The Bridge to Shariah Initiative

How Much More Influence Will His $32 Billion Gifts Buy Him?

The Bridge Initiative, a project of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, has attacked a recent online survey of 600 Muslims in the United States that was commissioned by the Center for Security Policy (CSP). Its transparent purpose is to obscure or otherwise deflect attention from an ominous reality: This poll, like several others conducted previously, established that significant numbers of those polled embrace practices enshrined in the Islamic supremacist code, known as shariah – practices that are antithetical to the U.S. Constitution, the freedoms it enshrines, the public safety and even the national security.

Consider the Facts

The Alwaleed bin Talal Center’s attack on the CSP poll focuses, first and foremost, on the methodology used to canvas attitudes within the Muslim community. Specifically, it cites a quote from the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) to support its dismissal of the findings of this poll.

In so doing, however, it ignores the fact that the AAPOR has also stated: “There are times when a nonprobability online panel is an appropriate choice, as there may be survey purposes and topics where the generally lower cost and unique properties of Web data collection is an acceptable alternative to traditional methods.” At the recommendation of its opinion research firm, The Polling Company, the Center for Security Policy concluded that the opt-in online survey method was the “appropriate choice” for polling a population in the United States as relatively small as the Muslim community.

Such opt-in online surveys have been conducted by a number of reputable firms including Harris Interactive, as well as such prominent clients as Aetna, Yamaha, and the New York Giants. They have also been a staple of media reporting, including on a variety of controversial subjects such as perceptions of media bias and policy views on gay marriage, government surveillance and drone strikes.

Beyond a disagreement with methodology, however, the attack goes on to assert flatly This survey does not represent the views of American Muslims.” [Emphasis in original.]

The Alwaleed Center supplies no research or data to support such a claim – the more remarkable for an organization finding fault with others’ opinion research. Moreover, there is considerable evidence available from other sources that substantially confirm the findings of the CSP/Polling Company poll. Some of those sources utilized other sampling techniques than the online opt-in method.

For example, in 2007, a public opinion survey of Muslims in the United States conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 26% of younger Muslims believe suicide bombings are justified. The same poll found that Muslim-Americans who identify more strongly with their religion are three times as likely to feel that suicide bombings are justified. It also found that 5% of American Muslims have a favorable view of al-Qaeda, and that 26% of U.S. Muslims wanted to remain distinct, as opposed to being assimilated into the U.S.

A 2011 Pew Research poll replicated that last result, and also found that one in ten native-born U.S. Muslims have a favorable view of al-Qaeda, and, for the record, that Muslims in America were four times as likely to say that women should not work outside the home, that 49% said they were “Muslim first,” and that 21% said that there is a fair or great amount of support for Islamic extremism in their community.

In 2012, a Wentzel Strategies poll found that 58% of Muslim-Americans believe criticism of Islam of Muhammad is not protected free speech under the First Amendment.

And in 2013 Pew Research found that 19% of American Muslims believe suicide bombings in defense of Islam are at least partially justified.

These data reinforce the key finding of the Center for Security Policy/Polling Company survey: While most of those polled indicate a different view, non-trivial minorities of the respondents subscribe to jihadist beliefs and practices that, if acted upon, would constitute a potential threat to the nation and/or its people.

Consider the Source

The question occurs: Why does the Bridge Initiative at the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding deride one of the sources of such troubling evidence and dispute the obvious, alarming conclusion to be drawn from it?

The truth is that the Alwaleed bin Talal Center is not a credible source for “understanding” Muslims or their faith. It has, from its inception as the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU) at Georgetown University, been led by Dr. John Esposito. Esposito has been described as “a magnet for Arab and Muslim money.”

That may explain the myriad contributions Esposito has made to misunderstanding in his area of putative expertise. Notably, renowned Middle East scholar Martin Kramer once said that he “more than any other academic, contributed to American complacency prior to 9/11.”

In his many Islamic apologetic works and speeches over the years, Esposito has argued that democracy had been defined by “a world hegemonic discourse of Western cultural imperialism.” As a result, Americans “have to transcend their narrow, ethnocentric conceptualization of democracy” in order to understand the “Islamic democracy that might create effective systems of popular participation.” “Most” Islamic movements had decided that violence was “counterproductive,” he argued, and instead “speak of the need to prepare people for an Islamic order rather than to impose it.”

As a result, Esposito claimed, the violence of the 1980s would diminish and disappear, and instead “the nineties will prove to be a decade of new alliances and alignments in which the Islamic movements will challenge rather than threaten their societies and the West.” In the event, Islamic leaders on whom he “pinned high hopes” did nothing of the sort. Instead, they sought to promote shariah domestically and serve the cause of jihad against the dar al-Harb (the House of War or non-Muslim world).

