Thursday, May 22, 2008

"The proper study of mankind"

posted by k

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?

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Blogger bookgeek:rhiannon said...

I was really sorry I'd set my dissertation topics before I heard this. I've got half a mind to switch the theology one from Jewish Feminism to Islamic Terrorism, as it would be a reasonable choice, and then I could download illegal material too!

6:16 am  
Blogger David Mery said...

From Manchester to Nottingham via the USA.

It is ironic that the "Al-Qaeda handbook" is likely the manual found in Manchester by British police in 2000 and subsequently passed on to the Americans. The owner was not arrested at the time.

All this is detailed in George Smith's excellent Dick Destiny blog at BUSH DIGS UP MOLDY OLD MANUAL OF AFGHAN JIHAD: Tries to make it a reason for why we fight.

br -d

12:18 am  
Anonymous katie said...

I don't think there was actually that much publicity -- the local news article you linked to framed most of its 'details' with 'it is thought' or 'it is believed' (i.e. gossip), and all that was reported in the national press as far as I saw was the university's official statement, which was the bit in quotation marks about how it wouldn't be appropriate to comment at this stage (though clearly the university had its own reasons for not wanting much publicity).

What is more worrying at the moment is that the man who was re-arrested on immigration charges, a university administrator who has lived in the UK for 13 years and was in the process of applying for British Citizenship, is due to be deported on 1 June, without having the opportunity to contest these charges. More information can be found here:
or you can contact a student group organising a campaign for his release on [staffandstudents AT gmail DOT com]
or 07948 590262 if you have any suggestions.

12:47 pm  
Blogger areopagitica said...

Thanks for comments, everyone. If you do a google news search, you can find how far the story spread. I heard it on the BBC national news headlines (radio 4) and it made the Scotsman and the International Herald Tribune. You can see the Press Association story here:

- note that the police are offering "support and reassurance". There's a similar story on the Reuters site. And of course it's been picked up by various right-wing blogs.

Do add more details of possible actions here or elsewhere.


6:35 pm  
Blogger David Mery said...

The Muslim News OnLine:

"[...] In response to the wrongful detentions, 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, outside the Hallward library, University Park Campus, at 2:00pm, on May 28. 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."

(via The Cutting Edge)

br -d

9:59 pm  
Blogger David Mery said...

Stop the Deportation of Hicham Yezza blog.

br -d

8:23 pm  
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