NATIONAL SECURITY: Secret Saudi funding of Australian institutions
by Mervyn Bendle (reviewer) News Weekly, February 21, 2009
Many Australian universities, now driven entirely by financial priorities, have uncritically welcomed Saudi sources of funding, even though this creates a major national security problem, writes Mervyn F. Bendle. Massive funding is presently being provided by Saudi Arabia to promote Wahhabism, the fundamentalist, exclusivist, punitive, and sectarian form of Islam that is both the Saudi state religion, and the chief theological component of Sunni versions of Islamism, the totalitarian ideology guiding jihadism and most of the active terrorist groups in the world.
Globally, this money is flowing to terrorist groups, political parties and religious and community groups, as well as to universities and schools. In Australia, there is concern that such funding could damage and even corrupt the Australian university system, especially given the existing ideological bias, political naivety, opportunism, managerialism, and the pseudo-entrepreneurial attitudes of many university academics and administrators.
The question of how foreign powers and agents are able to influence, direct or even control tertiary education in Australia and other Western countries is vitally important. This is because the rise of Islamism, jihadism and the present terrorism crisis increasingly involve fourth-generation warfare (4GW).
This operates through various networks, franchises, and forms of leaderless jihad, and proceeds in an undeclared or unacknowledged manner, in accordance with Ayman al-Zawahiri's description of the Islamist approach to war ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad: "War is deceit [and] triumph is achieved [through] deception".
Role of Saudi Arabia
Fearing a revolution or coup, the Saudi king, Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud,
who ascended the Saudi throne in 1982, vigorously courted the Wahhabi
religious establishment. He adopted the title of "Custodian of the Two Holy
Mosques", entrenched the position of Wahhabism as the Saudi state
religion, and initiated massive spending programs to promote Wahhabism
across the Muslim world and beyond, largely under the guidance of the
World Muslim League.
In order to ensure that the Muslim world knew of the massive scale of the
regime's commitment, the Saudi government English weekly Ain Al-Yaqeen
published an article in March 2002 on the "billions spent by Saudi royal
family to spread Islam to every corner of the earth". It described how oil
revenues would allow the Saudi regime to "fulfil its ambitions".
The article continued: "In terms of Islamic institutions, the result is some
210 Islamic centres wholly or partly financed by Saudi Arabia, more than
1,500 mosques and 202 colleges, and almost 2,000 schools for educating
Muslim children in non-Islamic countries in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia".
As a result, in 2005 it was estimated by former CIA director R. James Woolsey that the Saudis had spent some $90 billion since the mid-1970s to export Wahhabism on a global scale, and there has been no evidence of decreased activity in this proselytising effort.
With respect to the Saudi financing of terrorism, Stuart A. Levey, the Under-Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, and head of the Office of Terrorist Finance and Financial Crime, testified to the US Senate Finance Committee on April 1, 2008, that "Saudi Arabia today remains the location where more money is going to terrorism, to Sunni terror groups and to the Taliban than any other place in the world".
As Levey further testified, Saudi Arabia is the leading financial supporter of Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks, and huge amounts of money are channelled through complex networks of private, government and charitable organisations. Moreover, the Saudis have failed to implement vital measures requested by the US to stop the flow of such funds.
This vast program to promote Wahhabism, Islamism, and Jihadism is directed by various agencies within Saudi Arabia or associated with it. And these generally operate under the ideological and organisational control of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose motto is: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope", while its oath of allegiance declares that "I believe that... the banner of Islam must cover humanity".
This vision was subsequently developed and nurtured by subsequent Islamist
ideologues such as the late Sayyid Qutb and Said Ramadan, and Sheikh Yousef
al-Qaradhawi, who is the head of the department of Islamic law at the University
of Qatar and one of the most influential Islamist ideologues in the world today.
This in turn derives much of its material from the mysterious document "Towards a
world strategy for political Islam" (also known as "The Project"), which was prepared
in 1982 by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood as a blueprint for their global
strategy for Islamist supremacy.
Its likely principal author was Said Ramadan, who was the son-in-law and personal
secretary of Hassan al Banna (the Egyptian who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in
1928) and has been described as "the ideological grandfather of Osama bin Laden".
He was also the actual father of Tariq Ramadan, a highly controversial Islamist
ideologue who is banned from visiting the US, but was nevertheless invited by
Queensland's Griffith University to be the keynote speaker at a conference in
"The Project" has been described as "revealing a top-secret plan developed by the oldest Islamist organisation with one of the most extensive terror networks in the world to launch a program of 'cultural invasion' and eventual conquest of the West that virtually mirrors the tactics used by Islamists for more than two decades". This involves "a totalitarian ideology of infiltration which represents, in the end, the greatest danger for European societies".
