Academic Freedom in a Time of Terror

July 12, 2008

Something I’ve been involved in lately in a small way are efforts to defend academic freedom at the University of Nottingham where a student and an administrator were turned in to the police for downloading an electronic version of an al-Qaeda training manual which is freely available online and can be purchased in campus bookstores. The manual was part of the student’s MA research into terrorism and had been emailed to the administrator for printing, but Nottingham immediately called the police; the student (Rizwan Sabar) was held for 6 days under anti-terrorism laws and the administrator (Hicham Yezza) for over a month after he was also swept up by immigration police; he still faces the threat of deportation.

The way both men were treated is absolutely outrageous and constitutes an obvious and egregious attack on academic freedom, prompting protests at Nottingham from students and staff – three of whom also wrote an article for the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) outlining their fears. I organised a letter from research students at Oxford and elsewhere protesting about the issue to Nottingham’s Vice-Chancellor, which you can see here. The response from Nottingham’s VC has been dismissive – essentially accusing his staff of lying and denying any relationship between the case and academic freedom. I have explained in a letter to THES why this is quite wrong.

This is one to watch. How the university and the criminal justice system behave here will mark out the limits of academic freedom in our fear-sodden, terrified age of risk aversion.

posted in academia, academic freedom, terrorism by Lee

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1 Comment to "Academic Freedom in a Time of Terror"

  1. Aubrey Blumsohn wrote:


    My comments here

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