Wednesday night saw the launch of an intriguing new group at Melbourne Uni, the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam. Studies of Islam have becoming increasingly important over the last couple of years, and it is telling that the Uni has decided to group the various academics in the field into the one centre. There has been a problem with centres of this type merely being sycophantic apologists for the fundamentalists - not just in the case of Islamic studies, but in various academic groups dedicated to particular nations, religions, cultures and minorities. Take, for example, the way that Women's Studies and Feminism has been thoroughly captured by the Radical Feminists whilst failing at the tasks of critical analysis or diversity of viewpoints.
If the launch on Wednesday was any guide, the Centre will be a site for plenty of vigourous discussion and debate. The topic of discussion at the launch forum was the political and psychology of terrorists, particularly Abu Bakar Bashir and his merry men in Indonesia.
The founding director of the Centre Prof. Abdullah Saeed spoke about the origins of the word Jihad, which apparently has a much wider meaning and usage than merely Holy War - indeed it can be used to mean "striving to achieve a specific objective" (in the Qur'an, that is).
The ANU's Dr Grey Fealy spoke about the anti-Western paranoia which runs deep in JI, particularly some fascinating writing by Imam Samudra, who has clearly watched too many Wes Craven films and talks of the West as "draculas, monsters and vampires" (if only, Imam, if only...). According to Fealy, the Indonesian Government has yet to acknowledge the existance of JI in Indonesia, and are still deluding themselves that it only exists in other parts of SEAsia.
Finally, Unimelb's own Tim Lindsey had some interesting information about the training that many of the JIers recieved in 1980s Afghanistan. Amongst the allumni from the Afghan militant training camps were Irdis, Mukhlas, Hambali and Ali Imron, which are essentially all the senior terrorist figures within Indo. So that's how they do it. What a small world we live in...