Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Money for Nothing

Oct 1, 2007 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer


Money For Nothing?

There has been some controversy over $1 million in Saudi funding for Griffith University’s Islamic Research Unit, following a story in the Australian on Sept. 17. As some have rightfully pointed out, while the University claims this is money supplied with no strings attached, the relevant administrator also implied that research at the centre will focus on issues such as how Muslims are demonised – research the Saudis would approve. On the other hand, there is no indication that there will be much focus on subjects that would embarrass the Saudis – such as the role Saudi funding for Wahhabist mosques, imams, schools and literature has played in helping radicalise Muslim populations throughout the world and creating susceptibility to the religious claims of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.

Moreover, are we really to expect that the Saudis are funding the unit and expecting absolutely nothing in return? They may not demand or receive any formal commitments, but they clearly expect that the money will affect Australian debates – probably both through self-censorship out of gratitude and hopes for additional funding, as well as by providing resources to academic voices already sympathetic to their agenda.

And we should remember that the Griffith University funding is not the only or largest examples of foreign funding impacting Australian universities. For instance, as AIR has reported previously, the ANU’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies (CAIS) received $2.5 million dollars from the brother of the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and the Emir of Dubai in 2000. This “purchased” a name change for the centre, and arguably, a change of academic focus.

What had previously been the Centre for Middle East and Central Asian Studies became exclusively focused on Arab and Islamic Studies, dropping Central Asia, Israel, and the various Middle East minorities from its named areas of research and teaching.

Moreover, the UAE was not the only foreign donor – the centre also reportedly received at least $350,000 from the Iranian government to endow a chair.

The Iranian government doubtless believed that it was supporting a sympathetic voice in Australia. The Centre’s founder and leading light is Professor Amin Saikal, who has travelled to Iran repeatedly, and in his frequent public comments is generally broadly sympathetic to both the domestic and international policies of Teheran.

That’s not just my view. Dr. Robert Horvath, who teaches the history of human rights at Melbourne University, recently discussed Amin Saikal’s role in Australian policy debates in the Age (Sept. 15) in a review of two books on the appalling human rights situation inside Iran. He wrote, “Our [Australia’s] policymaking process is influenced by pro-Teheran intellectuals such as Prof. Amin Saikal, director of the Australian National University’s Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, who claimed in 2003 that ‘the Iranian experiment at least shows that a Muslim country does not have to follow a Western model in order to achieve a civil, virtuous, and decent existence for its citizens.’”

Prof. Saikal and others with similarly extreme views are certainly entitled to express them as part of a robust domestic debate. But do we really need Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates using their oil money to provide such individuals with major megaphones through our universities in order to serve the goals of these authoritarian regimes whose interests are often strongly at odds with Australia’s?


Danse Macabre

Has anyone been following what has been going on between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran of late? Believe it or not, they are engaging in exchanges that go something like this:

IAEA: “You are being cooperative.”

“No, we’re not,” replies Iran.

“Yes, you ARE being cooperative,” insists the IAEA. “You are intentionally slowing progress on your centrifuges to be conciliatory.”

“No, no, no! We are definitely NOT being cooperative,” Iran responds angrily. “We’ve got 3,000 centrifuges up and running.” (Hat-tip: The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs – JINSA – a Washington thinktank, first pointed this out on their website.)

IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei told the New York Times on Aug. 30, even while announcing that Iran had expanded its uranium enrichment efforts in defiance of three legally binding UN Security Council resolutions, that “They could have expanded much faster… My gut feeling is that it’s primarily for political reasons” that the rate was slowed.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad responded by insisting that Iran was pressing forward full speed with its enrichment efforts and added, “The West thought the Iranian nation would give in after just a resolution, but now we have taken another step in the nuclear progress and launched more than 3,000 centrifuge machines, installing a new cascade every week.” This is more than the 2,000 or so centrifuges the IAEA says Iran has.

So what’s going on? Both are actually not talking to each other. Ahmadinejad is ratcheting up the rhetoric against internal enemies critical of his confrontational style by insisting Iran is becoming a global power, the West is finished, and the Hidden Imam is about to return. (See the Middle East Media Research Institute’s excellent report on his recent statements at

Meanwhile, ElBaradei, despite being a UN public servant, is essentially conducting his own foreign policy in defiance of the UN Security Council, leading the Washington Post (Sept. 5) to label him a “rogue regulator” in an editorial. He has spoken of his goal to halt the “crazies” in Washington who “say, ‘Let us go and bomb Iran’” and also repeatedly publicly opposed new sanctions on Iran. His claims that Iran is cooperating according to his “gut” should be seen as part of this campaign.

So should ElBaradei’s other recent announcement of a deal with Teheran to attempt to settle all outstanding questions about the Iranian nuclear program. This deal not only fails to demand that Iran meet its obligations to halt enrichment under the Security Council resolutions, it also does not require Iran to provide access to key people, facilities or documents that are needed to verify Iranian claims about its nuclear activities. All it does is set a new timetable for Iran to address past questions that the IAEA has sought answers to repeatedly over the years. Further, it appears to rule out all further inquiries by the IAEA once these questions are answered, saying that there would be “no more remaining issues and ambiguities” between Iran and the IAEA, even if new information surfaces.

This not only takes the focus off Iran’s ongoing illegal enrichment activities, but seems custom-made to drag out the process and defer any further sanctions on Iran while the agreement is implemented, which ElBaradei says will take at least until the end of the year.

By that point, it may already be too late.



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