As an M.Litt. student in 2003 I wondered about the material we downloaded for our essays.
Comprising seminars on political Islam and the ideologies of organizations such as Al Qaeda, we were directed to read the works of Sayyid Qutb, Abul Ala Mawdudi and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam to understand the motivations of Islamists, jihadists and yes, Osama bin Laden.
Our Googling would follow trails of ‘jihad,’ ‘jihad training,’ ‘Osama bin Laden,’ ‘Azzam Brigades’ and ‘terror’ and at times prove fruitless as websites (such as that of the Azzam Brigades) were removed.
In the Scottish coastal city we would muse about a knock at the door and laugh at the silliness of such notions.
Because in academia, all is allowed in the name of research, right?
Ten years on from 9/11 and censorship, persecution and paranoia has resulted in the arrest of a student, an administrator and the suspension of a lecturer at the University of Nottingham after a student printed the al-Qaeda manual to research an essay.
One of the joyless developments in academia has been not just the rise in tuition (and accommodation!) fees, but also charges for printing and photocopying.
In the halcyon days of my undergraduate degree (and postgraduate) no charges were levied; for today’s students a 30-page article would amount to £3.00, while the printing of a doctoral thesis nudges £30, plus binding.
The point being that many students simply cannot afford to print reams of articles (or manuals) and test the favour of the administrators and secretaries to print the documents on their behalf.
Which is how the University administrator came to be arrested and questioned under suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities.
Both were innocent (of course).
What is worse is the lack of support provided by the University: as Thornton lobbied on behalf of the student and administrator, he was isolated, condemned and ultimately suspended by Nottingham.
The irony lies in the reasoning: a “breakdown in working relationships with your colleagues caused by your recent article.”
As an academic we count on three things to ensure quality, pioneering research: freedom of information, freedom of expression and the support of our institutions.
Thornton, Sabir and Yezza were failed on all points and it makes one’s head hang in frustration.
Shame on you, Nottingham.