The latest assault against the freedom of academics as public citizens in alleged “liberal democracies” comes from the U.K., in the form of the University of East London‘s decision to suspend Dr. Chris Knight, an anthropologist and member of the Radical Anthropology Group, over observations he made on BBC Radio 4 concerning the public rage against bankers. The university stated: “Professor Chris Knight has been suspended from his duties at the University of East London, pending investigation. In order not to prejudice this process we cannot make any further comment.” As related previously by antropologi.info, Dr. Chris Knight together with his colleague Dr. Camilla Power (also an anthropologist at UEL), have taken leading roles in preparing for what are expected to be massive and unprecedented public demonstrations at next week’s G20 summit in London, on April 2nd. They plan to lead a protest that will lay siege to the Bank of England, part of the activities planned by the organization set up for the occasion, G-20meltdown.org, that will feature protest actions today (28 March), on April 1st and April 2nd (see them also on Facebook and Twitter, where they have live tweets from the protest actions).
Dr. Knight appears to be confronted by several restrictions simultaneously:
(a) the University of East London functioning as a police institution, apparently claiming total authority over the entirety of the lives of its faculty — as if one’s place of work determined what one could say, and not say, in public (keeping in mind that Dr. Knight does not work for an intelligence service, the Vatican, nor does he hold a seat in Cabinet);
(b) the use of restrictions implanted within the European Union’s convention on Human Rights, added to the fact that the U.K. has already become a laboratory for domestic imperialism that has set the precedents for “homeland security” followed by the U.S. and Canada;
(c) the attempt by the powers that be to curb public outrage against corporate wrongdoers who are being bailed out with a vast fortune of public money; and,
(d) the desire by the authorities to restrict critical opinion by minor and vulnerable influential figures, such as academics, in an attempt to create the illusion of consensus, by force.
On Thursday, 26 March, 2009, the BBC reported that Dr. Knight made the following comments in an interview with BBC’s Radio 4:
“We are going to be hanging a lot of people like Fred the Shred [Sir Fred Goodwin] from lampposts on April Fool’s Day and I can only say let’s hope they are just effigies.
“To be honest, if he winds us up any more I’m afraid there will be real bankers hanging from lampposts and let’s hope that that doesn’t actually have to happen.
“They [bankers] should realise the amount of fury and hatred there is for them and act quickly, because quite honestly if it isn’t humour it is going to be anger.
“I am trying to keep it humorous and let the anger come up in a creative and hopefully productive and peaceful way.
“If the other people don’t join in the fun – I’m talking about the bankers and those rather pompous ministers – and come over and surrender their power obviously it’s going to get us even more wound up and things could get nasty. Let’s hope it doesn’t.”
As far as “threatening” speech goes, this is possibly one of the most ambiguous expressions of an alleged threat that one may see in a very long time. Most of the comments are in the form of an observation that Dr. Knight is making about public outrage, which certainly does exist, independent of his perceptions of it. In the same BBC report just quoted, the home and car of former Royal Bank of Scotland chief Sir Fred were attacked this past Wednesday (25 March); the BBC report added: “There has been widespread public and political anger over a pension payout worth about £700,000 a year to the 50-year-old former chief executive Sir Fred. He took early retirement from RBS last year after the bank needed a £20bn bailout from the government.”
Dr. Knight does not appear to be “calling” for anything that is not already happening. Moreover, his comments are echoed by the BBC itself in its own observations. Perhaps the most “threatening” thing Dr. Knight has said is to caution the police not to use violence. He is making a perfectly legitimate point, that has been made many times over the centuries, even from the seats of monarchic power and the Vatican: closing off avenues for peaceful protest and dissent will justify, legitimate, and even mandate more violent action for necessary and urgent change.
The University of East London has a special interest in supporting the banks and other corporate elites, as stated on its website:
“In today’s highly competitive and dynamic business environment, organisations are continually striving for innovative ideas that give them a competitive edge. UEL can assist in providing organisations with solutions to their challenges and help in developing strategic thinking.
“Outstanding research capabilities coupled with the best in ‘new thinking’ have led us to be enlisted by many SMEs, public bodies, governments and multinational companies.
“At UEL we take our collaboration with business very seriously. We are committed to do all we can to ensure that our expertise is made available to benefit business and society. Utilising the wealth of expertise, research capabilities and facilities at UEL, our solutions help companies to become more profitable, more competitive and more sustainable.”
This translates into a political alignment that, wrongly, curbs academic freedom by apparently expecting all of its faculty to fall in line, at the most amazingly inappropriate time when the broad public sees the corporate elites as tantamount to blight. To call UEL’s suspension impolitic, is to be too polite, as it oversteps its bounds and acts as a branch of the police.
This is not to say that Dr. Knight has the full force of the law on his side — the European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated as domestic law in the U.K., states the following under Article 10:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information an ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Clearly UEL is focusing on “national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime” — but again, with what authority? Surely if there is any threat, it is a matter for the police and judiciary to decide? Dr. Knight is being suspended for “misconduct” — but not research misconduct, rather his conduct outside the university as a public citizen, something over which UEL has asbolutely no rights. Given the various acts of persecution against North American academics, such as Ward Churchill, whose case is being covered extensively on this blog, Dr. Knight may be best advised to immediately retain the services of an attorney and launch a lawsuit against UEL.
In the meantime, two Facebook groups have been set up to support Dr. Knight:
As taken from the G20Meltdown Facebook group, and contrary to UEL’s absurd and outrageous “misconduct” allegation, this is “the spirit of the new age we’re creating” — watch this, as it may be the the most beautiful music video on the Internet, thanks to Playing for Change, and the immortal spirit of Bob Marley:
See also this CNN interview with Chris Knight about G20 Meltdown:
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“‘Intolerant Universities’: Anthropology professor Chris Knight suspended over G20-activism,” by Lorenz Khazaleh, antropologi.info, 28 March 2009.
“Page 3 girl and suspended professor join forces to cause mayhem ahead of G20 summit,” by Daily Mail Reporter, 28 March 2009.
“Professor suspended over claims he incited G20 violence • Interview creates trouble for anthropology expert • Protest organiser revels in ‘perfect storm for enemies’,” by Richard Rogers and Paul Lewis, The Guardian, Friday 27 March 2009.
“G20 Summit: university professor suspended over bankers ‘hanging from lampposts’ comment — An organiser of G20 protests, Chris Knight, was suspended from his job as a university professor after he warned bankers could be ‘hanging from lampposts’, it was reported,” The Daily Telegraph, 27 March 2009.
“G20 protest professor suspended — A university professor who warned that bankers could be ‘hanging from lampposts’ during G20 protests next week has been suspended from his job,” BBC News, 26 March 2009.
“Anarchist professor Chris Knight suspended after G20 ‘threat’,” by Fiona Hamilton, The Times, 26 March 2009.
“Meet Mister Mayhem,” by David Cohen, Evening Standard, 25 March 2009.
“Academics and ex-model lead demonstration against G20 summit — Demonstrations on the streets of Britain on the eve of the G20 summit of world leaders are being organised by an unlikely trio of two respected academics and a former topless model,” by Patrick Sawer, The Daily Telegraph, 21 March 2009.
“The voices in G20’s chorus of protest — A mass demonstration ahead of the London G20 summit is set to attract a huge mix of different interest groups as a new coalition, Put People First, takes shape,” by Ed Vulliamy and Richard Rogers, The Observer, 8 March 2009.
BBC News: “Q&A: The G20 Summit,” 03 March 2009.
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