Can Australia escape the clash of civilisations?
by Adrian Morgan
Australia is fast becoming a hub of radical Islamic extremism. For decades, fundamentalist preachers have imported forms of Islam that ultimately reject the nation’s founding principles of democracy. Now the same intolerance is being exported by Australians who use the internet to reach a global audience.
Fundamentalist forms of Islam flourish in Australia, often with support from the anti-democratic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this climate, non-radical Muslims who support democracy and integration are becoming politically marginalised. The spread of Islamism that has fundamentally changed countries in Europe, and is changing the Middle East after the “Arab Spring”, has also been changing Australia.
On January 15, 2007, a documentary was aired on Britain’s Channel Four, called “Undercover Mosque”. Produced by Hardcash Productions, it featured footage of various preachers in British mosques who had close links to Saudi Arabia. Clips from DVDs on sale at Saudi-influenced mosques were shown. A young preacher was featured at the start, stating: “The pinnacle the crest, the summit of Islam is Jihad.”
This individual is Australian-born Sheikh Feiz Muhammad, a former boxer and bodybuilder. His videos were sold at Regents Park Mosque in London, which is run by the Saudi government. The documentary played excerpts from a speech by Feiz Muhammad entitled Signs of the Hour, in which he said: “Jews are pigs that will be killed at the end of the world,” and also:
“We want to have children and offer them as soldiers defending Islam. Teach them this: There is nothing more beloved to me than wanting to die as a mujahid. Put in their soft, tender hearts the zeal of jihad and a love of martyrdom.”
When the documentary was first aired, Feiz Muhammad was out of the country. He had resided in Lebanon for year. Then and now, he lectures at the Global Islamic Youth Centre (GIYC) in Liverpool, west Sydney. In 2007 Feiz was the amir (leader) of the GIYC. He had gained notoriety in Australia for a speech he gave in Bankstown Town Hall on March 18, 2005, in which he claimed that women who dressed immodestly had only themselves to blame when they got raped:
“A victim of rape every minute somewhere in the world. Why? No one to blame but herself. She displayed her beauty to the entire world….”
Sheikh Feiz had spent four years studying at the Islamic University in Medina, Saudi Arabia. When the “Undercover Mosque” documentary was aired in Britain, there were reactions in Australia. The then New South Wales Labor Premier Morris Iemma claimed Feiz’s videos were inciting terrorism, and said he had urged the then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock to withdraw them from sale. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) claimed they were investigating DVDs by Sheikh Feiz, which were from his “Death” series. These were 16 DVDs. In the 10th of the series, entitled “The Gathering,” Feiz states:
“The leaders of pride or arrogance are none other than the Jews.… they have got the most extreme racial pride in them. They claim that they are the ‘chosen people’ of Allah ta’ala, of God, they say, who are destined to inherit the earth. They say that they are the sons and daughters of God; exclusion to everyone else. They say that every single non-Jew is a slave created to serve the Jew. Tuh! Allah heard their belief. Phuh! And Allah may hate it. Filthy disgusting gross belief. Their time will come, like every other evil person’s time will come.”
It is obvious to anyone listening to the audio of this recording that young children are in the auditorium. Australia’s then federal Labor Opposition leader Kevin Rudd claimed Feiz’s comments were “obscene,” and said:
“As I see it, Sheikh Muhammad’s statements add up to an incitement to terrorism. I would say this to Sheikh Muhammad: Do not return to Australia, you are not welcome here.”
In 2010, it was revealed that the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) had in its possession a recording of a speech by Feiz Muhammad. This was delivered on a members-only jihadist site. Feiz Muhammad was calling on Muslims to decapitate Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician and critic of Islam.
