In May 2008 Hicham Yezza, an IT technician at the University of Nottingham, was arrested, together with student Rizwaan Sabir, in a well-publicised anti-terrorist swoop. They had downloaded al-Qaida material from the US Department of Defense website as part of Sabir’s academic work on terrorism.
Disgracefully, they were reported to the police by Nottingham University. The abandonment by British universities of any idea of academic independence is one of the unsung tragedies of our recent history. Our universities have become factories for churning out ever increasing numbers of “vocationally trained” graduates into a market with far less graduate jobs than the supply. Such research as is undertaken is tightly targeted, measured and constrained in terms not of human knowledge but of such state concepts as economic and social impact.
In the panic to be seen as helpful to the government, Nottingham University turned in these two Muslims, presumably on the basis that if you were planning to commit terrorist offences, then openly studying terrorism at university would be a good cover.
Actually, as far as I can tell no recent terrorist has had a proper qualification in terrorism from a British university. Surely, given the government’s obsession with vocational training as the purpose of university education, that is something the government must seek to remedy?
The ludicrous nature of the arrests quickly became apparent even to Nottinghamshire Police, and after an unpleasant six days in cells and the permanent shredding of their reputations, the men were released. Disgracefully, there has been no public apology from Nottingham University.
Just as with the face saving alleged “discovery” of child porn on the computer of the innocent “terrorist suspect” the police shot in Leyton, lo and behold Nottinghamshire Police discovered that Yezza was a criminal after all. He was an illegal immigrant!
Yezza has now been jailed for nine months for “securing avoidance of enforcement action by deceptive means”. As he was working and studying at Nottingham University under his own name, the deception is not apparent. But a formal jail sentence for an illegal immigrant in this country is extremely unusual. Yezza was not part of the criminal underworld and if he had applied properly his immigration status would in all probability have been able to be regularised. It is very hard to believe the judge was not motivated by the original slur of terrorism. This must go down as yet another striking example of Islamophobia in this country.
The government refuses to put a figure on the number of illegal immigrants in the UK. Academic estimates tend to put the figure around 800,000. It is generally agreed that aound 1 in 25 Londoners is an illegal immigrant. Having much professional experience with immigration and close personal links to a number of immigrant communities, I would put the overall figure much higher, at around 1.5 million. But to take even the lower estimates, can you imagine the chaos if we started to jail illegal immigrants for nine months? The singling out of Yezza is appalling victimisation.