Recent events have demonstrated that the Australian National University is too uncomfortable to allow free-flowing discussion about terrorism and Islam. On Monday, 20th October, due to interference by ANU’s public relations team, Woroni was forced to cancel the forum, ‘The Rationality of Terror’, a forum that had attracted the interest of national media groups.
On the 13th of October, Woroni announced ‘The Rationality of Terror – A Forum on the Islamic State.’ The forum consisted of a panel of 5 ANU academics and one blogger. It’s aim was to discuss the events in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
To ensure diversity of opinion, Wassim Doureihi, a spokesperson for the Australian wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir, was contacted. Doureihi agreed to join the panel on the 15th of October. The other panellists were notified of this addition. While some panellists held reservations about the event, most of them told Woroni that they were still willing to take part. However, within four days, all of the academics withdrew, citing issues of public profile and funding.
One of the panelists mentioned that this occurred after consultation with the ANU, stating that he did not believe that “it would be fair to his colleagues to remain involved.” Woroni contacted James Grubel, ANU’s Strategic Communications Manager, for clarification. We were informed that Jane O’Dywer, Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs (SCAPA), had been having conversations with the academics on the panel. It was made evident that multiple panelists had been in conversations with this arm of the University and were encouraged to reconsider their participation.
The Woroni Board of Editors met on the 19th of October to discuss the issue at their weekly board meeting. It was discussed whether a Q&A between Doureihi and the students of ANU would still be valuable. The Board decided that they would proceed with the event with two academics, a blogger and Doureihi. By the 20th of October, all of the academics had withdrawn and the event was cancelled. All catering, AV hire and venue hire fees are currently been incurred by Woroni, whose funding is derived directly from student fees.
Interference by SCAPA has stifled the capacity for ANU staff and students to engage in a constructive dialogue about the rationality of terror, the complex situation in the Middle East and the implications it has for Australia. Woroni urges any student that wishes to contribute to the discussion on rationality of terror to send in their articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.