8 FEBRUARY 2021
YOUR INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER
UCL: BIRTHPLACE OF
FARMERS PROTEST IN
A NEW WAVE FOR
Interview with new SOAS Director, Adam Habib
Professor Adam Habib, SOAS’s new Director (Credit: The World University Rankings)
Maliha Shoaib, BA English and World Philosophies Professor Adam Habib has assumed his position as Director of SOAS as of 4 January. Habib is an academic, researcher, activist and public intellectual with a career spanning 30 years. Prior to joining SOAS, he was Vice-Chancellor and Principle of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Under his leadership Wits was praised for their academic and financial success, though many have criticised his management of the Fees Must Fall protests of 2015, where students protested to stop the increase in university fees. The protests got out of hand and police were called, leading to police brutality and violence against students. We sat down with him to ask him some of your questions about Fees Must Fall controversy and the future of SOAS.
What have you done so far as Director? What does your role entail? The past two weeks I’ve spent eight or nine hours a day having conversations. I’ve met the staff and have been finding out about SOAS, what their thoughts are, what challenges people think there are, asking questions, and looking at the finances. As of 18 January I’ve introduced a new process to create a strategic plan which is asking big questions about Continued on page 3
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Letter from the Editor
No Detriment Policy Explained PM Regretful Over ‘Grim’ Covid Milestone
Rohingya: stateless and now homeless
Qatar Blockade Quashed
Opinion Belarus fights on in silence
Mental Health is a Social Justice p17 Issue Did the Arab Spring bring stability to the region?
Features Humans of SOAS: Professor Costas Lapavistas
The Story of Hacer
Love in the time of Corona
Dear Spirit readers, Issue 15 has arrived! The number 15 feels significant somehow. With this academic year flying by, I’ve found myself reflecting on my time at the Spirit. Having been involved for the past 10 issues of the Spirit, I’m wholeheartedly appreciative of the space that we as students have created for our voices to be amplified. As always, I’m grateful to all the wonderful people who put in the time and effort to make this issue one of my favourites to date. At the dawn of this new year, I hope the coming months will be kinder to you all. And with the arrival of 2021, many changes have come. Firstly, SOAS has a new Director, Adam Habib - you can read my interview with him on the front cover, and watch a clip of the interview itself on our Instagram. Next, we have a number of new additions to our team: I’m happy to welcome Elizabeth Edwards as Culture Editor, and Deniz Demirag and Lara Gibbs as Social Media Co-ordinators. All three are regular contributors to the Spirit, so I’m excited for what they will bring to the team. This issue we’re thrilled to announce the return of our podcast in collaboration with SOAS Radio. You can ‘That’s the Spirit’ over on SOAS Radio’s SoundCloud. For
this episode, myself and the Co-Editors, Louisa and Basit, were joined by Fakhriya (National News Editor) and Ella (Features Editor) for a fasinating discussion on all the highlights from Issue 15. This issue’s packed with some amazing content, and is actually our longest issue of this year. In SOAS news, we have a really helpful breakdown of the updated No Detriment policy. If you’re unsure how the updated policy works be sure to check it out - I know I will! We also have an article highlighting the amazing work done by our friends over at the Paul Robeson zine, which is made for and by people of colour, and an update on SOAS alumnus, Karim Ennarah’s, notorious detainment. National News is packed with a huge range of articles: everything from eugenics to Brexit to the effects of Covid19 on the UK. Over in International News, we have coverage of the farmer protests in India, the Ugandan election and the worrying state of our climate. An article I’m particularly intrigued by is an insightful Opinion piece by Maxine Betteridge-Moes on the UK aid industry’s focus on money over impact. We also have a reflection on Arab Spring a decade on. In Features you’ll find another installment of our regular segment, Humans of SOAS - this time with Economics professor, Costas Lapavitsas, and his interesting views on Brexit. You can also have a look at Deniz Demirag’s photo journal detailing her aunt’s experience with life and divorce, a fascinating creative submission and a fun piece on online dating during the pandemic. In culture, you can read all about the myth of the postracial society represented in Netflix’s Bridgerton. We also have a couple different takes on how the pandemic has affected the arts - both in film and the fashion industry. Over in Sports and Societies we have an article on the future of Messi’s career, as well as a fascinating take on women’s surfing by our very own Frances Howe. As always, we love to hear your comments and thoughts – please reach out to us on social media @soasspirit or by email to get involved in the discussion, or if you’d like to join us for next issue! Maliha Shoaib Managing Editor
Your SOAS Spirit Team Maliha Shoaib • Managing Editor • Louisa Johnson• Co-Editor-in-Chief • Abdul Basit Mohammad • Co-Editor-in-Chief •
Culture London Fashion Week During the p25 Pandemic Bridgerton’s Race Problem
Louisa Johnson • Co-Editor-in-Chief
Jia Ying Ailsa Gan • Layout Editor • Maxine Betteridge-Moes • Layout Editor • Annie Loduca • Layout Editor •
Sports & Societies Getting ‘Messi’ in America?
