This week in Parliament a UK government minister promised ‘we will crack down on it hard’ referring to academics sharing information from Russian sources and articulating views like the one in my tweet:
‘As long as we’re still able to hear two sides of the story we should continue striving to do so.’
Even if sometimes one side is clearly wrong, hearing what they say can still be important. And it should be remembered that an important factor in this case is the serious conflict that exists within Ukraine.
Citizens need to understand the challenges decision makers face, and political leaders need to understand what their adversaries are thinking. To know thy enemy is to reduce the risk of escalating a conflict through misunderstandings. In war, miscalculations can have terrible consequences. We also know that misinformation can sometimes even slip through on our own side, as when the UK went to war in Iraq, mistakenly believing it had weapons of mass destruction.
It is therefore worrying to hear the Secretary of State for Education so explicitly confirm my tweet’s implicitly-stated fear that before long we may only be able to hear one side of a story. Are we at a point where both citizens’ freedom of expression – a human right – and also academic freedom are under threat in Britain?
I happen to tweet purely in a capacity of personal concern and as a private citizen, but let’s imagine an academic who is about to write a scholarly article about events in a war in another country. Should they present one side only? Would peer reviewers even accept that? Would it equip students to face the complexities of the world if they never learn how to rebut false claims because they are always shielded from them? Would it be in the interests of posterity to be bequeathed a one-sided historical record? And how would posterity judge a society whose universities were governed not by the principles of science and scholarship but by government edicts?
In the present situation, it will be rightly said that, morally speaking, there are not ‘two sides’ to a war of aggression, which is a crime under international law. So as our leaders rightly condemn Putin’s invasion we can also earnestly hope they commit themselves to working for a future in which international law is respected – by all nations. More immediately, the hope is they will work to promote as swift and as bloodless an end to the war as possible in Ukraine – as well as in the less-publicised wars elsewhere. This means a commitment to supporting negotiation rather than risk being drawn into escalation and the prospect of a devastating internationalised war.
Negotiation involves different sides listening to each other. Politicians allied with one side need to have as full a picture as possible of the other’s thinking. They also need to hear good independent advice. Who knows if Putin’s decision to invade might have been avoided if fuller and franker discussion were permitted to influence it? Russia’s political system punishes critical thinking and places academic freedom under serious constraints.
We don’t want our own politicians to make the mistake of stifling views that could point out pathways to reconciliation by imposing restrictions on the range of acceptable public debate. With the suggestion of a crackdown on academics who might contribute to that, it is hard to see how our elected representatives would be serving the interests of the people they represent, or of people anywhere.
As for the people of Ukraine, their need is for peace – not to become the epicentre of World War III. There is such a risk if calls for a no-fly zone, or other measures that would lead to direct military confrontation between nuclear powers, are heard without challenge. To challenge them is not to be a stooge of the enemy but an ally of humanity.
Universities are there for the service of humanity. As the very name implies, they are responsible for maintaining universally shared standards of knowledge and understanding. They provide a vantage point from which the affairs of nations can be seen in wider perspectives. It is in everyone’s interest that they be allowed to fulfil that role.
Freedom of expression within the law is central to the concept of a university. Without this guarantee and the freedom of inquiry which it protects, universities’ vital contribution to new forms of knowledge and understanding would be compromised. This applies even in extreme circumstances, such as times of war.
Thank you for still not giving in and not retreating into inner emigration in the face of a gargantuan media machine that is surpassing everything what Orwell promised.
The first casualty of war is the truth. Along with the lies comes propaganda and CENSORSHIP.
We who post our views based on RESEARCHED FACTS rather than the propaganda of our Governments whether they be American, UK, the EU, or Russian propaganda risk : Firstly, .. being ridiculed as Conspiracy Theorists. Secondly, .. as Traitors and ostracized Thirdly, .. being CENSORED and our publicized papers being deleted from the general public’s view. For those of you reading my contribution, … CENSORSHIP by our Governments whether in so called DEMOCRACIES and / or AUTHORITARIAN Governments has been going of for some years now, but NOT at the pace we are currently witnessing. EXAMPLES : The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin is a liar, … we all know that because he publicly stated Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine up until ” a fait accompli “. He then made it a TRAITOR’s crime to criticize his actions. This of course is CENSORSHIP in its extreme. We know the Presidents of the USA, the Prime Ministers of the UK and virtually ALL of the so called Western Free Nations are liars. The USA, the UK .. invaded IRAQ for supposedly having Weapons of Mass Destruction even when the UN Inspectors said there were no WMD’s in Iraq. When Saddam Hussain was overthrown and the country decimated, … The then President George Bush Jr. stood up grinning at the camera and stated, ” Guess what, we didn’t find WMD, ha, ha “.
I was a Demolitions Expert ( EXPLOSIVES ) for 40 plus years and did a YouTube Documentary on the tragedy of 9/11 ( attack on WTC 1, 2, 7 ) pointing out that the US PROPAGANDA that it was a Terrorist Attack was in reality a FALSE FLAG perpetrated by the CIA ( USA ) and Mossad ( Israel ) as an excuse for invading Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, among other Middle Eastern countries. First I was ridiculed even though the free fall collapse of ALL 3 buildings contravenes Newton’s Laws of Physics ( Elementary school physics ). Therefore the collapses were CONTROLLED DEMOLITION and not Aircraft Strikes and resulting short term fires. First, YouTube buried the Documentary and then EXACTLY 2 weeks before the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 my Documentary simply disappeared and I personally was banned from YouTube. COINCIDENCE ?? I think NOT !
CENSORSHIP is alive and well and the fundamental right of FREE SPEECH is passé. I could give many, many examples but … I think I’ve made my point. If we bend to Censorship, then what right do we lose next ??
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Thank you, Tim! A lot of people support your stand on the Russia-Ukraine issue. All the best from occupied Cambridge, UK.
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Great article Tim. Yes universities have been under assault from politicians for decades (e.g. Bailey, M. & Freeman, D. 2011, ‘The Assault on Universities’; Giroux, H. 2007, ‘The University in Chains’) and even centuries (e.g. Sargent, P. 1943, ‘War and Education’). The anti-educational and anti-democratic forces I fear are winning as demonstrated by the lack of any critical commentaries from universities regarding the Covid ‘Pandemic’ and the single narrative of only the vaccine can save us. In Australia all the universities have capitulated to the mandates even when not publically directed to by the government. In addition Monash University has been studying the benefits and potential of ivermectin but for the last 2 years the university has remained totally silent on its own research. Now we have the single narrative of ‘Ukraine = good & Russia/Putin = bad’ and again universities are silent in the public arena regarding how to approach the complexity of this with detailed and thoughtful rigour rather than superficial slogans. It is no wonder that Orwell’s example of ‘2 + 2 = 5’ is so powerful because it was believed at face value rather than thought about and this seems to be the current approach of our authoritarian government in the West.
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