The Pen and the Saud
On a recent visit to Lakemba, I popped in to one of the larger Islamic bookstores and enquired about texts outlining and explaining different schools of Islamic jurisprudence. The bookseller was keen to help, showing me what he had for sale, and explaining that some books were much cheaper than others because of state subsidies for Islamic texts.
When I asked if he had any brief works on Shi’ism he told me that he didn’t, as his was an Islamic bookstore and Shi’ites are not, in his worldview, Muslims. While he had nothing on the Shi’ites, he had no shortage of books on Christians and Jews, with the consistent themes that the first was simply an absurd faith and the second was the existential enemy of Islam.
The offensive English-language books were printed and published in a number of countries, including Malaysia and South Africa, a fair indication of the extent of the problem of anti-Jewish hostility.
When doing some research recently on the availability of anti-Jewish material in public libraries in Australia, I found material in a number of languages, including Bengali and Arabic. These books had been donated, as had other books directed at immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants.
In August, I participated in the National Security for a Diverse Community Forum in Canberra. In the course of many informative discussions with some brilliant and interesting individuals, I was told of antisemitism rife in sections of the Muslim Australian community and attempts by extremists to pervert the gentle and inclusive Islam that parents were trying to pass on to their children. Emphasis was placed on the importance of the wider Australian community developing a better understanding of the threat to communal harmony presented by religious zealots targeting student age Muslims.
A Muslim writer in Australia wrote some time ago of attending an Islamic youth camp and, he claims, being supplied with overtly anti-Jewish material that had been donated by Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, when Holocaust denial was first winning over the small hearts and smaller minds of neo-Nazis in the English speaking world, it transpired that the most popular text was published and distributed as a direct result of Saudi largesse.
That said, I have been at two functions in Sydney this year where Saudi speakers have been forthright in their condemnations of anti-Jewish, anti-Christian and anti-Western prejudice, to overwhelmingly Muslim audiences, which indicates that the picture is more complex than often presented.
|Griffith University: Reason to be wary of its Saudi benefactor|
Regardless of complexities, it is nonetheless a matter of serious concern to read that a large Saudi grant has been made to Griffith University’s Islamic Research Unit, particularly given that unit’s involvement in the three-university consortium that won a tender for $8 million to develop a National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies.
The idea of the National Centre for Excellence, as articulated by the Federal Government, is to promote moderate, inclusive and pluralist strands of Islam, which it has directly contrasted with schools of Islam such as Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia.
In the Australian’s report of the Saudi grant to Griffith University, James Cook University’s Mervyn Bendle noted “Historically, Saudi funding around the world has been used to promote Wahhabism. It would be naïve to just accept on the surface that this is not the case as far as this money is concerned.”
It would be just as naïve to think that the “collection of Islamic books and other materials,” which according to the University’s website were also being donated, would be likely to be helpful in promoting understanding of diversity within Islam or the expectations of religious pluralism within multicultural Australia.
There is no shortage of Muslim voices in Australia cautioning against the activities of foreign groups, not restricted to Saudis, who are attempting to influence and control sections of Australia’s Muslim community.
It is the responsibility of the broader community to ensure that education of and about Muslims in Australia is not left to those who would subvert, rather than contribute to, pluralism and community harmony.