Deborah Solomon interviewed Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal in NYT Q: You just gave $20 million to Harvard and another $20 million to Georgetown to advance the study of Islam, and some are concerned that you are trying to increase the on-campus influence of the Saudi royal family, of which you are reportedly the single wealthiest member.
I don't have control, and I don't want control. Period. They approached us with a proposal. Harvard, Georgetown, University of Chicago, University of Michigan and several of the Ivy Leagues.
But your investment company, Kingdom Holding, invited the schools to submit the proposal, didn't it? Whom else did you approach?
Please. Keep the other universities out. I'd rather not embarrass them. The two winners were Georgetown and Harvard.
Then why did you just name University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and refer to several of the Ivy Leagues?Since you're said to be worth more than $20 billion, with major holdings in Four Seasons Hotels, Saks Fifth Avenue and Murdoch's News Corporation, why not give an unrestricted gift instead of such a narrowly focused one?
The gift is unrestricted!
No, it's not. It has to be spent on Islamic studies. Georgetown is renaming a center after you, and Harvard is naming a program after you.
Well, sure! The studies that concern me and fit my overall global vision - they're Islamic studies. As you know, ever since 9/11, we have been trying to bridge the gap between West and East.
Then why support Islamic Studies. Why not fund a study to bridge the gap between West and East, and focus it on how to stop Saudia Arabia from exporting its Extreme Wahabi version of Islam?Which has backfired at least once. You became notorious in New York when Mayor Giuliani declined to accept a $10 million donation from you to victims' families after you suggested that the U.S. was too friendly with Israel.
By the way, my check was taken to the bank and cashed. The problem was with my statement. I accepted that. Subject closed.
Subject reopened. The money was returned to you. Have you told Harvard, as you told the City of New York, that the U.S. needs to "adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause"?
Let me tell you my position. We need to have good relations between the Arab world and Israel. When I sold my Plaza Hotel in New York, it was sold to Elad, which is an Israeli company.
Doing business with the citizens of a country is not the same thing as believing in that country's right to exist.
We are doing so many things to bridge the gap between Christianity and Islam and Judaism. For example, at my hotel in Paris, George V, you are going to find the Christian Bible, the Jewish Bible and the Islamic Koran in each single room.
That is nice for France. How about making sure that every hotel in Saudi Arabia also has all three holy books?That's a wonderful idea, but a luxury hotel in Paris is a long way from Saudi Arabia, where you could surely spend more money on Judeo-Christian studies.
Look. You have to understand that the population of Saudi Arabia has zero Christians.
That is because your religion police beat anyone caught with a bible, and they burn the bibles.That's the point. Why shouldn't you should spend your millions educating your own students before you educate kids at Harvard?
Obviously, it could be something we are contemplating.
Are you going to teach them to respect other religions. Remember We are all "People of the Book" (or ahl al Kitâb) Surat Al 'Imran, 64 (Qur'an 3:64) says "O People of the Book! Let us rally to a common formula to be binding on both us and you: That we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than God."Are you spending any money in Iraq?
So far, I am investing nothing. Zero.Very simple. I have investments in 150 nations, but I will not invest in Iraq until they have political tranquillity and a functioning government.
But where will they get money to rebuild?
Uncle Sam. The United States is spending like hell over there.
Why don't you help us?
If I go there right now and say, "I want to build a hotel," they will laugh at me. You need schools and hospitals and the airport, and then after, you can talk about the hotels.
Then build schools and hospitals.You find the situation very volatile still?
You have not done a very good job there. After 9/11, the U.S. needed to have a big revenge, and Saddam Hussein was a sitting duck. The U.S., with its huge ego, needed to have something big and dramatic.
That's not what I would call a bridge-building sentiment.
You have to understand. I am a friend of the United States, and these days to be in the Arab world and to be a friend of the United States is a liability. But nevertheless I say it. I am a great friend.
With friends like you, who needs enemies?