Top Society Picks
Lyla Amini • Copy Editor • Sajid Abbas • Copy Editor • Adela Begum • Copy Editor •
Abdul Basit Mohammad• Co-Editor-in-Chief
Frances Howe • SOAS News Editor • Fakhriya M. Suleiman • National News Editor • Josh Mock • International News Editor • Anna Fenton-Jones • Opinion Editor • Ella Dorn • Features Editor • Elizabeth Edwards • Culture Editor • Artemis Sianni-Wedderburn • Sport & Societies Editor •
Jia Ying Ailsa Gan • Online Editor • Anneka Shah • Online Editor • Erum Nazeer Dahar • Online Editor • Deniz Demirag • Social Media Co-ordinator • Lara Gibbs • Social Media Co-ordinator •
8 FEBRUARY 2021 https://soasspirit.co.uk/category/news/ News Editors: Frances Howe, Fakhriya M. Suleiman, Josh Mock
Continued from page 1
how to ensure SOAS gets out of the crisis. SOAS has enormous potential but its capacity is compromised by its administrative and financial challenges, and these are not insurmountable. I’ve got to make many hard decisions and it’s not going to make me popular with everyone. But I do think they are central to ensuring that the student experience is at the centre of what we focus on, that knowledge production is at the heart of what we do and that we are fit for purpose for the world of the 21st Century – and it’s that combination that interests me in what I want to really do. How do you feel about the documentary ‘Everything Must Fall’ and your portrayal as the neoliberal, money oriented and image conscious management in the film based on the student revolution for free education in South Africa? I thought ‘Everything Must Fall’ represented the story of two generations of activists grappling with the challenges of our time. You might say the Vice Chancellor is money interested, but if I wasn’t money interested, Wits would be in the same place that SOAS is – in a financial crisis. So I think we need to start understanding that we live in the real world, not in a world that we wish existed, and money is what makes institutions work because you have to pay salaries, you have to buy infrastructure, and if you don’t take that seriously, institutions get into crises. If you are interested in Higher Education, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be committed to social values – but it does mean you mustn’t ignore money, because when you ignore money, you destroy institutions. Academics at Wit said that you insulted academic activists by demonising them as the “Pol Pot Brigade” in your Rebels and Rage book. They said it was unfair to inaccurately homogenise and demonise them when they were from many diverse intellectual traditions, many of which are popular at SOAS. How would you respond to this critique? Firstly let me start by saying that wasn’t the academics, there was a group of academics – some were students and some were academics – and there were about 30-35 in a staffing establishment of 7000. We must bear in mind after Fees Must Fall I stood for a second term at Wits and the union actually polled all of the staff members on how many would support my second term and more than 75% did, and when it went to the senate more than 85% did. So if you suggest that’s the dominant opinion amongst the academics, how do you explain that so many academics were in support of me being a leader at Wits? Second, in terms of the diversity of the ideological expressions you are on about, it was the practice and behaviour that I described that as Pol Pot Brigade. Pol Pot is a deviant expression of the left like fascism was a deviant expression of conservative capitalism. It seems to me that what I was reflecting was that those people wanted to shut down a campus permanently and they were not prepared to acknowledge that students wouldn’t have graduated, and they were prepared to sacrifice the lives of generations of students in a zero sum game without understanding the consequences. People get offended that I labelled those individuals. But check how they labelled me! Why is it appropriate for one group of people to malign, to label an individual, and when that individual responds in a book – and I qualified it by saying I refer to them as the Pol Pot – they take offence. Is respect not reciprocated? They undermine a democratic space for ideas and they were responded to firmly and critically in a public book, and if they felt I misrepresented them why didn’t they take me to court? Why didn’t they challenge