It came to light after police raided the Bank Al Taqwa in Switzerland in November 2001 at the request of US security agencies, and experts recovered a copy from the computer of the bank's CEO.
Initially, access to "The Project" was limited to Western intelligence
agencies, and it only came to public attention through the efforts of
the Swiss investigative journalist Sylvain Besson, who regards it as
one of the most tightly guarded secrets in the history of Islamism,
and analysed it in his 2005 book La conquête de l'Occident: Le projet
secret des Islamistes ("The Conquest of the West: The Islamists'
Secret Project"), which has been described as possibly "the most
important book on the rise of Islamism in Europe".
"The Project" can be summarised as follows. It outlines a covert
strategy for the gradual and secret promotion of Islamism on a global
scale. It involves a complex process of organisational development
and subversion, involving mosques, community groups, schools,
hospitals, charities, advocacy groups, academic centres, Islamist
think-tanks, and publishing companies, all of which are to be
The strategy also involves ordinary political activity in existing
structures (e.g., political parties), and alliances with "progressive"
Western organisations (e.g., NGOs) that share attitudes and goals
with Islamism (e.g., anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, anti-Americanism,
It requires extensive network-building, and the infiltration of existing or potentially sympathetic organisations - Muslim and non-Muslim - while avoiding open alliances with publicly-known terrorist groups; always promoting a public profile of moderation, coupled with a relentless insistence on Muslim "victimhood", with a special focus on the situation of the Palestinians, which is to be dramatised at every opportunity.
All target organisations are to be gradually realigned ideologically in accordance with the principles of Islamism and Jihadism, using whatever tactics of proselytising, re-education, subversion, manipulation, deception and dissimilation are required.
During this stage of development "The Project" emphasises that it is vital to avoid or minimise any conflicts with or within Western societies that might provoke a backlash and lead to restrictions on Islamist activities. In the longer term, the aim is to develop "security forces" that will protect Islamist organisations and intimidate enemies.
All of this is to be promoted through the media, which has to be carefully cultivated and monitored, while extensive use is to be made of strategically placed agents of influence and useful idiots in the media, universities, etc.
Case study: Griffith University
An excellent case study of how Saudi funding can impact on Australian universities is the recent fiasco at Queensland's Griffith University.
In April 2008, it was revealed that Griffith University "practically begged the Saudi Arabian embassy to bankroll its Islamic campus for $1.3 million", assuring the Saudis that arrangements could be kept secret if required. (The Australian, April 22, 2008).
These concerns had first surfaced in September 2007, when it was revealed that Griffith was to receive the Saudi funding, and moderate Muslims expressed an anxiety that "the Saudis [were] using their financial power to transform the landscape of Australia's Islamic community and silence criticism of Wahhabism [and especially] its link to global terrorism and national security issues". (The Australian, September 17, 2007).
Shortly beforehand, it had been revealed that the Saudi government was planning a $2.7 billion scholarship fund for Australian universities, designed to facilitate the entry of Saudi students into Australia to undertake tertiary education in the face of restrictions on their entry into the US and UK in the post-9/11 security environment. (Weekend Australian, March 17-18, 2007).
Subsequently, in March 2008, Griffith invited Tariq Ramadan, the Islamist ideologue mentioned earlier, to be the keynote speaker at a conference pointedly called "The challenges and opportunities of Islam in the West: the case of Australia". (The Australian, March 3, 2008).
The event was organised by the university's Griffith Islamic Research Unit (GIRU) and the chair of the opening ceremony was the director of the unit, whose salary was supplemented by the Saudi grant, while the Saudi ambassador made the welcoming remarks.
In the subsequent revelations, documents obtained under Freedom of Information provisions showed not only had Griffith University "begged" for the funds, but that its vice-chancellor, Ian O'Connor, promoted Griffith as the "university of choice" for Saudis and "offered the embassy an opportunity to reshape the Griffith Islamic Research Unit (GIRU) during its campaign to get "extra noughts" added to the Saudi cheques". (The Australian, April 22, 2008).
Concerns also emerged at the time about the director of the GIRU, Dr Mohamad Abdalla, who apparently played a central role in pursuing the Saudi funding. Dr Abdulla is also co-director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, and is an associate investigator at the Centre of Excellence for Policing and Security at Griffith, which is a federally-funded academic facility, mandated to produce high-level research and policy advice on terrorism.
Mervyn F. Bendle, PhD, is senior lecturer in History and Communications at James Cook University, Queensland. This article is part of a speech he delivered at the National Civic Council's national conference in Melbourne on February 7.