Another grubby payday for Nicki Minaj?

Nicki Minaj

UPDATE: Not long after we posted this story, the New York Times reported that Minaj had cancelled her Saudi Arabia gig.

We last wrote about at length about Trinidad-born songstress Nicki Minaj in 2015, when she was paid $2 million for a single concert in the dictatorship of Angola. As we noted at the time, half of the people of Angola earn so little money that they’d have to work two million days – about 5500 years, which would take you back to the Bronze Age, the very beginning of writing systems, and the introduction of the wheel beyond Mesopotamia and environs – to bank $2 million. Although the Angolan government rakes in a great deal of money from selling oil, munch of that money ends up in the pockets of the ruling family and its cronies; meanwhile, one of the country’s dubious claims to fame is that it has the world’s highest mortality rate for children under the age of five.

Mariah Carey

To be sure, these grim facts didn’t keep Mariah Carey, who’s notorious for taking this kind of dirty money, for accepting a million-dollar fee in 2014 from Angolan strongman Jose Eduardo dos Santos. And although Carey got such bad press for that ethically tinged payday that she ended up apologizing profusely, it didn’t keep Minaj, two years later, from taking an even better deal. Even when human-rights groups challenged her beforehand about having agreed to do the concert in Angola, she went Biblical: “Every tongue that rises up against me in judgment,” Minaj tweeted, “shall be condemned.”

In fact she doubled down: after she reached Angola, she took an Instagram photo with the president’s daughter, Isabel, who, like other relatives of other dictators, has accumulated a fortune by, well, doing not much of anything except being related to the guy at the top. The illicit source of Isabella’s wealth was either lost on Nicki or a matter of indifference to her, because her take on the subject, as expressed in her distinctive manner on Instagram, was as follows: “she’s just the 8th richest woman in the world….GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!!”

Jose Eduardo dos Santos

Motivates her to do what? Become a head of state and fleece her subjects? This is, let it be noted, a woman who, given her sales figures – she’s had seven singles simultaneously on Billboard’s US Hot 100 – must be swimming in so much dough that $2 million can’t possibly be anything more to her than pocket change. Yet, for all the criticism, and despite her efforts to burnish her image by identifying with AIDS and children’ charities, Minaj took dos Santos’s cash.

Mohammed bin Salman

Afterwards, the criticism continued. But the raunchy rapper didn’t learn her lesson. A few weeks ago it was announced that Minaj, at the invitation of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, planned to perform on July 18 at the Jeddah World Fest alongside Steve Aoki, an American DJ, and Liam Payne, a former member of the British boyband One Direction. In a five-page open letter written in response to this news, the New York-based Human Rights Foundation explained to Minaj in some detail the human-rights violations committed by the Saudi regime and urged her to withdraw from the event as an act of solidarity with the Saudi people.

Will Minaj listen this time? Stay tuned.

Selling out the universities

Yesterday we started looking at the phenomenon of American universities taking money from tyrannical foreign governments. What’s striking about these stories is that so many of the universities involved don’t need the dough – they’re among the richest educational institutions on the planet. But they can’t resist the temptation to solicit cash even from the vilest of regimes.

John L. Esposito
John L. Esposito

Take Harvard. It’s the richest college around. As of 2013, its endowment was $32.7 billion. This didn’t keep it, however, from taking money from the House of Saud to endow a Department of Islamic Studies. Georgetown and Berkeley both did the same.

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Esposito’s paymaster, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

These deals, needless to say, always come with strings attached. At Georgetown, the Saudis paid to establish the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding. One of the conditions of this deal was that the Center be run by John L. Esposito, a longtime apologist for Islam who, in one critic’s words, is notorious for constantly making the argument “that Islamic radicals’ depredations stem from societal ills, not Islamic doctrine.” The agreements these universities have made with the Saudis ensure that their Islamic Studies departments aren’t offering their students an objective education in Islam but, rather, a double dose of pro-Islamic propaganda.

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The Sheikh Zayed Theatre at the London School of Economics

As Shaun Tan noted in a 2012 article, “Dangerous Liaisons,” it’s not just American universities that have morally compromised themselves by taking money from autocratic Islamic governments to fund Islamic Studies programs. As of 2012, Oxford’s Centre for Islamic Studies had taken $119 million from “a dozen Middle Eastern rulers,” the London School of Economics’ Centre for Middle Eastern Studies had received “$14 million from the UAE.” The UAE also paid $4 million to endow LSE’s Sheikh Zayed Theatre, “named after the UAE dictator whose foundation funds lectures and publications blaming Zionists for the Holocaust and the U.S. military for masterminding 9/11.” Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh both also accepted millions from the House of Saud, which in turn was allowed “to appoint members to the management committees of their Islamic Studies centers.”

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The cover of the book that Yale censored to placate its Muslim paymasters

In 2009, Yale provided an excellent example of the kind of compromises universities invite when they cash checks from unsavory governments. In that year, Yale University Press a book about the Danish cartoon controversy entitled The Cartoons that Shook the World. But not a single one of the cartoons was reproduced in the book.

Why? Because, as Michael Rubin explained in Commentary, “a top administrator intervened with the nominally autonomous Yale University Press to censor” the book. This intervention, Rubin noted, “coincided with Yale President Richard Levin’s outreach to Persian Gulf funders.”

What became of Levin’s “outreach”? Stay tuned.