The road to treason

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The young Guy Burgess

Guy Burgess (1911-63) lost his father, a Naval officer, at thirteen, went to Eton, and at Cambridge, where he was considered “the most brilliant undergraduate of his day,” became part of a circle of debauched, entitled young aesthetes-cum-intellectuals (including the heir to the Rothschild fortune). While enjoying a louche, lavish life of privilege – garden parties, champagne breakfasts, lunch with E. M. Forster, a weekend chez Somerset Maugham on the Riviera, servants who waited on him hand and foot – Burgess also became a Communist. After joining the Apostles, a “secret society” of leftist, pacifist, atheist, artsy students, Burgess and his friend Anthony Blunt set about packing the club with fellow Stalinists. This wasn’t an isolated phenomenon: it was the early 1930s, and thanks to the Party’s new tactic of recruiting students instead of workers, Cambridge as a whole was turning red: the Trinity Historical Society became Marxist and the Socialist Society affiliated itself with the British Communist Party.

stalin1As Andrew Lownie notes in a recent biography, Stalin’s Englishman, Burgess was expected to have “a brilliant academic future.” But when his thesis in progress was suddenly rendered redundant by a newly published book on the same topic, the trauma was so great that he was put off from pursuing an academic career.

What else could he do with his life? In 1934, he visited the USSR, where his status as a Cambridge Communist gave him access to a number of high-level officials. When one of them showed him a list of books that were being translated into Russian, Burgess – who was more Communist than the Communists – warned that one of the titles on the list, Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit, was fascist. He was so persuasive that the Soviets decided then and there not to translate it after all.

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Writer and journalist Goronwy Rees

Burgess wasn’t one of those Western Communists who viewed Soviet life through rose-colored glasses. Returning to Cambridge, he was honest about the USSR’s appalling housing and infrastructure. His friend Goronwy Rees would later observe that Burgess wasn’t particularly interested in the reality on the ground in Russia. A true academic, Burgess was in love with Communist ideas; whether they worked out in real life was of little or no concern to him.

All that was left was for him to become a spy. His fellow Apostle Kim Philby, who had already become a courier for the Austrian Communists, gave his Party contact a list of Cambridge and Oxford friends who might also be willing to work for the cause. He included Burgess, but put his name at the bottom of his list because he was an “enfant terrible,” a flamboyant type who, Philby suspected, didn’t have the makings of a good secret agent.

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Kim Philby

In the end, Burgess figured out that Philby and their mutual friend Donald Maclean – who had also signed up with the Communists – were involved in something clandestine and exciting and demanded they include him, too. “He must have been one of the very few people to have forced themselves into the Soviet special service,” Philby later said. And so it happened. The Soviet Comintern signed up Burgess, giving him the codename Madchen. He was now one of the men who would come to be known as the “Cambridge Spies.”

More tomorrow.

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.