"The proper study of mankind"
It was big news. The first ever terrorist arrest in Nottingham - on the campus of Nottingham University. The local paper said the police had been tipped off by "senior university figures." There were plenty of students willing to tell journalists how shocked and outraged they were. The 7/7 bombings were mentioned and the press were briefed that the two men arrested of Pakistani descent.
Police were given extra time to question the men, so that they could search "premises connected" with them. (This probably meant their homes, but "premises" is a more alarming word.)
Then, nearly a week later, news was released that the men had been released without charge. It wasn't such a big news story. One had been re-arrested for possible immigration offences. It's strange how often that happens. It makes me think that, with all the forms immigrant have to fill in, it's probably quite easy to make a mistake.
But this time one of the men arrested is speaking to the press. The Nottingham Evening Post offers a fuller story tomorrow.
The Times Higher Education Supplement is also reporting the story. E-mails are giving the background. It seems there weren't any terrorists. There was a registered postgraduate student working towards a Ph.D. on Islamic terrorism. As part of his research, he downloaded an Al-Qaeda training manual. He didn't join a terrorist cell to find it - he went to a United States government website which had made an edited version publicly available. Then he sent it to a friend - a member of university staff in another department - asking him to print out. The extension to the warrant was given because the two men owned computers and mobile phones. And the university is now saying that the police were tipped off by a junior clerical employee and not a senior member of staff.
The student's tutor, who knew all about his research, is shocked that police could cause problems for a student pursuing such relevant research. But a university spokesman says that the edited version of the Al-Qaeda handbook is "not legitimate research material."
That seems strange to me. If I were researching Islamic terrorism in a politics department, I'd want to read what Al-Qaeda says. Research involves acquiring knowledge and researchers may have to look at material they don't much like.
I don't know all the details of the case. But if knowledge and learning are valued, academic freedom is vital.
Two men were arrested for looking at material which was made publicly available by the United States government. I don't think that should be grounds for arrest.
Press stories of the arrests raised fears of a terrorist threat in Nottingham. How many people are arrested like this, with great publicity? How many are then released without charge and without apology? And what happens next?