me? Because everything I said in that book I have evidence for, so in a sense my response to those on the far right and also those on the left who engage in toxic discourse is don’t play victim when you are responded to firmly. If you want respect, engage with respect, because that’s the only way we can build a democratic public space. How do you feel about the violence perpetrated on students under your administration at Wits? Context matters, and this is one of the biggest principles of left wing activism. Violence was perpetrated on all sides. So ask yourself, how do you respond to the family of two security officers at the Cape Peninsula Institution of Technology when student activists locked them up in a building and tried to burn the building down? How do you respond to activists that burned 1.5 billion Rand [£70 million] worth of buildings in universities around the country – how is that justifiable in any context? That’s malevolent action. What I did was I asked a democratically elected government to bring their chosen police force to keep safe public facilities. If you try to kill my staff members and my students, I will defend them. Read my argument in Fees Must Fall, and ask the question whether it is legitimate to engage in violence in a democratic society. Some of those middle class kids could get daddy and mummy to pay for them to study overseas. The really poor didn’t have that luxury of choice. For them the only institutions available were those public universities like Wits whose buildings were important for them to get the kind of education that would enable the social mobility that allows them to exist in equality. Today, students are graduating – we are one of the great universities in the world in this continent because of those hard decisions. So don’t make judgments from afar without understanding context and living the reality. A lot of people are concerned with SOAS’s financial crisis, particularly with the media coverage and everlasting rumours of a UCL takeover and the buildings being sold. What’s your financial plan moving forward – how will you guarantee financial viability for SOAS (particularly after Covid-19)? Graham Upton, who was the Interim Director for the past 9 months, I’m particularly grateful to. He had to make some really hard decisions in difficult circumstances. And over the past 9 months we had the Transformation and Change process which has already put SOAS in a much firmer financial footing on the basis of those very hard decisions. But this is a temporary victory – all it did was buy us some time. And if we’re to get out of the mess in a sustainable way, we need to fundamentally reimagine what it means to be SOAS.
The first is what do we want to be as SOAS? I think we need to be some complex mix of the focus on becoming the research intensive university we used to be in the 1990’s, and a numbers driven focus on increasing student numbers. The second is what do we want to be in terms of internationalization? Are Africa, Asia, and the Middle East simply areas of study, or do we train people on the big questions of our world but from the perspective of the Global South? The third is can we do joint teaching with institutions in the South so we can bring and share employment? The fourth is finances. The three big questions we have to ask here are about staff-student ratios, whether fractional staff cost us more than full time staff, and how we align our income and expenditures with grants, scholarships and fundraising. The final part is what I would refer to as institutional efficiency. I’ve heard many complaints from students that nobody replies to their emails, or that applicants don’t hear back quickly, or that their experience differs in each department. Unanswered concerns are not fair on students – it means we don’t take students seriously, and that’s unacceptable. This past week I launched something called Let Me Know, where you follow the normal channels but if someone repeatedly has not resolved the concerns you have, let me know so I can assist. How we have a better relationship is a two way thing: it’s about management communicating and listening and being responsive, but it’s also about students being equal partners in engaging with courtesy and respect, and taking seriously their education honing in on their student experience. What steps are you taking to move towards decolonising? Do you think it’s time to remove the term ‘oriental’ from SOAS? I asked the same question at the executive board yesterday – is it time to remove the word oriental from SOAS? I think the acronym has really valuable branding across the world, but I do sometimes feel queasy about the word oriental, and I would love to explore in an open way whether we could keep the name SOAS but rethink what the wording is. On decolonisation, we’ve already begun – it’s at the core of the strategic plan with the international question of whether we see Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as oriental and exotic, or part of a collective community.