In 2007, the Australian Jewish News pointed out that an online store in Minto, a suburb south-west of Sydney, was producing and selling DVDs that were featured in this documentary. These included sermons by Sheikh Feiz and also Khalid Yasin, an American-born radical preacher who was visiting Australia in 2005. The online store was called One Islam Productions. Its director, Lebanese-born Subi Alshaik, told the Australian Jewish News that his company was “unaware” of the inflammatory nature of the videos. He said he would “remove them from the shelves”. Alshaik was also considering suing Britain’s Channel Four for broadcasting excerpts of the videos without permission.
One Islam Productions has a website called 1Islam.net which is still registered to Subi Alshaik, and displays a link to a YouTube channel in the name of 1Islamnet. At the time of writing, this channel has more than 45 full lectures by Khalid Yasin, and four videos by Sheikh Feiz. 1Islamnet’s YouTube channel also displays a 50-minute video featuring Feiz, entitled Signs of the Hour, which was uploaded as recently as March 3, 2012. This is a slightly edited version of the video which caused consternation in 2007. At around 36 minutes into the video, Feiz talks about the last days when Issa (Jesus) will descend to fight Dajjal (the Islamic antichrist) and his army: “Who are his followers? The majority of his followers are Jews.”
In March 2011, it was reported that Feiz Muhammad had returned to Australia from his exile, and was preaching at the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama’ah centre in Auburn, a suburb west of Sydney.
The sermons of Sheikh Feiz are also presented in MP3 format on two currently active websites. These are AlGhurabaa and Kallamullah. On the latter site can be found the soundtrack of the original Signs of the Hour. The version on the AlGhurabaa site is the slightly edited soundtrack as that on the YouTube version.
It should be noted that both sites contained downloadable lectures by Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American preacher. Awlaki was the mentor of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who shot dead 13 military personnel at the Fort Hood army base in Texas on November 5, 2009. Awlaki also sent the Nigerian “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Mutallab, on Flight 253 to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Awlaki’s series of sermons, known as Constants on the Path of Jihad (Thawaabit ‘ala darb al Jihad), was based on the writings of Yousef al-Ayyiri, the founder of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). This series has been described by U.S. terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann as “a ‘virtual bible’ for lone-wolf Muslim extremists”.
Links to the full set of audio lectures of “Constants on the Path of Jihad” appear on the AlGhurabaa website, but are now disabled. Some time between February 2009 and April 2010 the page containing Awlaki’s lectures was removed from the Kalamullah website. Other terrorists whose lectures can be downloaded from both sites are Ali Al-Timimi, who studied at Medina University. Timimi was jailed for trying to give aid to Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Ahmad Jibril is an American-born graduate of Medina University, and has pages of downloadable audios on both sites. He is currently in jail. He had posted text messages on a web forum such as:
“Jihad in the Koran means to kill the kafers... when Jihad is mentioned alone in the Koran or Sunnah it means one honorable thing — to kill the kuffar.”
Kuffr or kaffir (plural kuffar) is a pejorative term for an unbeliever.
Abdullah Faisal (Abdullah el-Feisal) has a page on the Kalamullah website. Jamaican-born el-Feisal was convicted in London of incitement to murder on February 24, 2003. He was the first person to be convicted for the contents of his sermons. He studied for eight years at the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He had been sent to Britain in 1991 by Saudi religious authorities. El-Feisal’s sermons called for the followers to kill unbelievers such as Jews, Hindus and Americans. He also said that bodies of Hindus should be used to fuel power stations. The judge was offered a £50,000 bribe to find el-Feisal not guilty.
The Kalamullah and AlGhurabaa websites are registered to domain-hosting companies that protect registrants’ identities, so it is hard to say who produces the sites, or whence they originate. On the contact page of Kalamullah, there is a list of recommended sites from which readers should purchase materials. These include the US and UK outlets of Dar-us Salam Publications, an international publishing house with its headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Kalamullah also recommends that people should purchase material from 1Islam.net, the online company owned by New South Wales resident Subi Alshaik.
