A Short (Yet Still Forlorn) Reply in the Taliban Sources Project Debate

It appears from the reply of Shaheed Fatima to my earlier post that the UK’s counterterrorism legislation is engendering ever deeper difficulties in gauging its meaning and impacts. I was right to be forlorn!

Inevitably, the predicted application of any law depends on “fact sensitive caveats.” My caveats here arose from the apparent disjunction between the claims of the TSP as to content and the assumptions as to content of the British Library. Since I have not seen any of the TSP materials and have not been privy to the British Library’s interpretations or intentions as to dissemination, I am in the position of making assertions subject to the caveat that I cannot be sure which side to believe in the absence of reviewing the evidence. However, for the purposes of argument in my previous posting, I mainly assumed that the forceful assertions of the TSP were justifiable and made extrapolations on that basis.

Coming to Shaheed’s puzzlement about the importance of proscription under Part II of the Terrorism Act 2000, the short argument is that it contains several offenses going well beyond the ones which Shaheed mentioned in her original posting – i.e., the Terrorism Act 2000, section 58 and the Terrorism Act 2006, sections 1 and 2. The proscription offenses cover a range of publicity which surpass materials directly useful to terrorism activities and also contain no express defenses for academic or other purposes for the public good. Once an organization is designated by the government’s Secretary of State as being concerned in terrorism, many forms of association with that group are potentially criminalized. They include, under section 11 of the Terrorism Act 2000, membership or professing membership (even if on the basis of an historical and passive allegiance) and, under section 12, inviting support for the group (whether or not the actor is a member and whether the support is to be tangible or ideological). It is therefore evident, as Shaheed notes, that “[i]f the Taliban was a proscribed organization then that might make it more likely that holding/giving access to the TSP could be an offense … .” That was indeed my point. She goes on to say that “it does not follow that since the Taliban is not a proscribed organization it is less likely (or, indeed, ‘most unlikely’) that holding/giving access to the TSP could be an offense.” Well, the absence of proscription does not of course, in some hydraulic sense, avert the application of section 58 and sections 1 and 2. But I dealt with the limits on these other offenses elsewhere in my posting and explained why they did not seem threatening, subject again to the assumption that the TSP have accurately represented the facts. After my survey, I still could not find sufficient cause for the degree of blame which Shaheed attached to the UK counterterrorism laws for their censorious impacts.

Despite the fog of law, the TSP appears to have compiled an imaginative and important archive for which the researchers should be praised and supported. I hope that the British Library will not have the final say over its future if it remains unwilling to offer an outlet. 

About the Author(s)

Clive Walker

Professor of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Leeds