“If we’re to get out of the mess in a sustainable way, we need to fundamentally reimagine what it means to be SOAS.” We need to figure out a new strategic agenda and tie that agenda to a new financial plan, and that plan needs to, over the next 3-5 years, be focused firstly on developing a small surplus so we can put some money away for a rainy day, and also make us enough money so we can invest in better facilities, a new IT system, and a new student support experience. Now that strategic plan is what I’ve initiated on 18 January. There are five elements to that strategic plan.
Professor Habib was previously Vice Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand (Credit: SOAS)
8 FEBRUARY 2021
SOAS Alumnus and human rights advocate freed from detainment Lara Gibbs, BA Chinese (Modern & Classical)
On 18 November, Karim Ennarah was arrested in Dahab, South Sinai, and detained in Tora prison outside of Cairo. Two of his colleagues, Gasser Abdel-Razek and Mohammed Basheer, were also detained. Ennarah was held on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news. After mounting international pressure, Ennarah, Abdel-Razek, and Basheer were freed on 3 December. A former SOAS Student, Ennarah was working for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights group in Egypt. Ennarah was working as EIPR’s head of criminal justice at the time. The EIPR pledge to defend the rights of all Egyptians. For the past 18 years, they claim to have defended the rights of Egyptians against inequality. They aim to document and research incidents of violence and human rights abuses in Egypt. Married in September, Ennarah’s wife Jess Kelly set about campaigning after hearing the news of his arrest. Kelly created a petition reaching over 100,000 signatures, calling on Egyptian authorities to free Ennarah and his colleagues. On 25 November, Jess published an op-ed in the New York Times. She expressed how ‘life rapidly fell apart’ on learning of her husband’s arrest. On 2 December, a group of SOAS alumni
published a letter to stand in solidarity with Karim and call for his immediate release. The letter was signed by 164 advocates and accused the Egyptian government of violating international human rights law.
Amnesty International has described Egypt’s system of detention as ‘corrosive.’ They express that Egyptian authorities can arrest anyone solely based on the suspicion that they are a threat to public security and order. Amnesty has called on the international community to speak out against Egypt’s action toward human rights organisations. Celebrities including actress Scarlett Johansson and Bill Nighy spoke out in solidarity against the arrests. In an EIPR YouTube video, Johansson said ‘I’m in awe of the bravery of these men who continue their work to defend people’s rights at such a great personal cost.’ Many critics have expressed concerns on the cost of human rights since Abdul Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2014. During his election campaign, President Sisi spoke of grand plans to improve the economy and increase employment rates. However, according to the BBC, the standard of living declined for many during his first term. It is estimated Egypt’s prisons hold 60,000 political prisoners. Reporters without Borders claimed that over 100 journalists have been arrested or imprisoned since January
Karim Ennarah at his SOAS graduation with wife, Jess Kelly. (Credit: Jess Kelly via the Evening Standard)
2014. Those who oppose President Sisi’s
regime run the risk of arrest.