It is common knowledge that Sheikh Feiz Muhammad is a firebrand cleric, but there are other Australian preachers who have their audio lectures featured on these sites. And it should be noted that the Saudi publishing house Dar-us Salam states on its website that it has a branch in Lakemba, Sydney. It claims it is ICIS, situated on the ground floor of a block of shops at 165-171, Haldon Street, NSW 2195. Situated in this complex, two doors down from a Domino’s pizza outlet is “The Islamic Bookstore — Australia”. This bookshop, registered under the name International Centre for Islamic Studies Pty Ltd, has been operating since 1999. And here, there are several DVDs available by Sheikh Feiz, including his Death Series and Signs of the Hour.
In July 2005, this Lakemba bookstore drew public attention for selling two books by Abdullah Azzam, the man who trained Osama bin Laden. The first of these, entitled In Defence of Muslim Lands: The First Obligation after Iman, was written when Azzam was a jihadist in Afghanistan shortly after the 1979 Russian occupation. Azzam clearly sets out that it is Fard Khilafa (i.e., an initially compulsory religious duty) for Muslims to wage offensive jihad. It is Fard Ayn (always compulsory) for all Muslims to wage defensive jihad if Muslim lands are invaded. The other book by Azzam, entitled Join the Caravan, further clarifies historical and religious reasons for jihad, and why jihad should be waged by all Muslims.
Before joining the jihad in Afghanistan, Abdullah Azzam had taught Islamic jurisprudence in Saudi Arabian universities. Azzam, two of his sons and the son of another jihadist were killed in a roadside bombing in Pakistan on November 24, 1989.
There were attempts to ban these two books written by Azzam, and others that were being sold in Auburn. In July 2006, both In Defence of Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan were banned nationally. Despite being officially banned, these two books can still be found online.
Some of the books that were considered for banning were found in a bookshop of the Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia (IISNA). This is part of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jaamah (ASWJ), a Salafist group which has Mohammed Omran as its spiritual leader.
Salafism is a form of Islam that tries to go back to the first principles at the time of the prophet Mohammed’s companions (salaf). Mohammed Omran, who counted Osama bin Laden and Abu Qatada as “friends”, was — like many Salafists — a graduate of the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia. Omran, called “Abu Ayan” by his followers, was also sponsored by this Saudi university to come to Australia.
The headquarters of IISNA are in Coburg, Melbourne, and it is under the directorship of Abu Hamza Samir Mohtadi. He was an associate of Algerian preacher Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who was arrested in November 2005 after Australian Federal Police surveillance activity codenamed Operation Pendennis. Benbrika was convicted of leading a terror group in September 2008 and was given a 12-year jail term on February 3, 2009. Mohtadi gave evidence at his trial. He said that Benbrika had declared that Australia was a “land of war” because of its involvement with Iraq. During Benbrika’s trial, Alison Caldwell had described Mohtadi as
“a moderate Islamic cleric who preaches regularly at the Preston mosque in north-east Melbourne. He’s also a teacher, who gives lectures about the meaning of Islam, mainly to young people.”
A month earlier, Mohtadi had recorded a rant in which he attacked Sydney’s Catholic archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, claiming he was ignorant of Christianity, let alone Islam. Hamza also claimed the Bible supports terrorism, lying, and was pornographic in nature. He said:
“You know what? If there’s one book that should be banned, it is the Bible. So I would not allow my sons or my daughters or my friends or my enemies to read that Bible. I am too embarrassed to read some of the things in the Bible. If you want more information, look at Evilbible.com. Evilbible.com and it’s got nothing to do with the book. I love my (inaudible)… George Pell? An archbishop? How dare you make comments like this. How dare you make your comments in these circumstances that we’re in.…”
Education and equality
The current head of the Sydney-based Global Islamic Youth Centre (GIYC) is Abu Adnan, or Mohamad Kammoun. He gained his Islamic education in Saudi Arabia. According to the GIYC website: “Sheikh Abu Adnan also helped set up the Islamic College of Australia and currently holds the position of Deputy Principal at the college.” This college should not be confused with taxpayer-subsidised schools of a similar name. It is for adults, and is closely tied to Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jaamah (ASWJ), Mohammed Omran and Sheikh Feiz.
