Top university 'begged' for Saudi funding
By Richard Kerbaj
A PROMINENT Australian university practically begged the Saudi Arabian embassy to bankroll its Islamic campus for $1.3m, 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.
The revelation comes despite a claim last year by Ross Homel - then director of Griffith's key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, which manages the Islamic unit - that the university did not chase money from the embassy and that the $100,000 down payment was offered with "no strings" attached.
While the Brisbane university says its centre is designed to promote moderate Islam, the Saudi Government espouses a hardline version of the faith, policed at home by the Mutaween, the country's religious police notorious for enforcing strict Muslim laws.
Women are subjected to particularly harsh treatment in Saudi Arabia, and foreigners face severe punishment for not obeying the religious laws.
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
When presented with the documents, Professor Homel admitted the university had asked for the money.
He said the Islamic unit director, Mohamad Abdalla, and his team were always "proactively" seeking funding from a range of sources, including foreign embassies.
"Mohamad Abdalla and his colleagues in the Islamic Research Unit are always looking for funds," Professor Homel said.
"So the Saudi funding was one of a number of sources of funding that the (unit) has received."
"They've always been proactive about seeking funding."
The Australian revealed last September that the Muslim community feared Griffith's $100,000 Saudi grant would skew the university's research and create sympathy for an extremist Islamic ideology - Wahabbism - which is espoused by al-Qaeda.
Professor Homel maintained the Saudis had no control over the university funding, but documents obtained by The Australian reveal that vice-chancellor O'Connor, among other staffers, offered the embassy a chance to "discuss ways" in which the money could be used.
1) Top university 'begged' for Saudi funding