Most students tend to experience the war in Afghanistan via proxy. While many know someone who is out on the streets of Kabul and almost every student has an opinion on the conflict and possible solutions to the war, essentially, most students spend their time in the library while British and American troops spend theirs in a warzone. How then, do British students feel about the conflict and how is this shown?
There has undoubtedly been a substantial level of public protest across Britain throughout the conflict. From the tens of thousands who demonstrated against ‘Blair’s Wars’ at the 2006 Labour party conference to the thousands who, representing the ‘Stop the War’ coalition, marched through the streets of London in October last year, there has been plenty of openly expressed public resistance to the conflict. Yet it is difficult to find similar levels of participation and demonstrations of protest amongst the student body of Britain. This would perhaps seem insignificant were it not for the clear contrast between the inactivity here and the consistent anti-war student movement in the USA. At the same time that London’s streets heaved with protesters last year, twenty-six University campuses in America demonstrated together in an expression of opposition to the war in Afghanistan.
Does this mean, therefore, that British students simply aren’t as keen as our American cousins to stage protests? Looking back at the last two years at the University of Nottingham alone, this is clearly not the case. In May 2008 a group of 400 students and academics staged a protest at the University against the attempts to deport former student Hicham Yezza after his arrest under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. More recently, and receiving greater media attention, was the sit-in protest earlier this year against the conflict in Gaza, whereby students occupied room B62 of the Law and Social Sciences Building for six days before being forcibly removed by security guards.
There are, obviously, plenty of opportunities – both amongst the British student body and more specifically amongst the students here at Nottingham – to participate in protests against critical international crises and conflicts. Yet when it comes to opposition to war, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, the British student body seems to remain peculiarly subdued.