One of Abu Adnan’s audio CDs is called “George celebrates Eid”. In this, he orders Muslims to keep segregated from kuffr celebrations and customs, such as birthdays, New Year, watching Christmas shows on TV and so on. At the end of this audio presentation (at 26:43) he mentions that he has heard that Awlaki had been killed. Adnan calls him “our Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki”.
One Canadian-born preacher with a close link to both Saudi Arabia and Australia is Yahya Ibrahim. According to Richard Kerbaj of The Australian, his internet speeches have included condemnations of Christians and Jews as “enemies”. According to Canadian writer David Quelette, Yahya Ibrahim had been employed by the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC, and has translated works by Abdurahman Al-Sudais Sudais is an imam at Mecca who has made sermons condemning Jews as pigs and scum and described Hindus as idol-worshippers. Yahya Ibrahim, who is married to an Australian, has several DVDs for sale at the Islamic Bookstore — Australia.
Yahya Ibrahim is respected in the wider Muslim community. In 2006, Richard Kerbaj wrote that he was the assistant deputy principal of Kewdale High School in Perth, and lectured at Murdoch and Notre Dame universities. He is now an Islamic chaplain at Curtin University. Kewdale High School is one of the three campuses of the Australian Islamic College in Perth. This institution has claimed to educate 2,000 children from kindergarten up until age 12. All of its girls wear hijabs (headscarves). The institution has received the majority of its funding from state and federal government grants.
The AIC no longer publishes its staff lists online. Yahya Ibrahim’s sermons have a page at the AlGhurabaa website, which has been there since spring of 2009, though the downloadable audio files feature only routine Salafi content. The UK Sunday Telegraph was recently sued by Ibrahim for alleging he was an anti-Semitic hardliner. The newspaper settled out of court.
On January 30, 2007, raids by police and government inspectors were conducted on the college’s campuses and the administrative headquarters. Three truckloads of computers and documents were taken away. The college was suspected of financial fraud. In 2008, Abdallah Saad Magar, who had founded the college in 1986, was charged with fraud, and on March 31, 2010, was found guilty of 14 out of 15 charges of fraud. The college principal Aziz Magdi was found guilty of five out of nine charges, and another educator was acquitted.
Magar was given a three-year jail sentence and Magdi was given a two-year jail term. Magar had appropriated by fraud, or dishonesty, $591,505 from the Western Australian state government and $2,467,742 from the Australian Commonwealth (i.e., national) government. His appeal hearing was told that Magar had claimed to be ill with diabetes. However, one search of his prison cell showed he had not been taking any medication for such a condition. Magar’s appeal against conviction and sentencing was dismissed.
In 2005, Ibrahim had been due to lecture 4,000 people at Houston, Texas, but was turned back at Detroit airport. The director of the conference was Waleed Basyouni. This would suggest that this was a convention led by the AlMaghrib Institute, whose headquarters are in Houston, where Basyouni is the vice-president. The AlMaghrib Institute does not support terrorism, only a strict interpretation of Salafist Sunni Islam.
AlMaghrib was founded by Muhammad alShareef (ash-Shareef), who graduated from the University of Medina in 1999. He has pages dedicated to his sermons at AlGhurabaa and Kalamullah, and also at the Islamic Bookstore — Australia. AlShareef has presented his own shows on the globally-transmitted Islam TV channel. One of his audio sermons is problematic. It is entitled Why The Jews Were Cursed. Essentially it is an expansion of an eponymous sermon that can be read in text format. The “expansions” express contempt for Jews, and also Christians.
In May 2008, Muhammad alShareef had visited Australia for a lecture tour held under the aegis of IISNA, from May 16 to May 18.
