An historically valuable archive is lost by a university 6

A University Has Lost an Archive

The University of Leicester has lost the archive of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism (IST).

I founded the Institute for the Study of Terrorism in London in 1984 under the aegis of Alun Gwynne Jones, Lord Chalfont, an erstwhile Minister of Defence. Its archive was built on the foundation of the research I had done for my books on terrorism in Germany and the Middle East: Hitler’s Children: the Story of the Baader-Meinhof Gang and The PLO: the Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The information I had gathered was augmented and updated continually through the six years of the Institute’s existence. With a team of five, sometimes six or seven, we worked at it in subterranean offices in central London. Our register of terrorists, names of groups and individuals with details of their affiliations, their objectives, and their actions, steadily grew.

We were a registered charity, but also funded ourselves by compiling reports for businesses needing to know what terrorist threats they could be faced with in foreign countries. Foreign contributors kept us posted on terrorist activity in their countries and regions, so quite often we received life-saving information ahead of the news agencies or even the intelligence agencies, Interpol, airport and port authorities, or the military. On one occasion, for instance, we were able to stop the import into Britain of lethal material disguised as wine in bottles with a very plausible label, because we had been tipped off by our contacts in Germany. Among our foreign advising experts was the head of the Small Arms Section of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

The Nature of the Archive

We built, often at grave personal risk to ourselves, a unique and irreplaceable collection of documents and recordings; lists of names of terrorist groups and individuals; photographs of perpetrators, victims, crime scenes, battlefields; descriptions and assessments of weapons and explosives.

The recordings included interviews I held with former terrorists who had served time in prison and wanted not just to return to normal life, but having come genuinely to regret their crimes, wanted to help oppose terrorism as a form of reparation. They would tell me about their organization’s membership, methods, aims, actions and plans. It was easy for them to get in touch with us. Although our address was secret, our telephone number was in the directory. They would call and I’d make an appointment to meet them in a public place, usually a busy hotel.

Our chief archivist, Ian Geldard, was a brilliant researcher with an extraordinary talent for discovery and detection. Once, at the height of the scare of bombs in planes, he packed a suitcase with the apparatus of a time-bomb, including fake explosive, then passed with it through X-ray machines between London’s Heathrow airport and Berlin’s Tempelhof and back again without being stopped, proving how dangerously untrustworthy the “safety measures” were. We informed the media and the airport authority of the experiment and its results. The report was filed in our archive along with many others.

My co-director Bernhard Adamczewski and I traveled across Europe, together and separately, to gather information firsthand. He found a “wanted” German terrorist in Vienna and informed the local police of the man’s whereabouts. We visited battlefields in the Middle East and pulled bloodstained documents from the rubble of bombed terrorist offices and encased them in transparent plastic covers to be photocopied. The copies were translated and filed. I came upon the deserted camp of one west African terrorist organization where, in the rows of desks in the classrooms, there were exercise books in which students had taken down lessons extolling Soviet Communism as the ideal system. The course had been run by graduates of Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University. Those proofs that the organization was serving the interests of the USSR went back to London with me and entered our archive. 

The Uses of the Archive  

Once we had come into existence, legislators, the press, law enforcement, the transport and travel industries no longer had to rely on the announcements put out by terrorist groups themselves to know what they were doing, what they intended to do, and why. We supplied dependable information to members of Parliament, scholars, news channels, individual reporters and investigative journalists, airport and seaport authorities. We co-operated with the police in Britain, including the terrorist section of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, and were several times able to give helpful information to law enforcement in other Western and allied countries.

I commissioned experts to write about particular terrorist organizations. We published their work as booklets in distinctive uniform yellow covers.  We co-convened two international conferences, one with the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies, one with London University’s Faculty of Laws which was opened by the Home Secretary. All this was done with the aim of promoting a shared understanding among Western policy-makers that terrorism was an inexcusable evil, regardless of the cause, however high, in the name of which it was carried out.

