions that all of this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the corrupting effects of the massive flow of oil money into British universities over the past decade. 

LSE’s dealings with Gaddafi have led to the resignation of the director of the LSE, Sir Howard Davies. While clearly implicated in the scandal, Davies also appears to be a scapegoat sacrificed by the institution in hope that this will satisfy its critics. This ploy has failed and there are now calls for the entire board to resign, and an official inquiry has been announced. 

One of the most extraordinary things about the affair has been the enthusiastic endorsements of the regime provided by Lord Anthony Giddens, the extremely influential ex-director of the LSE; the theorist of New Labour’s ‘Third Way’ and mentor of Tony Blair; and pre-eminent sociologist. Giddens has dominated sociology in Australia and Britain for decades, producing innumerable books on every conceivable topic, as well as one of the major textbooks undergraduates are required to pretend they read. 

As various commentators have remarked, what makes Giddens involvement all the more perplexing and personally damaging is that, unlike the others caught up in the scandal, Giddens appears not driven by political or business interests but seems to have been a ‘true believer’ in Gaddafi, who he once remarked “cuts an impressive figure”. 

In a Guardian article in 2007 Giddens declared that

as one-party states go, Libya is not especially repressive. Gaddafi seems genuinely popular. Our discussion of human rights centred mostly upon freedom of the press. Would he allow greater diversity of expression in the country? … Well, he appeared to confirm that he would. 

Giddens believed that Gaddafi is essential for Libya’s future:

If he is sincere in wanting change, as I think he is, he could play a role in muting conflict … My ideal future for Libya in two or three decades’ time would be a Norway of North Africa: prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking. 

A former New Statesman editor has claimed that Giddens laid “the intellectual foundations of a modernised centre-left position” in British politics. As another commentator has asked: “How can someone be so utterly wrong about Libya and still be right on Britain?”, or for anywhere else, for that matter.

The judgment of others amongst the LSE leadership in its dealings with the Gaddafi regime was so appalling that it attracted sharp criticism not only from sensible people but also from leading figures of the far left, who have otherwise always felt comfortable at LSE. Even the Marxist-Leninist and apologist for despotic regimes, Fred Halliday, who was a professor of international relations at LSE, saw that the associations were a mistake.

He intervened at a meeting in October 2009 of the LSE governing council which discussed whether to accept a donation of £1.5 million from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, controlled by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the playboy son of the dictator.

Saif Gaddafi is very well connected, as his Wikipedia page points out. He

has been hosted at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle by the British royal family. Gaddafi claims that former Prime Minister Tony Blair is a personal friend who took an interest in advising Libya on oil revenues and finance. In 2009, he spent a weekend at Waddesdon Manor, home of financier Jacob Rothschild, 4th Baron Rothschild, where he was the guest of Lord Mandelson and Nathaniel Philip Rothschild. He later stayed at the Rothschild holiday home in Corfu. Nathaniel Rothschild was a guest at Saif’s 37th birthday celebration in Montenegro.

Saif was studying for a PhD in political sociology at LSE’s Centre for the Study of Global Governance, which promotes the notion that economic globalization requires forms of global government – led by global bodies like the United Nations and advised by intelligent folk like those at LSE and the enlightened scions of miscellaneous well-heeled despots. It is now called LSE Global Governance and it is staffed by leading scholars of the left.

The topic of Saif’s thesis was “The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?” It is a typical example of the type of thing produced by academics and wannabe academics who think they should be running the world.

Halliday warned that accepting the money would taint the LSE’s reputation. However, his concerns were dismissed by David Held, a critical Marxist, professor of political science, and director of LSE Global Governance, who warned that refusal would cause “personal embarrassment” to Saif Gaddafi, who, of course, must be spared such things.

The views of Halliday (who has since died) were ignored and he was privately declared to be a difficult person and an excessive drinker. Held therefore won the day and LSE accepted the money. Saif Gaddafi received his PhD. It is now subject to allegations that it was largely ghost-written by a political consultancy, materially assisted by Tony Blair and other contacts, and otherwise plagiarized, with a detailed analysis of this posted on the Internet.

One of the thesis examiners, Professor Meghnad Desai (who founded the Centre for the Study of Global Governance) has expressed bemusement at the all the fuss, blaming it all on hindsight: “No one at [the time] said there were problems of authorship or plagiarism with the thesis. It was only after bullets started flying in Libya that his thesis was subjected to an online investigation for plagiarism, and Gaddafi was found to have cheated”. Lord Desai apparently didn’t think it was one of the responsibilities of an examiner and presumed expert in the field to identify the originality or otherwise of a PhD thesis.

