Assume we are living in a free country that protects its own rights diligently. It also does not tolerate any infringement of the rights of any individual. No censorship, no discrimination, and no laws to favor one religion or the other.

In such a wonderful country, which by its very nature becomes the fountainhead of civil liberties, education, research, and economic power, a foreign national comes in and wants to acquire higher knowledge like say, nuclear science, microbiology, particle physics, etc., it would not be a surprise, would it? The US, for example, serves as an example by attracting millions of students for its educational and research facilities.

If such a foreigner (who may belong to a hostile country) actually takes back the knowledge this free society provides him, and goes back to use that same knowledge to attack it, what a travesty it would be!


The current example of the Iraqi who was refused admission to a chemistry course brings this issue to focus.

According to a Nature News Alert:

A British resident who is under surveillance for suspected terrorist activities is being prohibited from taking secondary-school-level science courses by the government, Nature has learned.

The man, referred to as A.E., is contesting the decision in court, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind. The preliminary hearing over whether A.E. should be allowed to take AS-level courses in human biology and chemistry took place on 16 November at London’s High Court. The UK Home Office, which has an order restricting A.E.’s actions and affiliations, argues that such coursework could be turned towards terrorism. His solicitors counter that the knowledge is public, and that the furthering of A.E.’s education poses no threat.

At the heart of the case is a simple question: should basic courses in science be treated as potential tools for terror when in the wrong hands?

To protect the suspect, A.E.’s name and much of his personal information have been withheld from the public. What is known is that he is an unemployed Iraqi national in his mid-thirties who studied medicine at university in his home country. The government suspects him of terrorist affiliations, and he is the subject of a ‘control order’ — a special legal instrument that places limits on his freedoms.

While this issue pertains to a basic chemistry course, what would the issues be in more clearly dangerous and sensitive subjects like nuclear science or others that could potentially advance a terror outfit to develop biological, chemical or nuclear weapons?

On the face of it, an individual should not suffer from discrimination because others in his country are terrorists. Then again, no society should advance the cause of its sworn enemies.

What do you think: does the individual freedom of foreigners within a free society encourage the ultimate loss of its own freedom? What is the moral and practical thing to do?

This post is yours: comments please!


  1. This is not an easy question rdoc…but one thing I do feel (and am not referring to your case in question) is that protection of the country comes first.
    Ofcourse one has to assume that those who are in a position of authority to make the laws and impose restrictions are just and kind. But at any given time it is important to see that protection of the rights of one individual cannot come at the cost of the loss of the rights of others. Again, this is only a hypothetical answer and each case needs to be seen on it’s own merit. And in fact I would go as far as to say that only in extreme cases should the individual’s rights be curtailed, and only in the light of hard evidence that his actions might harm others.
    And in the case of AE, he is right in going to court and the State has a right to present any evidence it has to prove that AE can be dangerous to the country. If a person is affiliated to terror groups, I don’t see why he should be allowed to enter any country except his own.

    Very true, Nita, but tell me: (assume that) by the time the crime is proved and hard evidence found, our candidate is already out. Now what? Prevent others from learning biology, chemistry, physics, etc.?

  2. In this way there are many other restrictions they need to impose.. But this is not going to solve problem rather it would create many more problems in a free society.

    Care to elaborate?

  3. The fundamental duty of a government is to protect its citizens from violence against their lives and property. If there were a clear and present danger that an individual citizen posed a threat to another’s life, then the government has an obligation to, and must preempt him. It would be foolish and irresponsible to allow a [suspected] serial rapist to become a girls’ summer camp counselor. I do not believe that constraining his “civil liberties” is a slippery slope to the loss of individual freedom.

    Having said that, I think Nita is right on the money. If AE is suspected “of terrorist affiliations, and he is the subject of a ‘control order’ “, why is he not being deported?

    Appreciate your point of the fundamental duty of the State, but is a suspicion of a terrorist affiliation a crime that can be punished by deportation or discrimination?
    Another point: any terror group is capable of sending in new, fresh faces without previous taint to learn advanced tech in First World countries. The only link would be that they would be from one of the Muslim predominant countries, or overtly Islamic ones. Of course, this is making a generalisation, as many of the current issues with the West are related to Islamic terrorism.
    Getting to that point, the West would have to discriminate against ALL Muslims or Arabs just because of a few such terrorists.
    How fair is that?

  4. Rambodoc:

    This is no different from regulating the tobacco industry than making it illegal. By keeping it above the ground, we make it possible to regulate and control its activities.

    Likewise it will simply be easier to deport such a foreigner (although what we would do with our home-grown terrorists, I do not know).

    But by allowing him to stay here and limiting his freedom, the state is actually engaging in a delicate balancing act of allowing a higher level of individual human rights to live and the freedom of living outside jail for crimes not yet committed; in many other countries, he may be in jail already under one or the other pretext, while curbing a potentially dangerous one.

