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April 24, 2008

Just in case anybody has been following the 'Griffith Uni promotes terrorism' stories that monument to honest reporting The Australian has been running lately, relax. The heartbeat of the nation is just doing what it does best. Beat. Up, that is.

On Tuesday:

A PROMINENT Australian university practically begged the Saudi Arabian embassy to bankroll its Islamic campus for $1.3million, even telling the ambassador it could keep secret elements of the controversial deal.

Documents obtained by The Australian reveal that Griffith University - described by vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor as the "university of choice" for Saudis - offered the embassy an opportunity to reshape the Griffith Islamic Research Unit during its campaign to get some "extra noughts" added to Saudi cheques.

James Cook University's Mervyn Bendle, a senior lecturer in the history of terrorism, yesterday attacked Griffith University for accepting the money and accused the Saudi embassy of wanting to promote hardline Islam.

On Wednesday:

A JUDGE has likened Griffith University to hardline Islamic "madrassas" in Pakistan - notorious for breeding radicals - and accused the Queensland institution of promoting a Muslim ideology espoused by Osama bin Laden.

Queensland District Court judge Clive Wall also accused Griffith of becoming an "agent" through which the Saudi Arabian embassy was propagating extreme Islam.

Today they published Vice-Chancellor Ian O'Connor's response, except a whole three pars at the start somehow got misplaced. The intro was a line of the fourth par in the original:

THE aim of Griffith University's Islamic research unit, established in 2005, is to promote a balanced and contextualised understanding of Islam and Muslims.

Thanks to the miracle that is email, here's the missing three pars:

Universities have a long history of being caught up in religious
controversy. A signal start was made by the German monk and
university professor Martin Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses on
the Power of Indulgences on the doors of the Wittenberg Castle Church
on 31 October 1517. That catalyst for the Protestant Reformation was
to embroil universities, monarchs and other institutions in Christian
sectarian strife over four centuries and several continents.

The bitter and at times bloody dispute between Catholics and
Protestants reached Australia and affected the foundation of our
earliest universities. The Acts founding Australia’s two oldest
universities, the University of Sydney in 1850 and the University of
Melbourne in 1853, proscribe the administration of any religious
test. This is not because the universities’ founders were
irreligious – quite the contrary. It was to prevent the universities
being captured by any Christian sect and thus become inhospitable to
other Christians. Similar troubles in Ireland at the same time led
to the establishment in Dublin in 1851 of that noble failure the
Catholic University of Ireland, whose ideals were famously described
by its founding rector John Henry Cardinal Newman in his series of
lectures entitled The idea of a university.

Christian sectarian disputes faded to invisibility in the late
twentieth century in Australia, and so did our skill in managing
religious controversy. It is therefore no surprise that we should
struggle when another religious contest is imported from overseas,
this time between Christianity and Islam. Griffith University has
unfortunately become caught in the crossfire, with protagonists
trying to claim that the university has either actively or
inadvertently supported the ‘wrong’ side.

I bet somebody at The Australian is in a lot of trouble today for misplacing the entire context section of the piece.

| Posted by Lyn at 1:51 PM | | Comments (24)


We are pretty much at the point where any media watcher is probably beyond bothering to deal with the mass media. It creates sensations from nothing for the purpose of sales. So it is pointless trying to argue truth through the media's lens/publishing.

Even though Media Watch has been spoiled for choice for as long as I can remember, media seems to have become very much worse in the last little while. Just about every 'issue' they've come up with this year has turned out to be garbage. It's hard to know whether to laugh or despair.

Lyn, They will just lose consumers. It has been happening anyway. I no longer have a TV, dont subscribe to a newspaper, and dont listen to the radio. The larger internet is proving more objective than mass media.

I dont particularly care that The Australia is providing an echo chamber, I am sure some people like and buy it specifically for that purpose, but it isnt for me.

Ironically a year ago I had satellite tv and a subscription to the Washington Post. I complained a couple of times to the WaPo, it noticably went downhill. So I didnt bother renewing the subscription.

The Economist is probably the best of the print media these days and I only buy it when I am at the airport.

