John Menadue

Praying at Arafat. Al Jazeera English. flickr cc.
Through its support of extremist Wahhabism, the Saudi government has been promoting radical Islam around the world. Its influence has included funding schools, universities, and mosques, in over 80 countries. But, like the issue of the burqa, few Australians want to discuss the highly dangerous activities of the Saudi government.

In previous posts in my blog Pearls & Irritations John Tulloh and Peter Rodgers consider some facts about Wahhabism and the Saudi government.

The US State Department’s first representative to Muslim communities worldwide, Farah Pandi wrote in 2015:

I travelled to 80 countries between 2009 and 2014. … In each place I visited, the Wahhabi was an insidious presence, changing the local sense of identity, displacing historic culturally vibrant forms of Islamic practice, and pulling along individuals who were either paid to follow their rules or became their own custodians of the Wahhabi world view. Funding all this was Saudi money, which paid for things like text books, mosques, TV stations, and the training of imams.

In an honest moment in 2011, before he was duchessed by the wealth of the Saudis, Donald Trump described Saudi Arabia as “The world’s biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petrodollars to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people, while the Saudis rely on us to protect them”.

But, only a few months ago, Trump did a complete somersault in Riyadh, saying “we will make history again with the opening of a new Global Centre for Combatting Extremist Ideology right here”. Well there you go!

In a closed-door speech in October 2013, Hillary Clinton said The Saudis have exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth over the course of the last 30 years. In a leaked email from Hillary Clinton in 2014, she said that Qatar and Saudi Arabia “are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region”.

Saudi support for extremist movements

In late 2015, the Algerian journalist Kamel Douad described Saudi Arabia as an ISIS that has made it”. He noted that Saudi Arabia produced Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 9/11 hijackers who attacked the US, and that it has supplied more foreign fighters to the Islamic State than any country other than Tunisia. A recent report in the Times said Saudi Arabia has contributed more fighters to Daesh than any other country, even Tunisia.

The US Congress was considering a Bill which would have held Saudi Arabia responsible for its role in the 9/11 attacks, but, under financial pressure from Saudi Arabia, President Obama threatened to veto the legislation, with resultant protection of the Saudi Arabian involvement in 9/11.

Turning more closely to our own region, the Atlantic in March this year reported:

Kaaba. Turki Al-Fassam. flickr cc.

Since 1980, Saudi Arabia has devoted millions of dollars to exploiting its strict brand of Islam … to historically tolerant and diverse Indonesia. It has built more than 150 mosques … a huge free university in Jakarta and several Arabic language institutes, supplied more than 100 boarding schools with books and teachers, … brought in preachers and teachers, and disbursed thousands of scholarships for graduate study in Saudi Arabia. All this adds up to a deep network of Saudi influence.

The Saudi Arabian military, which we help supply, is inflicting enormous damage with its bombing of Shia in Yemen. Over 10,000 people have been killed in a military bombardment which has wrecked the Yemeni health system.

In all of this, there is a disturbing pattern of Saudi Arabia as a major exporter of influence and terrorism.

It is most unlikely that Australia would be immune from this influence. But we do not seem concerned to examine the spread of Wahhabism so generously funded by the Saudi government.

The spread of Saudi Wahhabism in Australia?

In the Saturday Paper of 27 June 2015, Philip Dorling, a well-known Australian journalist and writer, raised serious concerns about Saudi influence in Australia. Extracts from that article follow:

The leaked Saudi cables (released by WikiLeaks this week) do show that trade, consular support for Saudi students in Australia, and assistance to Australian Muslims undertaking the hajj are day-to-day preoccupations for the kingdom’s well-staffed embassy in Canberra. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade diplomatic list shows that, aside from Ambassador Nabil Mohammed A Al Saleh, there are 27 Saudi diplomats posted to our national capital, including one member of the Saudi royal family serving in the humble role of a diplomatic attaché, His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki bin Badr bin Saud bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

More significantly, the leaked documents provide evidence that the Saudi embassy is deeply involved in the religious life and politics of Australia’s Islamic communities, with the particular goal of spreading and strengthening their puritanical Wahhabis branch of Sunni Islam. Indeed, Saudi foreign ministry instructions leave little doubt that engagement in Islamic religious affairs and the politics of Australia’s Islamic communities are primary tasks for the embassy. The documents show the Sunni kingdom’s strong concern about efforts by Shiite Islamic leaders to engage with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and the kingdom’s funding of visits to Australia by Sunni Islamic clerics to counter Shia influence.

Also detailed are efforts to influence the Arab language press in Australia, with the leaked documents including instructions from the Saudi government to its embassy relating to the payment of subsidies disguised as ‘subscriptions’ from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information to prominent Arabic newspapers in Australia, with reference made to payments totaling $40,000 between four media organisations.

Newspapers identified in correspondence referring to payments in 2007 include the influential El Telegraph and the Middle East Times. Material support for community leaders and individuals judged to be supportive of Saudi interests, including at least one New South Wales Labor councilor, also appears to be significant, although it is not possible to make definitive judgements, owing to the incomplete nature of the leaked Saudi archive.

The Saudi embassy is further revealed to pay close attention to the activities of Saudi university students studying in Australia, with reports sent to the Mabahith, which also appears to make recommendations in relation to the Saudi government’s large-scale funding of building mosques and supporting Islamic community activities in Australia. Saudi government activity in Australia has extended to large investments in the higher education sector, including through the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, spanning the University of Melbourne, Griffith University, and the University of Western Sydney.

It is a very rare thing for the contemporary archives of a foreign embassy or diplomatic service operating in Australia to be made public. It has only happened twice – once in the case of the Soviet embassy following the 1954 defection of Vladimir Petrov, and secondly as a consequence of WikiLeaks’ 2010 publication of US embassy cables. Both cases showed that foreign governments had deep interests in the domestic affairs of this country, keenly interested to gather intelligence and exert influence. WikiLeaks’ ‘Saudi cables’ show that what the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation terms ‘foreign interference’ is certainly not confined to the activities of great powers.

In the course of current debates about Islamic State terrorism, radicalisation, and the need for heightened security measures, there should perhaps be increased attention to with whom Australia is dealing overseas and the nature and extent of their activities in this country. But, curiously, there’s no rush to do that from either side of Australian politics.

The embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not respond to a request for comment in relation to issues raised in this article.

But once more, as Philip Dorling said in June 2015, noone in Australia seems to be concerned or in a rush about the worldwide malign influence of the wealthy, cruel, and ruthless regime in Riyadh and its promotion of extreme Wahhabism.

We don’t really know much publicly about its activities in Australia. How much intelligence and police cooperation is there? Is our cooperation consistent with our struggle against terrorism? Is our cooperation consistent with our human rights obligations? How much are schools and mosques being funded? We don’t know. But the pattern of Saudi Arabia’s worldwide activities gives us reason for serious concern.

Reprinted with permission from the blog of John Menadue Pearls and Irritations at Readers can subscribe to John’s informative blog for free.

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