Like Ryan Giggs, the University of Nottingham is by now learning something of the Streisand Effect, where attempting to hide information and silence critics inadvertently leads to much greater levels of discussion and critique than would otherwise have been the case. Recall that Dr Rod Thornton was suspended in early May for a paper he wrote for the BISA conference (an academic gathering for those working on all matters ‘international’, from foreign policy to anti-globalisation). But the story isn’t going away and now the paper itself is available at Scribd (or in pdf if you prefer). It’s 112 pages of description and analysis which, among other things, charges named senior staff at the University of Nottingham as implicated in breaches of law and good conduct.
Particularly of interest is the disclosure in the paper that much of the documentation drawn on to build Thornton’s case is already in the public domain, having been the subject of a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests in the years since the arrests. Much of the most damning material comes from a comparison of emails, reports and other documentation that has been released under FoI, or which is linked to written documents that Thornton says he possesses, and so which could be easily checked in a court of law. There is reference to meetings, but even here quotes are linked to transcripts. All of which rather puts into question Nottingham’s contention that defamation was a serious threat. Moreover, Thornton makes a good defence of naming names on other grounds – which is precisely that he is not seeking to bring the University into disrepute, but to single out those most responsible for a calumnious series of events.
It turns out, for example, that Thornton has been subjected to a series of investigations since 2008, apparently of increasing triviality. At one point he was charged with providing faulty reading lists on the grounds that he did not add his office hours to the front page and included too many essays on a module guide. The fallout for Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir has been somewhat more serious – in addition to continual stops-and-searches after the incident, both have been listed on Home Office documents enumerating ‘major Islamist plots’ against the UK.
But what of the trigger for the arrests in the first place? We might assume an innocent misunderstanding occurred, with regrettable consequences. But:
what were these three documents that had ‘no valid reason whatsoever…to exist’ [as the University Registrar described them to the police]; documents which were ‘utterly indefensible’ for Yezza (and, later, for Sabir) to have, and documents which count not be sent via the university’s computer system? Well, two were articles from the journals Foreign Affairs and the Middle East Policy Council Journal, while the other was a publicly available document downloaded from the United States Department of Justice (US DoJ) website.
It’s hard to say anything positive about anyone who thinks work published in Foreign Policy is illegal. Criminal in some slighlty different sense, perhaps, but not illegal. As Thornton dryly comments, you can buy it in airports. Sadly, it gets worse: Continue reading