Am I a Terrorist?

The UK’s Terrorism Act 2006 makes it an offence to:

(a) distribute or circulate a terrorist publication;
(b) give, sell or lend such a publication;
(c) offer such a publication for sale or loan;
(d) provide a service to others that enables them to obtain, read, listen to or look at such a publication, or to acquire it by means of a gift, sale or loan;
(e) transmits the contents of such a publication electronically; or
(f) have such a publication in his possession with a view to its becoming the subject of conduct falling within any of paragraphs (a) to (e).

This is almost certainly the reason that the British Library has decided against including Taliban documents within its archives, as reported by Al Jazeera.  Despite the Library believing there is a clear academic value in these documents, it has engaged in an act of self-censorship over fear of prosecution, whether for itself or for researchers accessing these documents.

This is a problem.  I have always known vaguely that the UK’s anti-terrorism laws, introduced during Tony Blair’s Labour government following the 9/11 attacks and subsequently strengthened since, are stringent and widespread.  I have only examined the law in depth, however, after being alerted to it by that Al Jazeera article.  It also brought my attention to the case of Rizwaan Sabir, who writes here of being arrested in 2008 as a masters student for downloading a document titled ‘An Al-Qaeda Training Manual’ from the US Department of Justice website to aid his research.  The case against him collapsed and he was rightfully granted compensation, but this case highlights the how these laws are open to abuse.  I have no doubt that similar instances have since occurred.

I’m beginning to wonder whether I myself might even have accessed documents for research purposes which would come under suspicion.  Earlier this year I wrote an essay for a Middle-Eastern History undergraduate course at university in which I examined the Islamic State’s development in the context of historical jihadi movements.  To do so, I cited official IS press releases in order to provide evidence of the group’s ideology.  Is this an act of terrorism?  What if I were to have gone further and explored more jihadi works – say, of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a leading jihadi theorist who has influenced many movements in Iraq during the last decade?  I would be reading these sources purely out of academic interest with no intention of becoming a jihadi myself.  Would that be an act of terrorism?

Let’s go even broader.  I have a downloaded copy of The Communist Manifesto on my phone I’m reading through out of historical and ideological interest.  Is that terrorism?  For another university essay last year, I consulted a copy of Mein Kampf to gain an insight into National Socialist ideology.  Was that terrorism?  Under UK law, certainly not – these documents, even Mein Kampf, are understood to have academic value.  So it’s clear that, in the UK, ‘terrorist documents’ can be narrowed down generally to those which espouse violent Islamism.

Of course, as Sabir mentions in his article, there’s a strong element of ‘racial discrimination’ here.  As a white British citizen with no Muslim or Middle-Eastern ancestry, it is likely that I could get away with accessing jihadi documents for the purpose of academic research as I don’t fit the profile of an Islamist terrorist.  Indeed, in the unlikely event I would be charged, I’d be protected under the Terrorism Act which states that individuals charged can be defended if:

(a) the statement neither expressed his views nor had his endorsement (whether by virtue of section 3 or otherwise); and
(b) that it was clear, in all the circumstances of the statement’s publication, that it did not express his views and (apart from the possibility of his having been given and failed to comply with a notice under subsection (3) of that section) did not have his endorsement.

I imagine this is what protected Sabir, as well as the fact he accessed the documents from the US government.  I would hope this clause has protected most people who have been charged with terrorism for conducting legitimate academic research.  Nevertheless, as the British Library has demonstrated, the legislation is still effective in creating an atmosphere where self-censorship is widely practiced, which cannot be healthy for academia.  If the UK is to maintain its reputation for academic freedom and world-class research, this problem needs to be tackled.

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2014 In Books

In the first part of my 2014 in review series which may or may not continue after this post, I’m going to briefly analyse the books I’ve read this year.  Unfortunately I only managed to read 31 books, down from 41 in 2013 and failing to reach my target of 43 by quite a wide margin.  My main reason for this is that I more or less stopped reading outside of my university courses between January and May due to coursework and life related things going on, so hopefully this downward movement is only a blip!  Anyhow, here’s the list:

  1. The Book Thief (2005) – Markus Zusak
  2. Britain and Ireland: From Home Rule to Independence (1999) – Jeremy Smith
  3. Utopia (1516) – Thomas More
  4. Doctor Faustus (1604) – Christopher Marlowe
  5. Oroonoko (1688) – Aphra Behn
  6. Scotland’s Future (2013) – The Scottish Government
  7. Blair Unbound (2007) – Anthony Seldon
  8. The Fault in our Stars (2012) – John Green
  9. Long Walk to Freedom (1995) – Nelson Mandela
  10. The Trowie Mound Murders (2014) – Marsali Taylor
  11. Of Mice and Men (1937) – John Steinbeck
  12. Rachel in Love (1987) – Pat Murphy
  13. Ulysses (1922) – James Joyce
  14. Europe: In or Out? (2014) – David Charter
  15. The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) – J.K. Rowling
  16. Nausea (1938) – Jean-Paul Sartre
  17. The Silkworm (2014) – J.K. Rowling
  18. The Great Gatsby [re-read] (1922)– F. Scott Fitzgerald
  19. A Game of Thrones (1996) – George R.R. Martin
  20. A Clash of Kings (1998) – George R. R. Martin
  21. A Storm of Swords (2000) – George R. R. Martin
  22. A Sentimental Journey (1768) – Laurence Sterne
  23. Gulliver’s Travels (1726) – Jonathan Swift
  24. Common Sense (1776) – Thomas Paine
  25. Salmond: Against the Odds (2010) – David Torrance
  26. The Constitution of the United States of America (1787) – James Madison
  27. Frankenstein [re-read] (1818) – Mary Shelley
  28. Northanger Abbey (1817) – Jane Austen
  29. Rip Van Winkle / The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) – Washington Irving
  30. Hard Times (1854) – Charles Dickens
  31. A Feast for Crows (2005) – George R. R. Martin