Lord Desai also feels that there is no legitimate basis for any suspicion about the acceptance of the donation and the awarding of the PhD: “The conflation of these two separate facts is made to look like the LSE giving the degree in return for a quid pro quo”. Indeed.

Desai also fulminates that “It is now also claimed that the PhD was not only plagiarised but that some people at the LSE knew that it was so. As one of the two external examiners of the thesis, I can only say that we were never informed of this by his supervisors or anyone else”. Again this raises questions as to what role Desai thought he was playing as an examiner. As a man of principle, Desai concedes that “If it is found to be the case, then strict measures will have to be taken by the University of London about the degree awarded”. Apparently he doesn’t see that any of this has any implications for him.

Held has also issued a statement distancing himself from Saif Gaddafi, lamenting that his ex-pupil failed to choose the path of global governance that his centre promotes. In an interview he also said that “Watching Saif give that speech – looking so exhausted, nervous and, frankly, terrible – was the stuff of Shakespeare and of Freud: a young man torn by a struggle between loyalty to his father and his family, and the beliefs he had come to hold for reform, democracy and the rule of law” … Oh, alright, let him keep his PhD then.

“When I first met Saif, he was struggling with himself and his place in the world, in the context of his family. By the end of his time at the LSE, he had discovered a deep commitment to liberal democratic reform of his country.” This “deep commitment” seems to be expiring, along with the lives of thousands of Libyans.

Aside from this academic scandal, the decision has backfired spectacularly at the political level, with Saif Gaddafi appearing on video on the streets of Tripoli brandishing a semi-automatic weapon, and declaring that the regime would “fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet” to preserve its grip on power, while denouncing the rebellion as a foreign plot. If the rebels don’t accept a ‘reform’ agreement offered by Gaddafi then “we will not be mourning 84 people, but thousands of deaths, and rivers of blood will run through Libya,” he said. 

All of this has occurred because Western universities have enthusiastically grabbed at the vast flood of petro-dollars channeled into the West to influence and ultimately subvert the intellectual life, culture, and politics of Western societies. This issue has been of concern to a number of commentators for a considerable length of time, and I have discussed it in some detail in the Australian context in several articles since 2007, for which I received legal threats and death threats. 

It has now been taken up in a British context by Stephen Pollard in a recent article in The Telegraph. As Pollard points out: “British universities have received hundreds of millions of pounds from Saudi and other Islamic sources – in the guise of philanthropic donations, but with the real intention of changing the intellectual climate of the United Kingdom. 

Between 1995 and 2008, eight universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London, the LSE, Exeter, Dundee and City – accepted more than £233.5 million [AUD$375 million] from Muslim rulers and those closely connected to them”, and “while figures since 2008 have yet to be collated, the scale of funding has only increased: such donations are now the largest source of external funding for universities by quite a long way. 

Most of this funding has gone to so-called ‘Islamic Study Centres’, with, for example, the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies receiving £75 million [AUD$120 million] from a dozen Middle Eastern rulers. The Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at LSE received £9 million [AUD$14.5 million] from the United Arab Emirates alone, and its board is now pushing for a boycott of Israel. 

Such activity illustrates the true nature of this funding and of the centres it is used to establish – they are expected to be principal promulgators of propaganda for the despotic regimes that support them, usually derived from the ultra-reactionary Wahhabi ideology that is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and highly prominent throughout the Islamic world, thanks to the strategic use of colossal amounts of oil money. 

This is, of course, not admitted by either the donors of the university recipients, who all adhere to the party-line that their only goal is to promote a better understanding of Islam in the West. However, as Pollard points out: “A study of five years of politics lectures at the Middle Eastern Centre at St Antony’s College, Oxford, found that 70 per cent were ‘implacably hostile’ to the West and Israel”. The world-view presented at such centres is “almost exclusively anti-Western”. 

Various centres of Islamic Studies have been established in Australia, including the multi-campus Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies, based at the University of Melbourne, Griffith University and the University of Western Sydney, and funded initially by the federal government. 

As an example of its approach, in 2010 it published Learning From One Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian Schools with the Australian Curriculum Studies Association. This denounced Australia as a racist country and demanded that all Australian school students should be taught positive aspects about Islam and Muslims, while deliberately downplaying any suggestion that Muslims are involved in terrorism on a global scale. Free seminars are available for teachers, to “provide avenues for you to introduce Islam- and Muslim-related content in your classrooms” and “equip you with the skills to meet the needs and expectations of Muslim students”. Inevitably, this attracted some sharp and well-deserved criticism. 

At the moment, there appears to be no evidence available that Australian universities have allowed themselves to be embroiled in a scandal of the scale achieved by the LSE. However, that may not be because of any ethical principles they may or may not possess, given the extreme pressure they are under to access external funds. It may simply be because the opportunities have not come their way … yet.