Dundee anti-terror unit accused of racism

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities 19 November 2006

Concerns over the activities of Tayside's controversial Special Branch Community Contact Unit (SBCCU) were discussed at the civil liberties sesion of a conference organised by Dundee Social Forum on Saturday.

Sarah Scott from Dundee University Student Socialist Society told the meeting of efforts by students to raise the issue with the Student Advisory Service.

Richard Haley, from the civil liberties campaign Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, said that the campaign had written to Tayside Chief Constable John Vine in June, raising a number of concerns and complaining of racist and Islamophobic attitudes displayed by SBCCU officers. SACC is still waiting for a response from Tayside Police.

The letter from SACC drew attention to comments attributed to Detective Sergeant Mark Charnley in an article published in the Sunday Herald on 11 June. Mark Charnley told the newspaper that one possible sign of "extremism" in a school pupil would be "a kid who has gone back to their parents' country of origin [for example, Pakistan] and returned with anti-Western feeling or stronger religious faith than they had shown before". Richard Haley said that many Muslim parents would be pleased to see their child's faith strengthened and would be appalled to discover that this could bring their child to the attention of Special Branch.

In an article published in the Times Higher Education Supplement last month, Brian Young of Tayside SBCCU dismissed accusations of Islamphobia as coming from a "tiny minority."

Richard Haley, while not accepting that concerns over the SBCCU were confined to a tiny minority, said that this was in any case irrelevant to the complaint. He said it was unacceptable for Tayside Police to use the opinion pages of a newspaper to respond to a serious complaint of racism.

The Tayside SBCU was the first unit of its kind to be set up in Scotland and is still believed to be the only such unit operating here.

Richard Haley told the meeting that a Police document released under Freedom of Information legislation singles out Dundee as the only Scottish university listed as having been "targeted by terror groups as recruiting grounds" in a report by Professor Anthony Glees.

The report "When Students Turn to Terror", co-authored by Professor Anthony Glees and Chris Pope and issued in 2005 by the Social Affairs Unit, lists Dundee as one of 27 British Universities "where extremist and/or terror groups have been detected."

The Glees/Pope report does not in fact mention terrorist recruitment at Dundee. The only link between Dundee University and terrorism made in the report is a statement that Shamsul Bahri Hussein - a man wanted in connection with the 2002 Bali bombing - studied applied mechanics at Dundee.

The Glees/Pope report has attracted considerable controversy. Commenting on the reports claims of links between universities and terrorism, Professor David Miller of Strathclyde University said recently: "on this basis there is also evidence of terrorist activity in schools, nurseries and for that matter even in the womb, since all terrorists were once presumably there."

Amongst the rather weird views expressed in the Glees/Pope report, there is a statement that:

"universities may be teaching them subjects or theoretical tools for understanding the world - Marxism, for example - which could encourage them to believe Britain and other western states are in terminal decline. Moving from campus to mosque, students convinced by their dons might gain further inspiration from radical mullahs."

The report lists BNP leader Nick Griffin (a former Cambridge student) as one of 14 students who "turned to terror/extremism." It also lists Ferroz Abbasi, a former Guantanamo detainee who has been released without charge, and Babar Ahmad, who is currently contesting an extradition request from the USA. The inclusion of these two men in the report is downright irresponsible.

It's astonishing that a report like this - which lurches between the shoddy and the bizarre - should be cited by Tayside Police to justify a major policing initiative with huge implications for civil liberties and community relations.

Notes

  • The police report referred to here is entitled "PROBLEM PROFILE - The Terrorist Threat and Community Tensions within Tayside" issued 11/01/06. It was provided to SACC in response to a Freedom of Information request but it is not the document requested by SACC and is the subject of an appeal to the Information Commissioner.
  • See "When Students Turn to Terror - Terrorist and Extremist Activity on British Campuses" by Anthony Glees and Chris Pope, published by The Social Affairs Unit, 2005
  • The Conference "Beyond Discovery - Discussing Dundee's Future" was held in the Queen's Hotel, Dundee on Saturday 18 November. It was organised by Dundee Social Forum, supported by Community and Voluntary Alliance and Dundee Voluntary Action