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06WELLINGTON826
KIWI MUSLIMS: WAHHABIS IN THEIR MIDST
Tue Oct 24 00:00:00 +0200 2006
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Wellington
VZCZCXRO7973
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH RUEHPB
DE RUEHWL #0826/01 2970232
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 240232Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3401
INFO RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHWL/USDAO WELLINGTON NZ PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC//TTIC// PRIORITYC O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 WELLINGTON 000826
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR EAP/ANP AND S/CT
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/24/2016
TAGS: PGOV PINR PINS PTER PREL KISL SMIG NZ
SUBJECT: KIWI MUSLIMS: WAHHABIS IN THEIR MIDST
REF: A) WELLINGTON 811 B) WELLINGTON 341 C)
WELLINGTON 570
Classified By: DCM David Keegan for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
This cable was drafted by ConGen Auckland and approved by
Embassy Wellington.
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: New Zealand Muslims are getting
increased attention from broader society as the community
faces internal divisions, Wahhabi influence from overseas
groups, and discrimination. Alleged Wahhabi activities have
been at the heart of some publicized schisms involving mosque
administrations and student groups. Whether or not there are
extremists in the community, Muslims are starting to feel a
bit less welcome in New Zealand with periodic spikes in
mosque desecrations and media attacks on Islam. END SUMMARY.
Internal divide
---------------
¶2. (SBU) The Federation of Islamic Associations in New
Zealand (FIANZ) is an umbrella organization for smaller
Muslim groups in New Zealand. FIANZ is the most prominent
Muslim organization in the country (see ref A) with the most
extensive links to government and broader society, but not
all Muslims feel represented by it.
¶3. (C) In a meeting with ConOff, Reza Khatami, president
of the Aal-e-Muhammad Society (AEM), an unofficial student
group at Auckland University, said FIANZ is essentially a
Sunni establishment. He said Shias do not feel represented
by the national organization. Although he claimed there are
no tensions between FIANZ and the Shia community, he
criticized FIANZ for not doing enough to educate New
Zealanders about Islam. A Shia himself, Khatami said AEM
has some outreach activities but he did not give details.
His predecessor and founding member of AEM, Shahin Soltanian,
said there are approximately 8,000 Shias in New Zealand, most
with roots in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India and a
smaller number hailing from Iraq.
¶4. (C) Soltanian, who was also a past president of
Auckland University's Islamic Society (AUIS), a registered
student group informally affiliated with FIANZ, was also
critical of FIANZ during his meeting with ConOff. He said
tolerance of extremist activities by both FIANZ and AUIS has
been a contentious issue within the Muslim community.
Wahhabi influence
-----------------
¶5. (C) Contrary to assertions by FIANZ president Javed
Khan (see ref A) that there are no extremists in New Zealand,
Soltanian told Conoff that Wahhabi groups have "overtly tried
to influence New Zealand's Muslim society." Soltanian said
AUIS has sponsored speakers from Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al
Haramain. Soltanian claimed these two groups receive Saudi
money for their activities. AUIS's alleged drift towards or
tolerance of Wahhabi ideology made it difficult for Shias and
even some Sunnis to stay with the group, and so Soltanian and
other disaffected members left to form AEM.
¶6. (C) Soltanian said the extremists' activities are not
limited to the university campus; he claims that there are
extremist preachers who operate with the full knowledge of
FIANZ and the GNZ. After 9/11, he said the GNZ deported a
few rabble-rousers, but others operate without hindrance
aside from casual surveillance by the Government. He also
claims that while he and others are trying to counter these
groups' activities, most of the community remains silent for
fear of being branded infidels. Soltanian asserted that
inaction by the government, acquiescence by Muslim groups
like FIANZ, and the extremists' strong financial backing from
abroad make it difficult to counter their growing influence.
He said their activities often target young Muslims.
¶7. (C) ConOff's own visit to Ponsonby mosque, Auckland's
oldest Islamic house of worship, provided a mixed picture.
The imam wore traditional Arabic garb, sometimes indicative
of Wahhabi leanings, but he followed orthodox, non-Wahhabi
methods: during the sermon or "khutba" he praised the first
four or "rightly guided" Caliphs, and he offered an
additional prayer set prescribed by Islam's prophet after the
WELLINGTON 00000826 002 OF 003
congregational prayer )- steps often ignored by Wahhabis.
