By Rod Thornton, Nottingham University
Nottingham University: Debating academic freedom
I welcome the fact that a couple of my colleagues have put forward their views in regard to the situation vis-à-vis the monitoring of module reading lists in Nottingham University’s School of Politics. I feel I should be allowed some sort of reply. I am, after all, at the centre of this whole situation in that I feel that I cannot allow my own reading lists concerned with Terrorism modules to be monitored in the fashion suggested.
Just about everything the two writers say needs to be put into context. First of all, the point is never made as to why this module review process – where academics check other academics’ reading lists without student input – is actually necessary specifically in the School of Politics. Why does it need to be introduced in the School of Politics and not across the whole of Nottingham University? I would say that there is no rationale. Of course, the assumption has been made that the School of Politics was involved in some way in the arrests that we had in May 2008 on campus – when two people were detained on terrorism charges. In fact, the School was in no way involved.
'Al Qaeda Training Manual' available on Amazon
A Nottingham postgraduate student and an administrator were arrested in May 2008 and held for six days by counter-terrorism police after a document known as the ‘Al Qaeda Training Manual’ was found on the administrator’s computer. The student had sent him the document some months previously as he wanted his advice on whether or not it was a good source to use in his MA dissertation – which was on Al Qaeda. The student, before his arrest, did ask a lecturer at the university if it would be alright for him to use as a source. This lecturer, after checking the document out, agreed.
What exactly is the ‘Al Qaeda Training Manual’? It is a handwritten document (originally in Arabic) that was found in Manchester in 2000 by the police and translated by them into English. Its real title is ‘Declaration of Jihad against the Country’s Tyrants’ (or sometimes ‘Military Studies in the Jihad against the Tyrants’) and appears to have originated in Egypt in the early 1990s. It was designed to be used by Islamists opposing the Egyptian government in particular and secular Arab regimes more generally in the 1980s/1990s. The words ‘Al Qaeda’ actually do not appear in it once. It was only given the title ‘The Al Qaeda Training Manual’ by the US Department of Justice (US DoJ) which was using this document (having obtained it from the British police) as evidence in the trial in New York of the East African embassy bombers in 2000. The name was changed presumably in an attempt to ‘sex up’/‘spin’ the document to make it sound more ‘incriminating’ to a jury.