Von Julia Berczyk
Persons traveling to participate in foreign conflicts by no means constitute a new phenomenon that is intrinsically tied to the ‘Islamic State’ (‘IS’). However, law enforcement agencies all over the world increasingly focus on foreign fighters travelling to Syria and Iraq due to a considerable rise in their number as well as the perceived threat they pose upon their return. Currently, around 650 German residents and citizens have travelled to the region to support jihadist groups such as the ‘IS’.
The ethical consequences of academic research in terms of its capacity to induce insecurity is an old topic of discussion that has affected various disciplines in different ways. Generally speaking, the more abstract the output of a given discipline, the less frequently it comes up in debates about what limits academics should put on their research activities.
Let’s start with the natural sciences. Ethics are such a huge topic in the highly empirical fields of medicine and biology that, when Europe says “Ethics Committee” they mean „medical ethics“, and there are entire NGOs devoted to the ethics of biological research. For their potential to inform weapons development, chemists and physicists are also generally fairly aware of the potential ethical consequences of their work in terms of security. Einstein famously regretted encouraging the American government to pursue atomic weapons research, and Robert Oppenheimer, who led that research in the Manhattan Project, could hardly bear to remember his role in creating the most destructive of weapons.