The sermon focused on a traditional theme -) God's mercy )-
and cited the common message of prophets from the Abrahamic
faiths. Posters were plastered on the mosque door for a
protest the following day against Israeli actions in Lebanon
(see ref C), but the protest was not mentioned in either the
sermon or the community announcements that followed the
imam's ministration. However, of the approximately 300
worshippers attending the day's services, about 20%, mainly
young adults of Arab appearance, were following Wahhabi-style
worship methods.
¶8. (C) Dr. William Shepard, a retired associate professor
at Canterbury University, states that internal divisions in
the Muslim Association of Canterbury (MAC) are partly due to
the perception that the current management is Wahhabi. In a
yet unpublished update of his extensive research paper on New
Zealand Muslims, which he confidentially shared with ConOff,
Shepard writes "The present (MAC) management, commonly
labelled (sic) 'Wahhabi' by its opponents, sought in 2003 to
turn the mosque property over to a trust dominated by the
Saudi Al-Haramain Trust in return for money to establish a
school...The opposition group has vigorously opposed these
efforts, aided by the discovery that some branches of the
Haramain Trust had been involved with terrorist activity, and
has even sought help from the local municipal authorities."
In March, Canterbury newspaper The Press reported that MAC's
finances had been frozen as a result of a power struggle
within management. The opposition group promised to hold
elections later to decide on a permanent management board for
MAC.
¶9. (C) Wahhabi footprints, though light, appear to have a
long history. Shepard's paper notes that the formation of
FIANZ in 1979 was spurred by the visit of a Saudi delegation
that encouraged the various Muslim groups to unite. But
while their current level of influence is difficult to
ascertain, post-9/11 crackdowns on terrorist financing seems
to have impaired some of their activities.
Muslim bashing
--------------
¶10. (SBU) The community also faces external problems.
Every few months the press reports allegations of
discrimination against Muslims. In May, a group of New
Zealand Muslims accused the Customs Service of racial
profiling. The Dominion Post published an op-ed piece in
February of this year in which the writer accused Muslims of
being a "fifth column" for Tehran and Damascus. Following the
summer's Heathrow hijacking scare, FIANZ asked Muslim women
to avoid wearing Islamic headdress, and advised mosques to
hire security firms to protect property.
¶11. (SBU) Don Brash and his National party, as well as
other right-of-center parties, are also seen as hostile to
Muslims. In recent weeks, Khan publicly criticized Brash for
what FIANZ and some others believed were exclusionary remarks
toward immigrants, especially Muslims. Foreign Minister
Winston Peters is infamous amongst Muslim New Zealanders for
a remark in July 2005 that likened the community to a
multi-headed hydra, saying even "moderate" or "mainstream"
Muslims come from the same body as extremists )- "they fit
hand and glove."
¶12. (U) There have been spates of anti-Muslim vandalism;
after the London bombings in July 2005 mosque walls were
spray-painted and windows were broken. Mosques were also
attacked this past July during the Israeli-Lebanese conflict
(see ref A).
¶13. (C) At a group dinner attended by ConOff and active
members of the Muslim community, Anjum Rahman, a former
Labour parliamentary candidate and head of the Islamic
Women's Council, said she was alienated at work after she
decided to wear Islamic headdress or "hijab". Some cited
incidents in which Muslims were passed over for jobs
ostensibly because of their faith. And Ali Ikram -- a TV One
reporter and past participant in the Department's
international visitor program (see ref B) -- said possible
discrimination aside, many young and educated Muslim New
Zealanders are, like their non-Muslim compatriots, leaving
for Australia to find jobs. The group said this local brain
drain is depriving the community of its most promising
WELLINGTON 00000826 003 OF 003
members who could also help uninitiated Kiwi Muslims
integrate more easily into the broader society (see ref A).
¶14. (C) COMMENT: Reftel A showed that the first large wave
of Muslim immigrants from the 1960s through the 1980s had no
choice but to interact with their non-Muslim neighbors, and
was thus quickly initiated into traditional New Zealand life.
They were largely English-speaking, educated service
providers whose language abilities and job skills dovetailed
with Kiwi society. However, since the 1990s, immigrants with
limited language and educational backgrounds have come into
an already established Muslim community with mosques, Halal
meat butchers, and government services available in their
native language. If not carefully managed, this could lead
to the kind of insulation seen in some Muslim populations in
Europe that can potentially serve as a breeding ground for
homegrown extremists. While we don't see extremism taking
hold here yet, our GNZ counterparts and many Muslim leaders
recognize the ingredients are there. END COMMENT.
McCormick
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