Northern Irish Police Carelessly Attack Academic Integrity

An article in The Economist published this January reveals the extent that state forces will go to destabilize the peace and order on which they rely. The context is Northern Ireland post-Troubles, and the situation is a set of secret interviews which might implicate Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in a murder and send him to jail.

The interviews are secret because they were part of an academic inquiry into the history of the IRA which involved interviews with 26 former IRA members given on the condition of secrecy. The American Justice department is acting on behalf of the Northern Irish police by pressuring the university (Boston College) into handing over the materials.

If the interviews are turned over, it will be a desecration of academic freedom and will hamper future academics in their endeavours to understand political conflicts. Academic analysis of political struggles makes us all safer by improving our understanding of complicated and highly concealed reality of conflicts between state and non-state actors – so this police attempt to breach academic freedom makes us less safe.

Worse, if Adams were jailed because of implication in a crime committed during the troubles by the IRA it may put the Good Friday agreement in jeapordy. Adams is the IRA’s great peacemaker – he maintained a spotless record during the troubles so that he could bring the republican cause away from the armalite and into mainstream politics. Luckily, Britain has no intentions of charging him – at least they are more politically savvy than the Northern Irish Police service.

What makes the police service’s actions so absurd is that we all know Adams is implicated in violence – if we had full disclosure of IRA activity he would certainly be accessory to many armed attacks. But peace depends on us not knowing this – it depends on forgiveness both of explicitly committed crimes, and on our decision, sometimes implicit, to turn the other cheek and concentrate on the good will moving forward rather than digging up the crimes of the past. More fundamentally still, conflicts end when both sides recognize that they and the other side have been fighting a war, and that the individual violent actions can not be fully understood under the simple name “crime”. Recognizing what appear to be “crimes” as actions in a war serves a higher purpose than punishing individuals for their choices; it serves the purpose of bringing to a possible site of reconciliation not only individuals but groups, movements, institutions. Recognizing the real existence of social entities and the normative role they play in a conflict is not optional if your interest is ending a conflict and maintaining that end.

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