The archive established that almost all the terrorist groups in the First World and its allies between 1969 and 1990 were supported with training, and/or funding, arms, asylum, by Soviet Russia. (A few were affiliated with China.) I called their actions the hot spots of the Cold War.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the defeat of the USSR in 1991, most of the terrorist wars in the West came to end. And since we had found and reported that most of them were Soviet sponsored, donors to our institute concluded that our usefulness was also at an end. In 1990, donations stopped. Businesses no longer asked for assessments of danger. I warned that the era of terrorism was not over, but few believed me. Hamas, a terrorist branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, was in power in Gaza and using terrorist methods against Israel. The ayatollahs governing Iran were supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Though I did not know that Osama bin Laden was just getting started with his organization al-Qaeda (so the colossal atrocity of 9/11 was already in the womb of time), I saw that the mass immigration of Muslims into the West meant that Europe and America could become targets of terrorism in furtherance of Islamic jihad.

Reluctantly, I closed the Institute and sought a permanent home for the archive. Its obvious guardian would be a university. I anticipated that our records, solidly proving the guilt of two Communist regimes for promoting decades of mass murder in the West, would be a permanent resource for historians of the Cold War.

The Archive Bought by a University  

The University of Leicester bought the archive in 1993. There, I thought, it will be safe. In due course the University archivist who had inspected the archive and negotiated the deal to acquire it, invited me and Ian Geldard to see how they were organizing it. They named it, with my approval, “The Becker-Adamczewski Archive of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism”. We were shown that published books were separately accommodated on the shelves of the main library, and that the bulk of the collection was to be kept in a special building, bought and adapted for the purpose of housing special collections. It was called the Scarman Centre for the Study of Public Order and was under the department of Criminology. Our archive was one of the first two to be put in it – the other (we were told or I assumed) was that of Lord Scarman himself, the High Court judge.

I was not entirely happy with the decision of the university to categorize our archive under Crime. I was doubtful  that scholars would look for research material on terrorism under that heading. I would have classed it under Politics, International Affairs, War, or History, but the decision was not mine to make. I trusted that wherever it was kept, our unique and irreplaceable collection of documents, photographs, and recordings would be properly preserved and accessible to scholars.

It was a treasure for a university to possess. 

What Happened to the Archive

In 2007 I came to live in America, where I launched this website, The Atheist Conservative. In 2020, the president of Republican Atheists, Lauren Ell, posted a profile of me on their website. I had mentioned to her that the IST archive had been bought by the University of Leicester. Wanting information about it, she contacted the university – and was told that it could not be found.

As soon as Lauren Ell informed me that the archive was apparently lost, I made my own inquiry and the loss was confirmed. The building in which the greater part of it had been housed was no longer in use by the university and there was no record of where the IST research material had been moved to. However, the Head of Archives and Special Collections, Dr. Simon Dixon, let me know that he was undertaking an investigation of the loss.

Dr. Dixon did all he could to find the archive. He courteously kept me informed of the efforts he made, which were hampered by the lockdowns imposed on the university during the Covid-19 epidemic. In the late summer of 2021 he brought his search to an end. He had failed to find any remnant of the archive except the books which had been placed immediately in the university’s general library – and apparently added to with more printed material some twelve years later.

Dr. Dixon wrote to me in his final letter:

I am very sorry to report that it has not been possible to locate the full archive … My enquiries have included correspondence with current and former members of staff and a physical visit to the former School of Criminology building … [T]he printed material acquired by the University in 1993 was integrated into the Library’s main run of holdings in 2005/6 and has subsequently been managed in accordance with our collections management policies.

The rest of the archive had not been so managed. Only a trace of it – some “correspondence” – had been found:

While the unpublished archival material cannot be located, I have taken steps to ensure that a small amount of correspondence that has been recovered is preserved as part of the Archives and Special Collections for which my team are responsible. I have not given up hope that further records will come to light in future, and any additional material that I am made aware of will be permanently retained in the same way.

I am extremely sorry not to be able to provide you with more conclusive information regarding the archive at this time. …

I believe Dr. Dixon’s apology is sincerely meant, but I have received no apology or expression of regret from the University of Leicester.

