There were several sharp things Dr Matthew Gray could have said about the death at the Palazzo Versace of Sheik Maktoum bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
He could have sighed that here was yet another oiled-up Arab autocrat -- the Emir of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates -- who shouldn't have been caught dead in such oinking opulence.
Yet how sadly symbolic it was for the old sheik to die at a Gold Coast pleasure palace, with his private jumbo garaged at the airport and a caravanserai of 33 relatives with their 300 bags keeping him company on his last gold-plated holiday.
Or Gray might have noted that the sheik, while guiding one of Arabia's most liberal and prosperous regimes, still failed to introduce true democracy. Why are even pro-American Arab rulers so scared of the vote?
But Gray, from the Australian National University's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies -- the biggest in the country -- said nothing of the unkind when he went on the ABC's AM program in January to talk of the death of Sheik Maktoum bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
But what would you expect from the ANU's Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Senior Lecturer?
What the ABC failed to mention is that Gray's position at the ANU was both endowed by and named after the brother of the sheik he was discussing.
Of course, I'm sure Gray, in opining on the "tragedy of this death", said precisely what he felt. The fact that Sheik Hamdan's Al-Maktoum Foundation -- famous for funding mosques -- spent $2.5 million on the centre that employs him wouldn't stop him from calling a sheik a sheik, or even a bloody camel.
Likewise, the $600,000 that this ANU centre pocketed from the mad mullahs of Iran to teach Iranian studies, or the $400,000 it got from Turkey, now led by an openly Islamic government, is surely not going to make any of its experts go easy on their patrons, is it?
Still, I wonder what some of the Middle East's richest autocrats and Islamists want in return for their cash.
Don't they expect Australian students -- perhaps our future diplomats -- to be taught to see things more from the Arab or Muslim point of view?
I don't say the ANU is unusual in accepting Middle Eastern cash to teach about Islam and its lands.
Melbourne University, for one, was so grateful to get $1.5 million from the Sultan of Oman that it agreed to name its chair in Arab and Islamic Studies after him.
It's the same story at top universities in Britain and the United States, where tankers of Arab money have been shipped to fund the teaching of tomorrow's Middle East analysts. And so Exeter University's Chair of Arabic Studies is named after the Emir of Sharjah. The University of Southern California's King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture is named after the late Saudi ruler.
FrontPage Magazine two years ago listed just some of the other American universities funded by the Saudis: the University of Arkansas, which received $27 million for its Middle East Study Centre; Cornell, which got $15 million; and Rutgers, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, UCLA and others.
What do the Saudis want for all this cash? Academics warning about Arab autocracies and Muslim hate-preachers? I don't think so.
But I repeat: I'm sure the ANU's Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies does not tailor its teaching in exchange for Arab dollars. Why would it, when it tends to teach already from an Arabist, Muslim and anti-American perspective without any encouragement?
That perspective may be best judged from the writings of the centre's director, Prof Amin Saikal, brother of Afghanistan's Deputy Foreign Minister.
Here is a sample of his brand of Muslim victimology from his recent lecture on the war on Islamic terror.
"Key figures in the Bush Administration -- specifically neo-conservatives and reborn Christians who have assumed the dominant role in the Administration -- have overlooked some of the more salient points about Islam as a religion advocating nothing less than virtuous living, peaceful coexistence and societal harmony," he sighed. Sweet Islam. Bad Christians.
"Starting with the Crusades and European colonialism and finally the US's rise to globalism following World War II, the Muslim domain has been constantly subjected to suppression and humiliation," he added, skipping over the fact Muslims sacked Rome, invaded France, held Sicily, ruled Spain and as recently as 1683 besieged Vienna. Poor Islam. Bully Christians.
The US "should give up its long-standing policy of talking about the virtues of democracy and liberty but supporting and protecting dictatorships whenever it suits it," Saikal demanded, ignoring that this is what US President George W. Bush is pushing for, but without the sneering at democracy. Reasonable Islam. Two-faced Christians.
The US, urged Saikal, should just "open dialogue with Tehran and Damascus". Now hang on, Amin -- didn't you just say we should actually stop mollycoddling tyrannies such as Iran and Syria? Or are we Westerners always wrong, whether we fight a Muslim autocrat or flatter him?
The subjects taught at Saikal's centre are from the same sorry date palm, to judge from its handbook.
Democracy -- or its lethal absence in Arab lands -- is barely mentioned, while the course on Islamic radicalism will "raise awareness about the ethnocentric nature of a range of key pol-
itical concepts (including 'militant Islam', 'anti-democratic Islam' and 'Islamic terrorism')."
See, children, the problem isn't the "beheading" but the judgmental word you used to describe it.
But even this post-modernist blame-shifting is standard now in modish universities, and isn't evidence that the ANU has been bought off.
What is more dubious, though, is that the ANU has given the United Arab Emirates a formal role in helping to run the centre in exchange for its cash.
According to the university, the "centre's activities are guided by an advisory board" whose patron is Sheik Hamdan and whose 15 members include a former UAE ambassador and a representative of Sheik Hamdan's foundation.
The ex-ambassador, Dr Khalifa Al-Faisal, also sponsors a prize for the centre's best masters student.
Is this foreign influence over an Australian public university healthy? Is there a risk it will stifle debate on issues that Middle Eastern Muslims find "sensitive", from Danish cartoons to the need for democracy?
True, I have no evidence that Dubai's millions, or Iran's half-million, have tamed the teaching of the ANU. But when one of its experts fails to criticise the brother of the sheik who paid for his post, I can't say I expected anything else.