The AlMaghrib Institute has held various “Knowledge Fests,” and its instructors include people who have expressed antisemitism, such as Yasir Qadhi, or Hakim Quick. Yasir Qadhi has lecture DVDs on sale at the Lakemba Islamic Bookstore — Australia. He has renounced his previous antisemitism, but found it hard to explain how the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab had attended two AlMaghrib events in London. In 2008 he had attended an AlMaghrib course in Houston led by Qadhi.
The Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) attempted to explain how Bin Laden’s ideology differed from Wahhabism or Salafism in an otherwise clear overview:
“Groups like Al Qaida are … influenced by a tradition of religiously based rebellion inspired by the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya and Sayyid Qutb. This contrasts with the more conservative and politically passive tradition of establishment Salafism or ‘Wahhabism’ found in countries like Saudi Arabia.”
This is true, but only up to a point. Ibn Taymiya, who lived from 1263 to 1328, had a profound influence upon Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703 — 1792), founder of the “Wahhabism” that dominates Saudi Arabia. According to Dr Irfan Al-Alawi, of the Washington-based Center for Islamic Pluralism, Wahhabism is “the ideology that inspired Osama Bin Laden”.
Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism
Wahhabism encompasses no respect for ideologies other than its own. It is easy to see this in Saudi Arabia, where customs agents routinely confiscate Bibles, crucifixes and Stars of David from visitors to the kingdom. Graves are forbidden by Wahhabism, lest they inspire pilgrimage or worship (polytheism, or shirk). The tenets of Wahhabism are set out in the only book written by its founder that has survived. This book is the Kitab al-Tawhid (book of monotheism). As well as disrespecting non-Muslim’s beliefs from the time of its foundation, Wahhabism has been violently hostile to other Muslims who follow other interpretations of Islam. Wahhab himself actively instigated jihad against these Muslims, and the destruction of many of their mosques and shrines.
Ibn Baz, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti from 1992 until his death in 1999, claimed that when Wahhab “turned to Jihad in 1158 AH (1745 AD) he wrote to people to enter the field of Jihad and remove polytheism, which existed in their countries”. He said:
“The Shaikh, thus, strove in his preaching and Jihad for fifty years from 1158 AH until he died in 1206. He resorted to all methods of his mission — Jihad, preaching, resistance, debates and arguments until people adhered to obedience and demolished the domes and mosques built by them on the graves and agreed to run their affairs in accordance with Islamic Law, discarding all rules and laws which had been applied by their fathers and forefathers.”
According to David Samuel Margoliouth (1858-1940), in his book Mohammedanism, Wahhab’s jihad led to a campaign against a local cult of an Islamic “saint” at Iyanah in central Arabia:
“Being compelled to leave this place in consequence, he retired to the neighbouring Dhariyyah, where he converted the governor of Saud, who decided to place his resources at the disposal of his teacher. This was in 1760. Sa’ud at once started on a campaign against his neighbours, with success nearly as rapid as that of the Founder of Islam.”
Thus began the relation between the House of Saud and the intolerant ideology of Wahhabism. Muhammad bin Sa’ud, who gave sanctuary to Wahhab, died in 1765, but his descendants continued their jihad. In 1801, the Wahhabis under Saud leadership sacked the shrine of Imam Husain in Karbala (now part of Iraq). The shrine was — and still is — a place of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims. The Wahhabists failed to respect the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, not even the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed. As Margoliouth wrote:
“When the pilgrims had retired, the Wahhabis proceeded to attack the sacred city [Mecca], and after a siege they entered it in May 1803. They failed, however, in attempts on Jeddah and Medinah, and the governor whom they had ejected from Meccah was allowed to return thither. But in 1804 under a new ruler they commenced piracy on a large scale in the Persian Gulf, and sent an army to attack towns on the Euphrates. In the same year they also took Medinah, where they robbed the Prophet’s tomb of its treasure, but did not otherwise injure it.”