If our archive was not relevant to learning, teaching and research at the University of Leicester, it could have been sold or given to some other institution. There are still some academies in America, or faculties within academies that would probably value it and make use of it. It could have been a national treasure. But it was treated as a thing of little or no value.  Why?

If one of the primary purposes of a university is to protect and hand on intellectual heritage, commitment to archive preservation is fundamental to that purpose. Perhaps the reason why the University of Leicester did not protect the IST archive was because it is now committed to erasing the past. An indication of this is in reports that the administration wants to “decolonize” the teaching of English literature by eliminating medieval studies (so Chaucer, inter alia, is to be removed from the curriculum), and “focus on ethnicity, sexuality and diversity”. 

Ceasing to teach something does not necessarily entail the destruction of materials used for teaching it. Is it likely that a university entrusted with documents of national and international importance would deliberately discard them because they are no longer useful to its teaching?  Would it choose to waste the fruits of long, hard, even dangerous effort exerted against a malign force threatening the Western world? Sadly, I suspect it would if it came to believe that the Western world was systemically at fault and needed to be transformed. But if therefore it would no longer protect documents of public importance, should it still be funded with public money?

The loss of an archive, whether by negligence or decision, is a calamity. To lose it by negligence is barbarously callous. To discard it deliberately is an act of intellectual vandalism, the equivalent of book-burning. If, in either case, a university is responsible, the disgrace must leave a permanent stain on its reputation.

Jillian Becker   January, 2022

Posted under education, History, Terrorism by Jillian Becker on Saturday, January 15, 2022

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BedLaM 14

(A message in a bottle.)

I am old enough to remember happier times.

There used to be small shops and restaurants, cafes and bars all along the main street of our town. Not any more. A lot of the buildings are still there but the units are empty.  Everything we buy is delivered from warehouses which are fenced off and under military protection. The delivery drivers have an armed security guard riding with them and keeping beside them right to our front door. We must sign for everything every time and show ID.

Everything is very expensive. We buy much less food than we used to. The smaller children have never tasted meat or fish.

We are classed as “white” – even though two of us aren’t – so none of us in our part of this house gets relief money. You must be classed “of color” to get the government payout, unless you were ever in prison in the old days when people used to be punished for stealing or setting fire to buildings or killing police or taking children away from their parents. Then the credit you get is called “reparation payment”.

We cannot go for walks or bicycle rides. Our car was taken from us even though it was electric.

The schools are closed. They say the buildings are put to some use but we don’t know what. Children are taught by television and only officially sanctioned textbooks may be used. Formal home schooling is forbidden. Privately owned libraries have been confiscated, but there is a list of books you are allowed to own, up to a certain number.

All the prisons have been closed down, and the law courts, and the police offices and barracks. There are no police.

The hospitals are behind high fences and gates and are heavily guarded. Only ambulances are let in. You book an ambulance if you need to go to a hospital. The wait can be days, even weeks. The only exception is if you want an abortion. Then an ambulance comes for you in a few minutes. But if you lie so as to get to a hospital you are denied treatment. There is no emergency service. If people are injured in a street accident they are taken to a fire station for immediate first aid and then wait their turn for hospital treatment. Most firefighters are trained paramedics and do not fight fires.

If you work with your hands in a factory or as a repairperson, you are transported by bus. If you work at home you can only go outside into your own yard, provided it’s fenced in and has no back gate.

Every night, after curfew, we can hear gunshot like we used to hear traffic and talk and insects.

We are not allowed to have a gun in the house. We have put bars and grids over our doors and windows, and we have hoses ready in case of fire. But there are hours every day when we have no water. And hours when we have no electricity. Our old central heating and air-conditioning no longer work.

Our telephones will only get through to certain given numbers. Everything we send by email goes to the censors, whoever they are, and only some are sent on to the addresses we put on them. No messages to private people are allowed. We can send them to our representatives in the town or the state or Congress, or the IRS, or the boss of the government department we work for.

Voting is compulsory. Our ballot sheets are brought to us with the name of the person we are voting for already printed on them. All each of us needs to do is sign a sheet in front of the official who brings it. There is only one political party.