I'm teaching in a madrassa? *Checks bacon in caesar salad from GU canteen* ... nope, don't think so.

I'm not sure they'll lose all that many consumers. Comedy sells well no matter how bad it is.

I'm teaching and learning there. Next time you get that caesar look more closely at the bacon. It's got tiny extremist texts printed all over. You're meant to read it, not eat it.


It looks as though things are about to get very messy for O'Connor if there is any truth to this latest revelation that O'Connor has been plagiarised from Wikipedia.

Lyn, Newspapers have been losing circulation drastically.

True Cam, and if I understand right they're not picking it back up on the internet as expected. The internet also has implications for advertising sales. It's one thing to tell an advertiser that a circulation of 20,000 means at least 60,000 pairs of eyes will see their ad, it's another thing when the measurement moves from exposure to response. How long can they rely on classifieds to keep them afloat?

If you'd read a little further down the Wikipedia entry you would have read the bit where it says the term Wahhabism is considered an insult, that those so named prefer the term unitarianism which has nothing to do with the Christian use of the term. You missed a wonderful opportunity to accuse O'Connor of being politically correct as well, though perhaps that's unnecessary because 'luvvie' pretty much covers it.

it is hard for me to judge what is happening from the wilderness in NZ but it does appear that Griffith University and its vice-chancellor, Ian O'Connor, have done a w deal in which a publicly funded and liberal Australian university is seemingly willing to give support to an anti-liberal Islamist religion, which discriminates against women and freedom of expression, in order to gain funding for the university's Islamic Research Unit.

How different is this from Griffith University doing a similar deal with the exclusive Brethren, or some evangelical Christian group?

There are several ways of answering that question. Universities can't strictly be called 'publicly funded' any more and I guess they have to choose their compromises along with their funding sources. To me, this is another one of those unfortunate consequences much like nutrition research funded by the beef industry.

The argument is that the funding came from moderates, which is one of those words that comes with its own problems. Islam is only one of the faiths under scrutiny at the centre, but I can't imagine the EB offering funding for anyone to trawl around in their belief system. They do a lot of work on fundamentalism of all flavours.

Are they 'supporting' an anti-liberal Islamist religion? there's a difference between supporting something and supporting understanding of it. Is it acually Islamist in the extremist sense? No idea. It's a loaded question in the current climate and the belief system of the group is contested.

As with most media-initiated topics appropriate for outrage, I suggest reserving judgment.

There is not much public evidence that the Saudi Arabian government is interested in reform ---political,social or religious. There is much more evidence that Saudi Arabia has been using its oil wealth to export Wahhabism across the world.

So, can the funding be seen as a way of giving acceptability or legitimacy to Wahhabism----or Muwahiddun--- by a prestigious Australian university, as Stephen Crittenden argues in The Australian?

maybe this episode will bring the universities into the policy foreground. From what I was able to make out the 2020 Summit was about ideas for improving productivity and equipping Australians for a world where intellectual ability and adaptability will drive economic growth, higher education rated only rare mentions, at least in the discussions broadcast online.

Sad really. Higher education and the liberal university was once seen as the bedrock of both a strong and stable economy, for an inquiring, intellectually engaged national community, and setting the framework and context for public debate on public issues.

Peter & Gary,
I haven't seen anything on the Saudi's reasoning behind the funding, though 1) I know nothing about the varieties of Islam or how they're promoted, and (and possibly therefore) 2)am cautious of speculation. *She then began to speculate* reports that Griffith 'begged' for the funding don't really mesh with an eager Saudi conspiracy to turn us all into terrorists.

As Gary and Crittenden both point out, if this is the result of the corporatisation of university management then it's an ideal opportunity for a review of that. Particularly given that this govt is so keen on fixing education in the interests of the economy. Hopefully competition between unis isn't so entrenched that they can't get together on this and push for change, although on that I'm pessimistic.

we are going to have to get used to Saudi Arabian petro dollars flowing into Australia.

That doesn't mean they are funding anti-western anti-Israeli propaganda as the Australian claims. After all it was the petro dollars that bailed out Wall Street during the credit crunch.