The Robeson: SOAS’ first student-led magazine for PoC Louisa Johnson, MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries The first student magazine by and for people of colour has come to SOAS. The Robeson was originally founded by Hisham Pryce-Parchment and Apoorva Sriram in 2019, but will be officially relaunching this spring. Pryce-Parchment, final year World Philosophies student and two-year Antiracism Officer, explains his reasons for co-founding the magazine: ‘I wanted to focus on creative responses to tackling racism, both on campus and beyond.’ Ultimately, The Robeson acts as an ‘antiracism initiative’ — something Pryce-Parchment brainstormed during his first year as Antiracism Officer for the SOAS Students’ Union. He was inspired by the student magazines he saw at other
The Robeson magazine logo. (Credit: The Robeson)
campuses, and wanted to replicate something similar for students of colour at SOAS. ‘There are many barriers to being published as a PoC in the industry,’ remarks Pryce-Parchment. Indeed, the 2016 City of London survey found that British journalism is 94% white and 55% male. Four years on, and the findings from Women in Journalism suggest little improvement. A oneweek evaluation of the prime-time news outlets in mid-July 2020 discovered that: ‘Not a single story by a Black reporter appeared on the front page of a UK newspaper,’ and ‘only six front page stories were written by BAME reporters.’ Pryce-Parchment hence recognises the importance of positive action schemes in media industries. ‘We have had a few emails asking why The Robeson is only for PoC,’ he explains, ‘The tone of almost all of these emails was one of entitlement. One such email went as far as to ask: "Is this not a reverse form of racism?”’ Despite objections, PryceParchment reinforces the magazine’s ‘For Us, By Us’ policy, declaring: ‘We are unapologetic in our vision, and about the space we want to hold.’ The Robeson magazine takes its name from Paul Robeson, the American artist, activist, and SOAS alumnus known for his antiracist and socialist beliefs. Pryce-Parchment explains: ‘The magazine is less about the achievements or stature of "Paul Robeson'' the man, and more about honouring a spiritual legacy and vision that found its roots in this institution
we all share.’ With the recent focus on mourning and grief for PoC this past year, Pryce-Parchment insists he wants The Robeson to be a ‘thing of joy.’ Rather than solely facilitating discussions about ‘suffering, pain, and death,’ he believes publishing joy is also an important part of the ‘healing and restorative practices in writing.’ Therefore, while The Robeson will publish serious essays and articles, it also welcomes creative submissions, such as poetry, fiction, memes, photography, illustrations, playlists, jokes, and more. This initiative builds on Pryce-Parchment’s earlier work. Last year, Pryce-Parchment told the Spirit he wanted to publish more BAME voices in the SOAS Undergraduate Research Journal. However, content for this publication is restricted to academic essays. One year later, Pryce-Parchment now says that The Robeson will ensure PoC at SOAS also have a platform which allows for more variety in form; ‘It’s so important for us as students of colour to just publish — even if it’s just a dump. Whatever you want to share with the community!’ When asked about his aims for The Robeson, PryceParchment stated that he hopes it brings any prospecting contributor ‘a sense of pride — in being a person of colour, in being a student at SOAS, and in their own talent.’ You can keep up to date with The Robeson launch this term by following their Instagram account, @therobesonmag.
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No Detriment Policy Explained Deirbhile Ni Bhranain, MA Media in Development On 14 January, SOAS announced the updates to its No Detriment Policy in an email to all students. The updates apply to all students except those enrolled in the Language Centre, or enrolled on Online Distance Learning (ODL) courses.
Here’s the policy, broken down: Undergraduate Students
Revised Marking Criteria
Students will only need 75 credits to progress to the next year of study rather than the usual 90. Typically full year modules are 30 credits and half year modules are 15 credits. For final year students, your overall degree result will be calculated in two ways. The first way will be across your last two years as usual, and the second way will be on the basis of your strongest 90 credits this year. Whichever of these is a higher result will be awarded as your final classification. Students can pass their degree with one failed module, provided you score 30% or more, and it is not a core module.
Students can pass their degree with one failed module. This is provided you score 40% or more, and it is not a core module.
Marking for all assignments will take into account issues that may arise as a result of the pandemic, for example increased dependence on IT, adjustment to remote learning, travel restrictions, and caring commitments. Marking will also take into account the high levels of anxiety or other mental stress which may be caused by the current circumstances. The information page related to the revised marking criteria states: ‘In the current context, marking will need to take account of the fact that students will have limited resources, and so criteria/grading should take account of the limited source materials which may be available to students. … We must [also] pay attention to student emotional wellbeing.’