The Wahhabists of Arabia, led by Abdullah bin Saud, created the first Saudi state from 1810 to 1820. They engaged in war against Egypt, then were governed by the Ottomans, between 1811 and 1818. Abdallah bin Saud was beheaded in Istanbul in 1820. The modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established on August 14, 1932, by Abdul Aziz bin Saud, its first king.
The current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has continued to threaten and destroy historic sites that date from the times of the Prophet of Islam and his companions (Salaf). In April 2006, Dr Irfan Al-Alawi raised the issue of a grave that had been discovered in 1998 as an example of the wanton vandalism of Saudi Wahhabists. This grave was the last resting place of Amina bint Wahb, who gave birth to the Prophet Mohammed, founder of Islam. Al-Alawi said:
“It was bulldozed in Abwa and gasoline was poured on it. Even though thousands of petitions throughout the Muslim world were sent, nothing could stop this action.”
The house of Khadija, first wife of the Prophet Mohammed, was torn down to make room for public lavatories. The house of Abu Bakr, first Caliph of Islam, has been replaced by a Hilton hotel.
If the Wahhabist regime of Saudi Arabia cannot respect historic monuments of importance to other Muslims, it is no wonder that it also mistreats people whom it considers “deviant”. No member of the Ahmadiyya (Ahmadi) sect of Islam is allowed to go to Mecca on Hajj (pilgrimage), as their branch of Islam is classed as heretical.
On November 2, 2007, an Egyptian pharmacist called Mustafa Ibrahim was decapitated in Riyadh. His “crime” was that he was accused of sorcery. Fawza Falih was a Jordanian woman arrested in Quraiyat on May 4, 2005, by Saudi Arabia’s muttawa, or “religious policemen”. She was beaten, and confessed to witchcraft. Even though she later retracted her confession in court, she was sentenced to death, as was reported in February 2008. It is believed that she died in prison in 2010.
Shia inhabitants of Saudi Arabia are often subject to discrimination. Last year, one Australian Shia Muslim was arrested in Mecca while on his hajj. He was heard uttering a Shia prayer, was arrested and accused of blasphemy. A 45-year old diabetic Mansoor Alribe from Shepperton, Victoria, was sentenced to 500 lashes. Mr. Alribe received 75 of these lashes, and was then “pardoned” by the Saudi establishment. He returned to Australia in January this year.
If Australia values its social cohesion, is it wise to allow Saudi funding to support Islamic schools and mosques that Saudi authorities “approve”? In the Islamic Bookstore — Australia, which distributes books from the Saudi publishing house, a book is available called The Reality of Shiism. The author is Shaykh Muhibbudeen al-Khateeb. The description of this tome states: “It is essential for the Muslims and non-Muslims to know the fact of the Shi’ite deviation from the straight path of Islam.”
The clash of civilisations in Australia
Saudi Arabian culture, intolerant of other forms of Islam and indulging in traditions of religious vandalism, is antithetical to a nation that prides itself on its cultural and social diversity. In Europe and America, Saudi money has built mosques that preach intolerance, and Australia is following the same pattern. Salafist preachers raised in Australia, who have studied in Saudi religious universities, are not supporting any message of integration or social cohesion. Such a cultural impasse only amplifies the notion of a “clash of civilisations”.
In 1993, Samuel P. Huntington first promoted his “Clash of Civilisations” hypothesis in a lecture to the American Institute in which he claimed:
“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
Huntington expanded this hypothesis in a book in which he posited that there were nine global civilisations. Subsequent discussions of his theme, both critical and supportive, have dwelt on the “clash” between just two of these, the “Western” and the “Islamic”. The term “a clash of civilisations” was earlier voiced by orientalist Bernard Lewis in a lecture from 1990, in which he summarised a political/religious tenet commonly held by Islamists:
“What is truly evil and unacceptable is the domination of infidels over true believers. For true believers to rule misbelievers is proper and natural, since this provides for the maintenance of the holy law, and gives misbelievers both the opportunity and the incentive to embrace true faith. But for the misbelievers to rule over true believers is blasphemous and unnatural, since it leads to the corruption of religion and morality in society, and to the flouting of God’s law.”
