The British Library has turned down Taliban archives for fear that they would be in breach of legislation banning the collection of material which could be used for terror. The material includes Afghan Taliban maps, radio broadcasts and newspapers. Since 2012 experts have been translating the archive into English as well digitising the information. The Terrorism Act places specific responsibilities on anyone in the UK who might provide access to terrorist publications, and the legal advice received jointly by the British Library and other similar institutions advises against making this type of material accessible.
This means that a closer understanding of the Taliban and what actually happened in Afghanistan since the First Afghan War will not happen in a hurry. The point of academic research is to expand knowledge and understanding of the work, and the academic community is rightly upset. Academics condemned the decision as ridiculous, warning that the laws could make them wary about studying terror groups at all.
A researcher who worked on the project has also come out saying that, “There’s no recipes for making bombs or anything like that.” He has called the decision short-sighted and said it would put other institutions off hosting similar archives.
An additional fact to point out is that the Taliban are not even on the United Kingdom’s official list of terrorist organisations, so the rejection seems strange.
The rejection of the archives only makes one ask questions that border on conspiracy theories. How independent and unbiased is academic research in the UK in the first place? Does the British government want to hide something? Is there a national interest angle at play here?
But that is the nature of nationalism and ideologies of national security - they can stifle debate and research in even the most democratic countries. This is the world we live in, we can either choose to be safe or choose to be free.