Exam Marking The Exam Board will compare exam results to those of previous years, to ensure that students this year are not unfairly disadvantaged.
SOAS has also announced that Online Departmental Forums are being held in the upcoming weeks, where these changes will be explained in detail and students can ask questions. As of 4 February about half of these forums have happened already. Keep an eye on your email inbox for further details. The Academic Registrar, Jenni Rhodes, commented: ‘SOAS recognises that students this year are facing continued challenges and uncertainty as a result of Covid-19. We're glad to be able to continue our undergraduate no detriment policy, and introduce additional measures such as postgraduate condonement, alongside other sources of support such as amended marking criteria, additional hardship funds, and a more accessible mitigating
circumstances procedure. We hope that these measures will help students to succeed in their studies this year whilst maintaining the standards of SOAS degrees.’ If students are struggling with assignments, the updated Mitigating Circumstances policy allows students to self-certify for a period of physical and/or mental distress. This means that an extension will be granted to you without proof from a doctor or counsellor. You can make use of this form twice throughout the year.
In the current context, marking will need to take account of the fact that students will have limited resources (Credit: @craftedbygc)
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Children failed and inequality soars as England enters third lockdown Anneka Shah, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical) 4 January 2021 saw Britain’s most vulnerable children put in further hardship in terms of food security and access to education with Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson’s decision to close schools in England. The decision to move to remote learning was taken as a measure to combat the new UK variant of the coronavirus that risks overwhelming the National Health Service (NHS). The PM highlighted in his address to the nation that the government ‘will provide extra support to ensure that pupils entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them’ and ‘distribute more devices to support remote education.’ However, evidence has come to light that suggests these promises have not been met. On 11 January, one parent took to Twitter highlighting the inadequate replacement her child received for their usual hot school meals. The food box sent to her home consisted of a limited amount and variety of food that was expected to last for 10 days. When she totalled up the cost of
the products from the supermarket it came to £5.22, as opposed to the £30 which she understood public funds were allocated for. This and many other similar cases expressed by frustrated parents have been brought to the government’s attention by footballer Marcus Rashford, who previously campaigned against the government’s decision to scrap free school meals during the first lockdown in 2020. Rashford told Twitter that ‘We MUST do better. This is 2021’, emphasising that it was hard to expect children to study at home with these substandard provisions. The PM and the Department for Education responded in agreement that this was unacceptable, with the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson stating that he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ by the images of the subpar food parcels parents had been receiving during his interview with the BBC on the matter. This also triggered the government’s reintroduction of meal vouchers from 18 January, which offers families £15 of supermarket vouchers and can be chosen by schools as an alternative to food boxes. The Labour party has since called for the resignation of Williamson and Labour MP
Skirt Length Scandal Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communications The parents of secondary school girl, Silham Hamud, have found themselves embroiled in a potential legal battle. Uxbridge Secondary School (UHS) is threatening the Hamud family with court action due to Silham’s skirt being ‘too long’ and against their uniform policy. Hamud’s refusal to wear a shorter skirt resulted in her being repeatedly sent home in December 2020. In regards to this, Vogue UK questioned ‘who benefits when a 12-year-old young woman is sent home every day for weeks?’ Being sent home everyday in December yielded a month’s worth of ‘unauthorised absences’. In a letter the family received, UHS stated the ‘unauthorised absences’ may result in ‘legal action being taken against the adults who have parental responsibility or dayto-day care of [their] child… [including] penalty notice or a summons to the magistrates court.’ The Hamud family hail from Britain’s Muslim community. Idris Hamud, Silham’s father, said ‘the school is threatening to take legal action against me… [but] all Silham wants to do is to wear a skirt which is a few centimetres longer than her classmates. It’s her faith and her decision to make.’ According to The Guardian, both of