Very little traffic comes along our road. Just delivery vans, workplace buses, occasional ambulances, the military patrols, repair trucks, dog catchers, and the government inspectors’ armored cars. The inspectors call at every house a few times a week, at different times, sometimes at two or three in the morning. They are the highest paid workers. They are all “people of color”. (So are all the armed security guards.)

We do not know if it is the same everywhere in America, or anywhere else in the world. We only know what we are told during one news hour every evening: climate control data, the latest taxes and the dates by which they must be paid, information about the current epidemic and what we must do about it, whether masks, inoculations, isolation, and/or fines.

A security guard who came with a delivery person told me she was going on next to a house by the sea, so I asked her to throw this message in a bottle into the water. I’ve had it ready (except for this last paragraph) for days. I explained what it was. She seemed sympathetic. I think she will do me the favor, though I can’t be sure. If she takes it to the inspectors I’ll be in trouble. If you who are reading this are not an inspector, and are in another country, well, just so you know …

Posted under satire, United States by Jillian Becker on Friday, January 7, 2022

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Conservatism now 3

In the January 2022 issue of The New Criterion there is a debate about conservatism, its “merits and limitations”, its “proper meaning and vocation”.

The main difference of opinion is over whether conservatism needs to be focused more or less on “the common good”.  The argument – as always between thinkers on the same side of a wide political-philosophical division – is significant to those pursuing it, but likely to seem slight to the unengaged.

There is broad agreement that conservatism is struggling to survive.

The triumph of anti-conservatism  is undeniable. In Michael Anton’s essay, he gives an account of how the enemies of conservatism on the Left have ruined our institutions and every aspect of our culture. We think his horrifying description of the wreck is true. To the question whether conservatism can recover, he concludes no certain prognosis can be made. While he hasn’t entirely given up hope for it himself, he deplores the failure of his fellow conservatives to recognize the critical condition it is in.

In his introduction to the debate, the editor, Roger Kimball, quotes this by Michael Anton:

If conservatives are right about the importance of virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on in the individual; if they are right about sexual morality or what came to be termed “family values”; if they are right about the importance of education to inculcate good character and to teach the fundamentals that have defined knowledge in the West for millennia; if they are right about societal norms and public order; if they are right about the centrality of initiative, enterprise, industry, and thrift to a sound economy and a healthy society; if they are right about the soul-sapping effects of paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions; if they are right about the necessity of a strong defense and prudent statesmanship in the international sphere—if they are right about the importance of all this to national health and even survival, then they must believe—mustn’t they?—that we are headed off a cliff.

And Kimball comments:

It seems to me that Anton was quite right when he went on to observe that it was “obvious that conservatives don’t believe any such thing, that they feel no such sense of urgency, of an immediate necessity to change course and avoid the cliff”. 

Conservatives, Kimball thinks, should feel such an urgency, such an immediate necessity, and should act to save conservatism from extinction:

Our basic problem … is not so much a poverty of understanding as a paralysis of will. The real problem conservatives face is not in formulating sophisticated principles but in effectively confronting the juggernaut of progressive usurpation. For decades we have been living with the one-way ratchet of liberal imposition. The harvest is a situation in which conservatives are considered legitimate only when they embrace progressive aims. Conservatives, in other words, have conspired in their own eclipse. Meanwhile, the true sources of value—not government but the family, the churches, and our educational institutions—have been twisted out of all recognition. The answer to this tyranny lies not in the framing of better arguments but in the deployment of a more efficacious politics.

We at TAC have an enduring difference of opinion with the majority of our fellow conservatives over religious faith. We do not think that the churches are, ever have been, ever will be or could be a “true source of value”.  We agree with the rest of Anton’s (and Kimball’s) summary of what conservatism is, what is good about it.

Is Kimball right that conservatism as a political force requires urgent action to save it from extinction?

Can it be saved from extinction by any means, or is it doomed?

Posted under Conservatism by Jillian Becker on Saturday, January 1, 2022

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