And to put them in order of preference:

  1. A Storm of Swords (2000) – George R. R. Martin
  2. A Game of Thrones (1996) – George R.R. Martin
  3. A Clash of Kings (1998) – George R. R. Martin
  4. Long Walk to Freedom (1995) – Nelson Mandela
  5. The Silkworm (2014) – J.K. Rowling
  6. Frankenstein [re-read] (1818) – Mary Shelley
  7. Common Sense (1776) – Thomas Paine
  8. Doctor Faustus (1604) – Christopher Marlowe
  9. The Great Gatsby [re-read] (1922) – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  10. The Fault in our Stars (2012) – John Green
  11. The Book Thief (2005) – Markus Zusak
  12. A Feast for Crows (2005) – George R. R. Martin
  13. The Trowie Mound Murders (2014) – Marsali Taylor
  14. Northanger Abbey (1817) – Jane Austen
  15. Gulliver’s Travels (1726) – Jonathan Swift
  16. Of Mice and Men (1937) – John Steinbeck
  17. Rachel in Love (1987) – Pat Murphy
  18. Hard Times (1854) – Charles Dickens
  19. Rip Van Winkle / The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) – Washington Irving
  20. Europe: In or Out? (2014) – David Charter
  21. Utopia (1516) – Thomas More
  22. Salmond: Against the Odds (2010) – David Torrance
  23. Nausea (1938) – Jean-Paul Sartre
  24. Britain and Ireland: From Home Rule to Independence (1999) – Jeremy Smith
  25. The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) – J.K. Rowling
  26. Blair Unbound (2007) – Anthony Seldon
  27. Oroonoko (1688) – Aphra Behn
  28. A Sentimental Journey (1768) – Laurence Sterne
  29. Ulysses (1922) – James Joyce

Unrated:
Scotland’s Future (2013) – The Scottish Government
The Constitution of the United States of America (1787) – James Madison

—–

And here I’ve [broadly] charted on a map where each book is set or about.  Obviously fictions which aren’t set in our world, like A Song of Ice and Fire, aren’t included, and for non-fiction books I’ve had to take some liberties:

Settings 2014

Almost every book here written before 1900 is due to my English Literature course, hence why they’re so clustered together.  It’s a good mix, I think, although as the map shows there is a very strong northern European, British-American bias in the books I’ve read.  Every author, with the exception of Nelson Mandela, is either European or American – I’ll definitely try to widen the writers I read next year.  I think I’ve managed a healthy balance between fiction and non-fiction; I’ve neither lived wholly in bleak reality nor untempered fantasy.  In terms of preference, I’m not surprised to see George R. R. Martin consistently quite high given I tend to rate quality of storytelling in fiction above quality of prose (I imagine I’ll have a lot to say about that in a future post!).  Otherwise there’s no clear pattern.  I need to make a caveat for Ulysses however; while it was the most excruciatingly painful novel I’ve forced myself to read, while I considered the whole thing a project to ridicule critics, upon finishing I just couldn’t get it out of my head and having looked back at it I do find a lot of worth in there.  So this does betray one potential problem with my ratings, in that I rate purely in enjoyment while reading rather than any other means, which brings me back to the discussion of value best saved for another day.

Looking forward to the great reads 2015 brings!

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the books’ gender ratio.  Only 23% of the books I read were written by women, which is pretty shocking to consider.  Some of this might be down to the amount of ‘classics’ I’ve read this year, although considering these gave me Aphra Benn, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, who I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise, it’s possibly this actually buffed the number up.  Unless I’ve subconsciously given greater preference to male authors (could be similar to this phenomenon) it’s clear women still face a harder task getting represented in the most high-profile and bestselling books.

Changes to the Minimum Wage (2013)

Good news, everyone!  The UK government has announced that the minimum wage shall increase!  For over 21s it shall increased from £6.19 to £6.31, and for 18-20s from £4.98 to £5.03.  The minimum wage was introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1998, and has virtually put a stop to any exploitative employment which may have been seen previously, by ensuring all workers earn a decent rate.  It has been criticised for being too low, so, surely, this is good news?

Well, no.

These increases (1.9% for adults) are well below the current national inflation rate of 2.8%.  Sure, wages are increasing, but the cost of living is rising faster.  If we assume that poor, working people are not the government’s greatest priority (it’s been obvious for quite some time), this doesn’t even make economic sense.  The economy is not going to get moving unless we increase the spending power of the population as a whole, but the government seems set on boosting the wealth of businesses and the upper middle-class, over the misguided belief that making it easier for the wealthy to become even more wealthy will cause some of their wealth to ‘trickle down’.  These ideas were first majorly implemented by Prime Minister Thatcher and… well… The figures really speak for themselves.

Wealth has been getting progressively more concentrated since Thatcher’s Conservative government was elected in 1979.  Labour, to their shame, did little to reverse this concentration, and the current Conservative-led government is clearly, day by day, continuing these disastrous policies.  Look at that chart.  Very soon, if not already, we’re going to be back to Victorian levels of inequality – unless someone does something about it.  Cameron and Clegg certainly don’t seem particularly bothered.