Silham’s older sisters, Sumayyah and Ilham, were able to wear long skirts to UHS ‘without issue’ afore. Ashfaque Chowdhury, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, anchors Silham’s case in the wider context of the UK not having ‘any comprehensive national guidelines on [such matters] from the Department for Education.’ In his opinion piece for iNews, Chowdhury coined the term ‘diversity blind spots’ to describe the phenomenon whereby Britain’s teachers are not equipped with knowledge of every faith tradition or cultural sensitivity. This results in mainstream schools being unable to accommodate Britain’s minorities. He went on to say that this is an issue not limited only to Britain’s Muslims, but also highlighted the nation’s black community as also being subject to experiencing exclusion for donning natural hairstyles. 13 January saw the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), a ‘grass roots civil liberties pressure group’, launch an online campaign to garner attention to the Hamud family’s plight. In their online communiqué ‘demanding UHS respect [this] Muslim schoolgirl’s modest clothing’, MPAC charges UHS with contravening the UN Charter of Human Rights by disallowing Hamud her freedom of religious expression. Further, MPAC cited UHS as setting a ‘precedent for wider discrimination’ in the UK, likening this incident to the ‘erosion of rights of Muslims seen in other European
Wes Streeting stated his party refuses to ‘be bystanders to the level of failure…seen from the Department of Education’ during a Commons discussion on 19 January. Chartwells, the company that provides the food boxes to local authorities, have since apologised. They claim that the box circulated on Twitter was only meant to last 5 days and did not cost the government £30, but agreed it did not meet their standards due to the short notice they had to put together and distribute the parcels. In an attempt to rectify their mistakes, they have vowed to provide free breakfast to those school children receiving free meals from 25 January, as well as an option to receive lunch meals during the half-term. Amid this scandal, supermarkets have stepped in to offer support, with the likes of Tesco adding an additional £1 of fruit and vegetables to any government voucher as well as Marks and Spencer offering an extra £5 of food for every voucher. Too many of these children, who are already not getting access to the proper nutrition, are also facing an exasperated situation with difficulties due to remote learning. The Office of Communications estimates that up to 1.8 million children do not have the
technology to participate in remote learning, with reports of many cases of siblings sharing one device and essays being written on mobile phones. In an open letter to Gavin Williamson, written by the Child Poverty Action Group and Children North East, one mother expressed her frustration, saying: ‘I’m not financially able to get [my daughter] a computer. She shouldn’t have to fall so far behind due to our financial situation.’ The government has decided to allow children without access to the internet or computer devices to continue to go into schools. However, many parents feel that this is unfair, and it puts their families at increased risk of catching the virus. SOAS, University of London graduate and rugby union player Maro Itoje was inspired by Rashford’s campaign. Itoje told Good Morning Britain that he plans to ‘leverage his contact base’ to lessen the ‘digital divide’ among Britain’s disadvantaged children. He also urged tech and broadband ‘to step up’ to ensure the nation’s children have ‘quality data’ - an aspect of the digital divide many activists have highlighted is ‘too often overlooked.’
12-year old Silham Hamud photographed wearing ‘improper’ school uniform at the heart of potential litigation. (Credit: South West News Service)
countries, such as France.’ While the UK does not have an official policy banning the headscarf in schools, individual institutions have the right to implement regulations which may, as seen with Hamud’s case, lead to students being marginalised because of their religious beliefs. MPAC’s online bulletin closes by asking supporters to ‘ACT NOW’ and contact the school via twitter and email to remind them of their ‘duty to uphold [the] human rights’
of pupils, as well as reinforce the salience of not putting pupils in a position whereby they are made to choose between ‘their right to religion [or] their right to education.’ Silham herself lamented over not being able to see her friends and her school ‘not accepting [her] for [her] religion and that’s wrong.’ Still yet, she is hopeful that ‘they’ll change their rules so that girls like me can wear [long] skirts to school.’
8 FEBRUARY 2021
London Academia: The Birthplace of Eugenics?