Many Western nations embraced the notion of multiculturalism assuming it would create harmonious societies. It could be argued that, whereas multi-racial and ethnically inclusive policies could bolster cohesion, multiculturalism has in some cases encouraged parallel competing societies. In the case of Islam and its Islamist advocates, multiculturalism could encourage parallel competing laws, which owe nothing to democracy and undermine the rights of women.
Multiculturalism in Australia was officially endorsed at the end of the 1970s but the term was associated with political correctness. Multiculturalism as an official concept has been marginalised by both the Howard Coalition and Rudd/Gillard Labor governments.
In July 2006, the then Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Andrew Robb, had announced that the federal Coalition government would be setting up a national institute for Islamic studies at a then-unnamed university. The government would be donating $8 million towards the establishment, part of a four-year plan costing $35 million. The funding package would include $4.4 million for human rights education in Muslim countries.
In January 2007, Robb announced that the venture would be a consortium among three universities and claimed that the institute would be
“...a world-class centre for Islamic studies so that we can encourage Australian Muslims who have got aspirations to being religious, to become home-grown imams...”
The universities were named as Melbourne, Griffith and Western Sydney. By this time, the institute had a name, the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, and its principal had been named.
He was Abdullah Saeed from Melbourne University. He had trained at Saudi Arabia’s Islamic University at Medina, which had already produced intolerant hardliners. Saeed claimed he was a moderate:
“Many people say anyone who comes from the Islamic University must be a fairly conservative figure, but my writings wouldn’t show that.”
After the London bombings of July 7, 2005, the Howard government set up a National Action Plan to encourage Islamic assimilation and prevent a similar situation in Australia. In May 2007, Queensland Senator Joe Ludwig claimed that as much as $461 million had been spent on this plan. When Prime Minister John Howard was asked about this figure on a radio interview, he answered:
“I’m sure there are some programs; I don’t think they amount to that.... Well, there’s every reason to try and assimilate — and I unapologetically use that word — assimilate a section of the community, a tiny minority of whose members have caused concern.”
“In 2003 Oman and the University jointly established the Sultan of Oman Endowed Chair in Arab and Islamic Studies honouring His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.”
The Sultan of Oman has ruled for 40 years as an autocrat. Political parties are banned in Oman and during the Arab Spring, his security services killed peaceful pro-democracy protesters.
Griffith University in Brisbane has received media attention for attempts by its Griffith Islamic Research Unit to get funding from Saudi Arabia. Richard Kerbaj has written that:
“The Saudi Government — largely through its embassy — is believed to have funnelled at least $120m into Australia since the 1970s to bankroll radical clerics, build mosques and propagate hardline Islam.”
Mohammad Abdalla, the head of the unit, was said to be “proactive” in his search for funds. The university had offered the Saudi embassy a chance to reshape the unit in exchange for an increase of its funds. Abdalla had offered to keep “secret” any Saudi donations. When in 2007 the Saudis made a grant of $100,000 to Griffith, on a pledge to raise this to $1 million, there were voices of protest by Muslims and academics. There were fears that Wahhabism would be promoted, despite protestations from Griffith that there would be “no strings attached” to the donation.
Mohammad Abdalla has a video channel on the website Islamtvcom.au in which his sermons can be heard. These are conventional Salafist fare. In April 2008, Queensland District Court judge, Clive Wall, compared Griffith University to a madrassa. He said:
“They’re using the university as an agent to promote their bigoted brand of Islam. I’m concerned that a country which doesn’t itself tolerate freedom of religion is promoting its own quite bigoted version here with the acquiescence of our learning institutions.”
