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Islamist students 'spreading hate'

Radical international university students are posing a greater security threat than hardline sheiks by spreading extremist messages at Australian mosques and prayer halls.

Moderate Muslims warned yesterday that international students should be forced to undergo training about the Australian way of life to counter their radical interpretations of Islam.

The former chairman of John Howard's Islamic reference board, Ameer Ali, said some international students needed to be stopped from poisoning the minds of local Muslims.

"The danger here is that universities are becoming the hotbeds for fundamentalist views among students," he told The Australian.

"They (international students) go to the mosque and they mix around with the community and bring those same views into Australia. They have a negative influence on student attitudes towards religion.

"The students who come here, they come with the views (they've developed) in their own countries - it can be Shia Islam in Iran or Wahabbi Islam in Saudi Arabia. These are the agents of change we are facing now."

Dr Ali's comments follow revelations in The Australian that national security networks were monitoring some international students from Iran who were suspected of collecting information on the local Persian community for Tehran. It was revealed that Iranian students were using local mosques to infiltrate Persian groups hostile to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Dr Ali, a visiting fellow in economics at Murdoch University in Perth, accused overseas students from Saudi Arabia of spreading Wahabbism - a radical interpretation of Islam espoused by Osama bin Laden - at universities.

The number of Saudi students in Australia has risen almost eightfold in the past four years, bringing total enrolments to 2090.

The Australian revealed in March that up to 150 university students from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt who follow Wahabbism overthrew the leadership at the Newcastle Mosque, 160km north of Sydney. The students were accused by the mosque's then spiritual leader, Bilal Kanj, of converting local Muslims to Wahabbism.

Dr Ali's concerns about universities being used by hardline students to spread extremist Islam reflect those held by the British Government, which published a report last year warning lecturers to be vigilant of students distributing extremist literature.

The British report, titled Promoting good campus relations: dealing with hate crimes and intolerance, urged universities to form partnerships with the security authorities to report suspicious behaviour.

Dr Ali said it was difficult for immigration and university authorities here to screen international students for their extremists beliefs, but such ideologies could be countered and in some cases reversed through compulsory education.

He said Australian universities could lead the world in introducing Muslim hardline students to moderate Western thinking to help them question the views passed on to them at home.

Dr Ali said students would learn to question anything from social science to Islamic scripture. He called on universities nationwide to introduce a compulsory first-year elective course for international students - regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds - to teach them what was and was not tolerated by Australian society, and to help them develop a "critical mind" towards hardline anti-Western beliefs.

"The crux of the unit must be that what you read in the textbook, or the scripture or whatever, has to be tested with critical analysis," Dr Ali said.

He said such a subject would help to moderate the hardline Islamic ideologies held by some international students, without jeopardising the Australian education market, which is worth more than $2.2 billion a year.

"We are looking to develop a community of people who are moderate and who'll think critically of what rubbish comes from the outside," Dr Ali said.

The Australian
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