The Australian is really doing a beat up about Australia becoming a hub of Islamic jihad due to the grip of Saudi financial power; Australia's liberal democratic institutions being threatened by the petro dollars funding Islamic study centres, scholarship funds and research centres.


The fact that you two are involved in academia and do not find this situation outrageous is itself outrageous. Unfortunately, you have both fallen into the Leftist Manicheanism that has so sidelined the Left for over a decade.

"Murdoch, Boo! Anti-Murdoch, Hooray!"

Thus, here you defend a Vice Chancellor's plagiarism and suss "scholars" all in the name of opposing 'Murdoch beat ups'. You even manage to blame Howard in the process.

I am speechless. How many other academic types hold these ethics?

I find plagiarism from a Vice Chancellor completely mystifying. I'm not defending it so much as trying to understand how such a thing could happen.

I'll leave the 'suss scholars' bit out of it because I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean suss in terms of scholarly practice or the study of Islam?

Whether this is actually a media beat up or not, would you not agree that it's best to approach this level of sensationalism with caution?

this is a corporate university not a liberal one. They take money from all sources and produce a product---just like any business. It's the capitalist way. It's what Murdoch did to try and crack the Chinese media market.


Personally I think Australia has far too many so-called "universities." This episode just confirms it. What on earth is this Gold Coast Dawkins University trying to swim in the scholarly depths of World History and Comprative Theology?

It is a school that trains future bell-hops, golf caddies, and escorts for Japanese businessmen.


I'm surprised at you. Are bell-hops, golf caddies and escorts for Japanese businessmen not entitled to learn about world history or comparative theology?

The scholarly depths of world history and comparative theology don't quite mesh with the notion of Dawkins-inspired, jumped up little pretend universities, do they?


No, they are not "entitled" to learn about World History and Theology.

And my point is that even if they were, they would not be getting it at GU, as GU simply does not have any trained staff in these areas. Where are the Classicists? Courses in Arabic? Archaelogists? Ancient and Medieval Historians? Orientalists?

That is why this palaver has occured. There are simply no GU "scholars" capable of this type of work as there would be at Sydney, Monash, ANU, Melbourne, etc.

The creepy guy who heads up the school has Ph.D in "Islamic Science!!!" WTF. Islamist Creationism!

And from where did he receive this Ph.D. Why from the bell-hops school.

re your comment 'Unfortunately, you have both fallen into the Leftist Manicheanism that has so sidelined the Left for over a decade."Murdoch, Boo! Anti-Murdoch, Hooray!" '

I read Mervyn Bendle's op-ed in The Australian today and I wasn't persuaded that Australian liberal democracy is threatened by Saudi petro dollars funding in the higher education sector.

How this will happen is not made clear. I've reconstructed the threat argument as basically that of Melanie Phillips' 'Londonistan' applied to Australia. So we have homegrown Islamo-fascists terrorists in Queensland. Therein lies The Australian's narrative.

Saudi funding--petro-Islam says Brendle --is bad per se cos it regulates or influences academic teaching and research. The implication is that Islamic Research Unit and Griffith University become a conduit through which the Saudi embassy can propagate hardline Islam. The further implication is that Griffith University becomes something like a Pakistani madrassas which breeds dangerous radicals/terrorists.

Isn't the authoritarian Saudi Arabian regime an ally of the US in the Middle East region? That means it is an ally of Australia--our friend as opposed to our enemy. So why is funding from Saudi Arabia unacceptable?

We jump to the claim that such finding promotes Wahhabism (a fundamentalist/puritanical form of Islam), and that this will lead to a dangerous increase in the spread of Islamic extremism in the university campus. The evidence is lacking to back such a claim. So it is speculation by The Australian.

My connection slowed to a crawl yesterday so I gave up.

I think you've misunderstood Griffith. The Gold Coast campus is one of an archipelago of campus sites mainly clustered in Brisbane. Your world history and theology departments are at Nathan, but there's not a lot of call for that sort of thing any more and universities are now businesses. That's not Griffith's fault.

We're short on archaeologists, but the geologists could tell you there's no sandstone in Qld. We had to make do with bricks and gum leaves.