The University of Edinburgh in Scotland has urged its students to report “misinformation” after one of its teachers was accused of spreading false Russian narratives.
According to The Times and the BBC, while stating that it was committed to freedom of expression and creating a “safe space for staff and students to discuss controversial topics,” the university noted that it has a “strong view against the spread of misinformation” and asked students to report concerns they might have about teachers.
The academic in question – Tim Hayward, a professor of environmental political theory at the University of Edinburgh – had retweeted a statement made by a Russian representative to the UN, who claimed that the alleged Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine was a false flag operation.
In March, Hayward also shared a link to an article questioning the reported Russian attack on a theater in Mariupol, and asked “what do we know of the reality?” The article suggested that the assault may have also been a false-flag operation carried out by Ukrainians in an attempt to generate public outrage and provoke a military intervention from the West.
Kvitka Perehinets, a Ukrainian student at the university, who says she has family members fighting now, told the BBC that she was deeply concerned over the professor’s social media activity, stating that: “The moment we start to equate the two sides in the story is the moment we lose our humanity. The oppressor — in this case Russia — should not be given the same kind of platform as those who are being oppressed.”
Perehinets told the outlet that she alerted the university to Professor Hayward’s tweets.
Another student, Mariangela Alejandro, expressed concern over Hayward’s statements on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, and his critical view of the White Helmets organization, which he shared with students during a lecture.
According to a lecture obtained by the BBC, Hayward told his students that there were two prevailing narratives surrounding the alleged attack in Douma, Syria in 2018: “One narrative says the White Helmets helped rescue victims, provided evidence and gave witness statements about the chemical attack on Douma on 7 April 2018. The critics say the White Helmets were responsible for staging a false flag event to spur the West to attack the Syrian government.”
“In fact, dispute about this case is still current,” he noted.
The BBC wrote that Alejandro said she came away from Hayward’s lecture “thinking ‘it could be true’ that the attack was faked, until she spoke to a Syrian friend.” The article, however, did not specify what her friend said.
Hayward has defended his teaching by stating that his course simply asks whether a claim should be accepted solely on the basis of someone’s authority, adding that the concept extends to his own words as well.
He hit out against the BBC for what he considers to be attacks on him and other academics who are challenging the prevailing narrative. Following the BBC’s article, Hayward wrote on Twitter: “Academia should support open discussion of propaganda, not be constrained to tow an official line in an information war.”
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