Academic Freedom and the Study of Political Terror
According to reports in The Guardian newspaper, a student and member of staff at the University of Nottingham were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Wednesday 14th May, after university authorities contacted the police. (The story can be downloaded from http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2282045,00.html). They were released without charge six days later, after an intrusive investigation involving their families, friends and political affiliations was carried out. The arrests were in relation to ‘radical material’, which the individuals were in possession of for research purposes. According to one academic, the police said the event never would have occurred if the persons involved had been: “Blonde, Swedish PhD students.”
The material was an al Qaeda manual found by the police in the UK, but later posted on the US Department of Justice website. It can be freely downloaded from: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/terrorism/alqaida_manual/
Vanessa Pupavac, a lecturer in the school of Politics and International Relations stated, “We are greatly concerned by the disproportionate nature of the university’s response to the possession of legitimate research materials. Both the individuals are unreservedly innocent and they and their families and friends and have been greatly distressed by the overzealous police investigation. It is crucial that we do not let concerns for security become the enemy of liberty and academic freedom.”
In response to these actions, academics from the University of Nottingham will be doing a public reading of the research material that led to arrests under the Terrorism Act on campus last week, outside the Hallward library, University Park Campus at 2:00pm on 28/05/08. The reading will be followed by a silent protest where students and academics will symbolically gag themselves to object to the attack on academic freedom. In addition, a petition is currently being signed by hundreds of students and academics worldwide, asking the University of Nottingham to guarantee academic freedom on campus for all staff and students regardless of their ethnic background or political views. The Critical Studies on Terrorism network (http://www.bisa.ac.uk/groups/7/index.asp) today urged its members to show solidarity by downloading the document themselves and attending the Nottingham protest.
These events follow the UK government’s new legislation criminalising the possession of materials that ‘glorify terrorism’ or could be ‘prepatory to terrorism’, as well as attempts to encourage university lecturers to report students who express radical views. In addition, current legislation means that academics who suspect their informants of being linked to violent activity or its preparation must report them to the authorities or face criminal prosecution. As such, these events represent a serious attack on academic freedom, an obstacle in the way of conducting credible research, and have the real potential for serious miscarriages of justice.
Dr Richard Jackson
Reader in International Politics
Editor, Critical Studies on Terrorism
Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University,