The Last Man Standing

Once affectionately heralded as a bastion of democracy, Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi has become a castaway – albeit in the eyes of the media. The alumnus of the London School of Economics was once esteemed in such glowing terms as “one who looks to democracy, civil society and deep liberal values for the core of his inspiration” in the words of the academic David Held. This moniker it appears no longer holds for the son of the Ruby anniversary dictator of Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, especially in the wake of his “rivers of blood” speech.

This love hate relationship between the West and Arab leaders is nothing new. What is however novel and regrettable is the manner in which the young Ghaddafi’s Alma Mata – the London School of Economics (LSE) has reacted in the wake of the scandal surrounding his allegedly plagiarized PhD thesis. Expectedly, in academia, plagiarism is a word infrequently used as the word “cure” is to oncologists when describing possible treatments for cancer. According to reports Saif Ghaddafi received his doctorate degree (Ph.D.) from the university in 2008; supervised and examined by the esteemed scholars Lord Desai and Prof. David Held. As a show of good gesture, Saif Ghaddafi pledged £1.5 million in support of the LSE’s work at the Centre for the Study of Global Governance – £300, 000 of which has already been obliged.

Fast forward to the year 2011. Libya is in crises. Saif al-Islam Ghaddafi is about his business – the obedient son of a sit tight dictator – defending his nation’s honor and right to sovereignty. Out of the blue reports (not from within LSE) and as yet unproven, allege that Saif Ghaddafi plagiarized some parts of his doctoral thesis without attribution to the Geography Professor, Joe Painter at Durham University. Predictably the LSE has been quick to save it skin; or more succinctly put its “stellar reputation”. In an interview with BBC, Lord Desai quickly moved to distance himself and absolve the LSE from blame in the issue, saying at the time the LSE issued the doctorate, Saif Ghaddafi merited it. My fear is that although the LSE has vowed “get to the bottom of it” in very witty Brit terms; in opinion its reputation may have hit rock bottom by failing to out rightly debunk these allegations of plagiarism plaguing one of its former students – as it should.

And this is why. The role of any university in the society is to among other core tenets; imbibe in its student’s the gospel of scholarly uprightness – which qualifies them – worthy in character and learning. In return, the institution owes its alumni a moral responsibility to stand by them and its institutional honor in the wake of scandals such as the unproven allegations against Saif Ghaddafi or risk losing its reputation. Instead the school has fanned the flames stating as quoted by a NYTimes article; where it voiced the regrettable “reputational damage” caused by its association with the Gaddafi name. In other words, the LSE not only apologizes for associating with the Libyan but also albeit unknowingly (and regrettably I would imagine), admitted Saif Ghaddafi may indeed have plagiarized his doctoral thesis. Perhaps all doctoral theses from the school should be reviewed against this backdrop.

This unwilling admission by the LSE presents a legal issue; one I believe the Saif-Ghaddafi team will gladly argue in the law courts very soon. At least that is what I will do. What I see is another clear case of Western Hypocrisy; it is okay to take his money – donations and good will – and leave him in the cold when the going gets tough. What respectable university does this? True his country is immersed in crises; his father a shameless genocidal dictator; and his nation a once unrepentant sponsor of terrorism but that has nothing to with Saif Ghaddafi’s doctoral thesis. Until the LSE finds him guilty they have no right – no right I say again for emphasis to throw him to the pack of wolves that is the media. The LSE states in the same NY Times article that it will divert his “donation” to a soon to be established scholarship fund for North African students – shameful.

My fear is that by trying to salvage its “good name” the school has dented its image. The LSE must quickly act to salvage its precious reputation and that of its future alumni by first asking itself some critical questions. This self assessment must answer among others the following; what upright institution of higher learning jumps unto mere allegations from blogsites and nameless commentators about the scholarly integrity of alumni? Shouldn’t the school be advising other about this? Most importantly, what kind of institution accepts money from a well known dictatorial regime to “research” Global Governance of civil society organizations or whatever it termed its raison d’être for accepting the donation. The maxim “bad is bad; soiled money is stains” obviously does not hold sway in the British Universities; preferential treatment is meted out to the highest bidder. How else do you explain the fact that the university accepted donations from the son of a dictator fingered in Pan Am Flight 103 saga and an alleged sponsor of terrorism?

Perhaps the West is easy to forgive; quick to accept donations from dictatorial regimes; bank deposits in Switzerland or blood monies for social research and offer safe havens to leaders of such nations in a bid to make its world a better place. This is all wrong. Western nations and institutions like the LSE must stop displaying double standards in its dealings. A better way for the LSE to salvage its name in the face of such allegations in the future will be to first off debunk such allegations and then properly investigate the matter before meting out appropriate retribution. Whoever will be the last man standing in this saga remains to be seen; my hope however is that commonsense prevails; so that perhaps, in the future we may have no doubts about whoever “esteemed scholars” choose to eulogize as persons “who look to democracy, civil society and deep liberal values”. The horn blowing antics of these so called esteemed scholars must be righted; a spade, called by its name; and a rejected stone relegated to the abyss where its kind resides in isolation!

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