Dr Mervyn F. Bendle of James Cook University has written extensively on the subject of Saudi funding, including in National Observer. He has written that “it will only be continuing public and academic vigilance and political pressure that will protect Australia’s tertiary education system, moderate Muslim communities and liberal democratic traditions”.
In Britain, where there has been little opposition to Saudi (and Iranian) funding of UK universities, there has almost always been a trade-off that benefits the donor. Researcher Robin Simcox of the Centre for Social Cohesion has shown that Saudi donations do not just mean that the kingdom gets a chance to promote itself. Universities reciprocate by censoring critics of Saudi Arabia. The same rules apply for donations from Iranian regimes. British university professor Anthony Glees has claimed that the Saudis have donated most to Oxford University. Of £237.5m donated or promised to British academic institutions, Oxford has received £176m.
Saudi money has been used to fund Australian mosques which have become associated with extremist positions, such as west Sydney’s Lakemba mosque. In 2008, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) had given approval for the Saudi embassy to distribute donations among 12 imams, but after negative publicity, the Saudis pulled back on funding. Since 2004, 14 Muslim groups had applied to be funded by Saudi money, but ASIO refused to disclose their names. However, six clerics’ names were revealed, and these included an adviser to John Howard’s government.
The influences of Islamism and extremist forms of Islam which encourage segregation from and contempt for kaffir society corrode social cohesion. So far, ASIO and the AFP have prevented major terror attacks on Australian soil, but the goals of non-terrorist Islamists are destructive of traditions. When citizens are not treated equally under the law, a society loses its cohesion.
In 1982, the Supreme Court of Victoria heard the case of R v. Dincer. A Muslim man of Turkish descent had stabbed his 16-year-old daughter, Zerrin Dincer, in an honour killing. His lawyers argued that, considering the cultural background of the father, the girl’s actions could be seen as a provocation, and thus count as a defence. Their argument prevailed. In 2005, at the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, a visiting student from Pakistan tried to use a similar defence after committing gang-rape. His victim had not dressed modestly and drank alcohol. The student was said to have been a “cultural time-bomb”. This time, the argument failed.
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) used to claim to be the prevailing voice of Muslim Australians, even when it was receiving funding from the late Libyan dictator, Colonel Gaddafi. In May 2011, the AFIC declared it wanted Australia to cede to Muslims the right to decide for themselves issues of marriage, divorce and finance under sharia law.
In October 2011, Australia’s Alternative Law Journal recommended that Muslims should not be granted a civil divorce until their Islamic law was first rendered invalid. To achieve this, the couple would appear before a tribunal of civil lawyers and Islamic jurists. The proponent of this plan stated:
“Unless there is official documentation to prove a religious divorce has been granted, an application for divorce under civil law would be denied.”
In such discussions, the situation of how interfaith couples’ divorces would be dealt with is rarely mentioned.
Currently in America there are debates over the bills presented before certain state legislatures, such as Florida, South Carolina and Oklahoma, to ensure that only American law should be enacted in state courthouses. Most people, whether they oppose or support these US ventures, agree that the issues essentially concern sharia vs. constitutional law.
Supporters of sharia law in the USA, Canada and Britain have argued that they only want to see sharia introduced for issues of family law; but, even here, there is a conflict with current legal principles. Under sharia, the rights of women in issues of inheritance and divorce are not equal to the rights of men, and children above the age of seven are automatically placed under the father’s custody. Such gender inequalities, if implemented, would undermine accepted Australian notions of justice and fairness for all.
As Abraham Lincoln stated: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
About the author
Adrian Morgan has written for the UK Guardian and New Scientist and is a former Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society. Until February 2012 he was the editor of FamilySecurityMatters.org. He hosts a weekly internet radio show called Global Security Matters.
National Observer: Australia and World Affairs, No. 85, 2012
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National Observer: Australia and World Affairs, No. 85, 2012