Writing in On Line Opinion, George Williams and Edwina MacDonald take aim at the 'war on terror' for subverting academic freedom and robbing sociey of key arenas for accumulating knowledge, contesting ideas and developing sensible strategies: Following is an excerpt:
"Australia’s response to the ‘war on terror’ is threatening academic freedom. Researchers run the risk of committing an offence and being jailed, or being brought in for questioning by ASIO. While the risk of jail is low, the lack of clarity in the law combined with its severe impact is leading to self-censorship.
Academic freedom is essential to the work of Australian universities. Their role in educating students and advancing human knowledge depends upon academics and students working and learning in an environment in which they can freely exchange ideas, challenge conventional wisdom and debate controversial issues.
However, recent changes to the Australian Research Council and the allocation of research funding allow for greater political interference. The pressure on universities to become more like commercial enterprises, such as the need to support core activities no longer funded by compulsory student union fees, is also a continuing cause for concern...
...Academics play an important role in ensuring that Australians are protected from terrorism. ‘Safeguarding Australia’, including ‘Protecting Australia from terrorism and crime’, is a National Research Priority for ARC funding. However, if academics do not have access to relevant books, cannot conduct interviews and fear that they may have to hand over their research to intelligence agencies, they may become reluctant or even unable to undertake research in the field.
Surveillance, policing and controlling finances alone will not beat terrorism. If we are to win the ‘war on terror’, it is essential that we understand the motivations and rationales behind it. In order to understand the mindset of a suicide bomber or a home grown terrorist, it is vital that academics are able to interview potential terrorists and have access to the books they read."
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