THE HIGH-profile decision of the board in Trinity College to ‘dename’ the Berkeley Library has attracted plenty of attention. Goldhawk wonders why there isn’t the same level of concern being expressed in Trinners about the Al Maktoum Centre for Middle East Studies, funded by a foundation linked to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.
The links between Trinity players and Dubai have caused headaches in the past, most notably former chancellor Mary Robinson’s high-profile, ill-advised photo opportunity with the Dubai royal family’s troubled Princess Sheikha Latifa.
Current chancellor Mary McAleese also developed ties to the region courtesy of her involvement in the Bussola Institute, a Brussels-based think-tank and lobbying operation set up to promote ties between the EU and the powerful Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Almost four years ago, the Al Maktoum centre was established on foot of what was described as “a generous donation”, although the actual size of the cheque from Sheikh Mohammed’s Al Maktoum Foundation has never been revealed.
A college press release at the time noted: “It is intended that the scope of the academic activities and collaborations will go beyond the School of Languages and will be University-wide.”
Then provost Paddy Prendergast lost the run of himself, saying the donation from the foundation “comes at a time when society in Ireland must seize the opportunity to enhance the role which all can play in a pluralistic society”.
Given the hardline regimes in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – where homosexuality, for example, is punishable by imprisonment (for up to 10 years in Dubai), while women’s rights are curtailed – pluralism is not what springs to mind. Human Rights Watch has criticised the UAE for its “sustained assault” on freedom of expression, its leading role in the Yemen war disaster and its treatment of migrant workers.
It is this latter issue that is most apposite in the context of the Berkeley Library denaming. According to the self-congratulatory press release issued last week, Trinity provost Linda Doyle and the board “decided that the continued use of the Berkeley name on its library is inconsistent with the university’s core values of human dignity, freedom, inclusivity, and equality”.
This begs the question, therefore, when will the Al Maktoum Centre for Middle Eastern Studies be denamed, given the opprobrium heaped upon Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum and the explosive ruling by London High Court judge Andrew McFarlane that al Maktoum had “ordered and orchestrated” the abduction of two of his children.
The shady sheikh is also prime minister of Dubai, the economic powerhouse of the UAE, which hosted the Dubai Expo last year to “enhance the country’s international reputation”.
In reply, the International Trade Union Confederation issued a statement, headlined “End slavery in the United Arab Emirates”, in which it highlighted the fact that “migrant workers made up 90% of the UAE’s labour force, toiling under working conditions that many have called ‘modern day slavery’. The UAE is also a haven for companies who attack workers’ rights.”
Last year too, the New York Center For Foreign Policy Affairs published a report, Modern Day Slavery in Dubai, noting that “systems like the kafala sponsorship system within the UAE give freedom to employers to act with impunity”.
It seems strange then that the Trinners board has opted to dename the library named after an 18th century philosopher rather than the Centre for Middle East Studies named after a family that is today linked to an array of human rights abuses, including, most inconveniently, modern-day slavery.
But then no one in the Berkeley Library is chucking suitcases of cash at the college.