A further concern is the fact that, under Esposito’s direction, the Alwaleed Center has “developed questionable ties to individuals and organizations directly involved in Islamic terrorism.” Esposito himself has expressed “vocal support and praise” for his self-described “good friend“, now-convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami Al-Arian, whom he called “[o]ne of the most impressive people I have met under fire.” Al-Arian is listed as a researcher at the Center, where his son and family spokesman Abdullah Al-Arian serves as well.

John Esposito has also praised Muslim Brotherhood senior jurist Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whose support of suicide bombing (including against American troops in Iraq) has revealed him for the jihadist figure he is – a reality that resulted in his being barred from entering the United Sttates. Esposito actually served with Qaradawi and multiple other Muslim Brotherhood figures on the steering committee of the Brotherhood-associated Circle of Tradition and Progress.

Likewise, in July 2000, the Alwaleed Center held a joint conference with the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR), publisher of a journal for which Esposito served on the Board of Advisory Editors. Not six months before, UASR had been singled out by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee as a front group for the designated terrorist group Hamas. The committee described in detail the group’s founding by the head of the Hamas Political Bureau and its employment of Hamas financiers. The committee also found that the UASR was “providing a headquarters for Hamas operatives in the United States,” and cited its publication of works “extolling the imminent victory of Hamas over the Jews.” In fact, Esposito’s “co-chair for the conference was then-UASR executive director Ahmed Yousef, who fled the United States in 2005 to avoid prosecution and currently serves as the spokesman for the HAMAS terrorist organization in Gaza.”

Additionally, Esposito was an advisory board member of Institute of Islamic Political Thought led by known Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas operative Azzam Tamimi. Esposito also has close ties to the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), part of the Safa Group Network of Muslim Brotherhood linked organizations raided by law enforcement over suspicion it was providing material support for Hamas and another designated terrorist group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In 2005, the controversial Georgetown Center on Muslim-Christian Understanding was renamed in recognition of a $20 million gift from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud. Prince Alwaleed has been an enabler of Islamic supremacist causes and organizations around the world. He achieved international notoriety when then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned a $10 million check bin Talal contributed after 9-11 because it was accompanied by a press release that – while it denounced the attack – implied that U.S. policy had caused it. He explicitly called on the United States to “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance towards the Palestinian cause,” and claimed that the charge that “[o]ur Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.”

At the time, Esposito defended the Prince’s remarks, saying Alaweed was “trying to give people the context in which this [terrorist attack] occurred.” Since then, the Saudi billionaire has been linked to attempts to sanitize presentations of Islam and its supremacists in America’s K-12 education as well. Indeed, his Center at Georgetown is listed as an educational consultant and the principal researcher and textbook-reviewer for the Council on Islamic Education (CIE), which former Education Secretary Bill Bennett has accused of badly slanting K-12 educational materials in a pro-Islamic direction.

In addition to Georgetown University, bin Talal has also given generously to Harvard University and other academic institutions. Part of its influence operations aimed at academia involve items authored and posted by the Alwaleed Center’s staff like “Why We Need the Islamic Call to Prayer at American Universities.”

Bin Talal has also invested heavily in the Western media, including through his ownership of sizeable shares of AOL Time Warner and NewsCorp (the parent company of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post). He even owns a chunk of Twitter. Interestingly, investigative journalist Deborah Weiss entitled a recent report on the launch of the Bridge Initiative “Tweeting Islamist Propaganda,” skewering its “strange amalgamation of radical leftist politics and support for Islam.”

Finally, the Alwaleed bin Talal Center has collaborated with one of the most prominent of the U.S.-based Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas-tied organizations: the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). For example, in 2007, the two influence operations jointly conducted a workshop just two months after federal prosecutors named CAIR an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF).

At the time, the HLF was the largest Muslim charity in the United States. It was shuttered after five of its principals were convicted of material support of terrorism after funneling more than $12 million to Hamas.) The joint event with CAIR was entitled “Islamophobia and the Challenge of Pluralism,” which ultimately became the name of Esposito’s next book. (Interestingly, the web page for the conference has been removed).

For all these reasons, the Alwaleed bin Talal Center’s critique of the Center for Security Policy and the poll of the recent, alarming opt-in online sample of Muslims can be seen for what it is: a manifestation of a wealthy Saudi prince’s influence operation designed, not to increase “understanding,” but to promote disinformation and suppress information at odds with the Islamists’ agenda. With the revelation today that Prince Alwaleed will be giving away his $32 billion fortune to various organizations and causes, it must be expected that we will soon be facing vastly more effort along these lines. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-07-01/saudi-arabia-s-prince-alwaleed-pledges-to-give-away-32-billion)

In short, a more honest depiction of the Bridge Initiative at the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding would be to call it the Bridge to Sharia Initiative.