    What does it mean for society?

    Well the legal system allows both sides to make their case. That is one thing he can rely on. Since he is a foreigner, in the light of recent events, the case will be closely watched. And this being a common law country, the precedent will be both remarkable and a testament to how we are framing risk in the British society today.

    I have other thoughts too so will return. Got to catch up with things after a whole day out…

    How can you compare tobacco selling (a business of volitional, though addictive, consumption) with a potential terrorist (if there is such an animal)? However, I appreciate the rest of your comment.

  5. Doc,
    AE is is subject to a “control order” that restricted his rights, according to the news report that you have quoted. That places him in a higher risk group than someone who is merely suspected of terrorist links.

    As for the “profiling” of the Muslim/Arab groups, I refer you to my post on Profiling a Terrorist and comments therein. If the grounds for suspicion had been built with due diligence and judicial oversight, I’d be wary of labeling a control order as discriminatory.

    As usual your post is outstanding and hard hitting.

  6. Rambodoc: Two quick ones:

    1. My emphasis is on ‘regulating’ not on the industry per se.

    2. However statistically more people die of smoking related diseases each year than of terrorism incidents.

  7. rdoc, I have already said there mere suspicion is not enough…so the question of ‘others’ learning bio, chem etc isn’t valid.

    I hear you, Nita, but I hypothesised that one such import benefits from the liberties and gets out of the country and now is fully prepared to set up a germ bomb and deploy it against your country. Now your country has intelligence that this has happened. Should you now change your policies, or still stick to it?

  8. So Govt. can come up with these restrictions too.. w.r.t. Education:

    Ban studying maths as mathematical concepts aid in sciences, and science as we all know leads to terrorism
    Ban Physical Education as “being fit aids terrorism”
    Ban studying history, in case they “get ideas”
    Ban studying Social Sciences and Modern Studies, as anything that references 9/11 or the Iraq War “might incite terrorism”
    Ban Employment as to stop providing them a secured place & money

    …. there are many


  9. Univs don’t help terrorists. A bit like saying going to schools makes vixens of girls and they’d rather not have an education. Dylan says college is a place to die. The onus of what you want to make of it is on you. The univ/education is not to be blamed for not yielding a job of your choice, a girlfriend/ boy friend, money, a status in life. That’s the easy way out. You have to see it as a passing phase, it’s teasing to say terrorists come out of univs.

    It fails to examine its own aggresive foreign policy and duplicity in dealing with foreign nations for its own purposes. Arm twisting and negating foreign students from receiving an education is aiming at soft targets.

  10. Rambodoc:

    “Now your country has intelligence that this has happened. Should you now change your policies, or still stick to it?”

    I know it is for Nita but John Maynard Keynes comes to mind:

    “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” 🙂

  11. Very well written post rambodoc. It is very difficult to answer a question like this. Law and order is the prime responsibility of a govt but then innocents suffer and there is no choice. Why Universities alone everywhere it happens. Extremists getaway with what they do because the orninary citizen doesn’t care. We let them preach hatred in our religious places and community gatherings so somewhere we are responsible for their acts too. The general public reacts only when hit hard.
    The problem with the free society is that we are selective. Saudi money is welcome, but Muslims are potential terrorists. Attack on Iraq is legitimate becuse it was governed by a dicatator but Mussharaf is supported. Iraq is in a mess because of US policies and Iraqi students have to look for Western Universities for studies. They are not welcome there because they are a potential threat. Discrimination starts here. It is not that the citizen of one country has more right to live than others. If you interfere with other peoples problems you have to take it to a proper conclusion. We will mess with your way of life but then we won’t allow you to enter our country and threaten our way of life.

  12. National security is a priority, agreed. This post and the link does not give full details (of course since it is classified information) on why he has been placed on ‘control order.’ So it’s difficult to a present a view on this subject, but I feel distressed as I wonder if AE’s civil liberty has been denied under the circumstances.

    PS: I do not fail to notice that one of the tags to this post is ‘racism.’

  13. Yikes! Rambodoc, you don’t believe in asking easy questions, do you? This is not something I have as yet an opinion about, but I’m finding the discussion stimulating.

  14. Prerna,
    I get your point, but just because a country has messed up in a war doesn’t mean it should leave its interior unprotected, right?
    Yes, racism is possibly one angle to this issue, though I don’t buy it. If you check The Rational Fool’s post on this, you will see why.
    So we should wait for you to post on this, eh?

  15. Yes, allow the prospective students, but with qualifiers:
    If we accept students from “hostile” countries, why would we deny them basic courses at university? You can get the same (basic) info from any website.
    Having said that, since USA is at war, perhaps now is not the time to accept students from known terrorist or terrorism sponsor countries. Dunno about Britain, et al., though.
    Certainly don’t allow student visas for known terrorist sympathisers.

    Ah, the zeitgeist! A few apples do ruin the bushel, sadly.

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