The next Dr Haneef?

May 3, 2008

The Australian newspaper has labelled Griffith University (GU) an "agent of extreme Islam" in recent articles targeting the Islamic Research Unit and its director, peace activist Dr Mohamad Abdalla.

The Australian's Richard Kerbaj devoted an April 23 article to Queensland District Court judge Clive Wall's accusations that the university was like "hardline Islamic 'madrassas' in Pakistan"; promotes a Muslim ideology espoused by Osama bin Laden and was "becoming an 'agent' through which the Saudi Arabian embassy was propagating extreme Islam".

The serious accusations are based solely on GU receiving $100,000 funding from the Saudi Arabian embassy. Neither the Australian nor Wall present any evidence of "extremism" in the university's programs or teaching.

Indeed, far from promoting "hardline ideology", the Islamic Research Unit has played an active role in promoting peace and justice, in collaboration with other religions, as part of the Multi-Faith Centre at GU. The Australian articles fail to mention the GU Multi-Faith Centre, which is dedicated to inter-faith dialogue and a "culture of peace", according to its website.

The Australian also fails to mention that last year Dr Abdalla helped to coordinate, and addressed, a 300-strong public forum on the case of Dr Mohammed Haneef. This was the largest public forum in an important campaign that helped in ultimately having the spurious "terrorism" charges against Dr Haneef dropped. Many commentators believe Dr Haneef was targeted by the government, police and a willing media, due to his Indian background, and because he was a Muslim.

Dr Abdalla has also spoken at rallies and forums in opposition to the wars on Iraq, and in support of justice for the dispossessed Palestinian people.

On April 26, the Australian published an article by Stephen Crittenden, presenter of The Religion Report on ABC Radio National, who continued the attack on GU.

Crittenden argued that a photograph in the Australian that featured two Islamic women, both GU students, with their faces covered "gives ample evidence of precisely how Wahhabi influence is already making its presence felt".

He goes on to argue that "Australian universities are the new front line in the battle with extremist Islam."

"The accusation that Griffith is a breeding ground for Islamic extremism would be laughable if it wasn't so disgusting", Lauren Cameron, a GU student and a member of socialist youth organisation Resistance told Green Left Weekly. "While most students find the ethnic diversity at Griffith refreshing, in these times of a hysterical 'war on terror', it seems such diversity is a crime in the eyes of the Australian. If universities are the frontline in any battle, it is the battle for freedom of speech and thought, against the powerful domination of corporations that are creating 'McUnis'."

Others have also come to the support of Dr Abdalla, including the Queensland Forum for Christians, Jews and Muslims, the Uniting Church of Queensland moderator David Pitman and the Islamic Council of Queensland, which warned that the Australian's reporting "could be increasing Islamophobia", according to an April 30 article in that newspaper.

Cameron agrees, stating "It seems Griffith is the new 'Dr Haneef' ... and Muslims are the target of a new McCarthyism. Why is it the Australian hasn't questioned the immense corporate funding of universities, including military firms, that turn our unis into war researchers?"

"And if the media and others want to ensure just funding of universities then there is one simple, equitable solution — make universities fully publicly funded and publicly controlled, so they no longer become dependent on outside funding and charge enormous fees to students", Cameron concluded.

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