Independent inquiry, led by professor Iyiola Solanke, reveals London links to origins of pseudoscientific field of eugenics. (Credit: @Doug88888
Ruth Sellin MA Gender Studies and Law In 2018, University College London (UCL) was subject to an independent inquiry led by professor Iyiola Solanke, investigating its link with the pseudoscientific field of eugenics. The inquiry brought to light the fact that UCL has ties to the originator of eugenics, Sir Francis Galton. In response, UCL has decided to rename buildings that were previously named after Galton and his compatriot in the propagation of eugenics, statistician Karl Pearson. On 7 January 2021, UCL made a formal apology for its involvement in the ‘development, propagation and legitimisation of eugenics’. Eugenics is defined by Britannica as ‘the selection of desired heritable characteristics in order to improve future generations, typically in reference to humans’. Despite its idealistic claims of improving the human race, eugenics has often been used to justify racism and genocide.
“The founder and staunchest supporter of the field, Sir Francis Galton, was an English explorer and anthropologist.”
Eugenics is often linked to the beliefs of the Nazis during World War Two (WWII), however, the founder and staunchest supporter of the field, Sir Francis Galton, was an English explorer and anthropologist. Galton was born in Birmingham in 1822; his cousin, Charles Darwin, used concepts of eugenics to develop his theory of evolution. Galton financed the first Eugenics Record Office in London in partnership with UCL and left his scholarly collection to the institution after his death in 1911, as well as funding for the position of the Galton Professor of Genetics. Before WWII, eugenics was a very popular theory amongst many soon-to-be allied nations and garnered support not only from institutions such as UCL, but also from notable figures in British history. Namely, Winston Churchill, who served as the vicepresident at the first International Eugenics Congress in 1912 as well as Alexander Graham Bell, one of the directors of the Eugenics Record Office in New York. Further, the International Eugenics Congress links eugenics to another London academic institution as it was held at the University of London. Hitler’s Nazi Germany demonstrated the horrific consequences the practice of eugenics. The idea of the ‘master race’, anchored in eugenics, was used to validate the persecution of anyone deemed inferior by the Third Riech - most strikingly those of the Jewish faith, by implementing the Holocaust. Eugenics lost a lot of its support after WWII and the
Holocaust, but its impact is still felt today through the propagation of offensive myths around race and class. Especially poignant now, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter Protests, is the relationship between eugenics and racism. Eugenicists believed that only the brightest and best in society should be able to procreate, thus ensuring the success of humanity through ‘superior’ bloodlines. However, the criteria for superiority often included being white, upper class, and well educated. This consigned people of colour and the lower classes, as well as anyone else eugenicists deemed unworthy, to the status of ‘inferior breeding stock.’ Institutions such as UCL apologising for their involvement in developing the field of eugenics and renaming buildings previously named after eugenicists is a step to delegitimise the formerly embraced ideas of 'oppression based on racial hierarchy'. But, for Andrew Tettenborn, a professor of law at the University of Swansea, ‘UCL's badly-drafted apology’ featuring ‘clunky language’ and ‘sloppiness’ was ‘bizarre’ and ‘problematic’. Cheese Grater magazine’s Riddhi Kanetkar highlighted that the institution cannot fully ‘divorce itself from the legacy of eugenics’. However, she hoped UCL will ‘continue to work with the student body, staff and the Students Union to build a community which truly reflects the values of equality and diversity.’
8 FEBRUARY 2021
PM Regretful Over ‘Grim’ Covid Milestone Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communications Since the first recorded case, Covid-19 deaths in Britain have surpassed 100,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Independent’s Anthony Cuthbertson highlighted that this tragic milestone is greater than the combined death toll of ‘the Great Plague, the Aids pandemic and every single terror attack and war since 1945’ in the UK. The ONS announcement saw British twitter users air their frustrations alongside the hashtag ‘#JohnsonHasFailedTheNation’, which eventually trended. In his briefing on 26 January, Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson said he was ‘deeply sorry for every life lost’, and offered his ‘deepest condolences to all those who grieve.’ Pressure is now on the government to curb the virus’ spread during what the PM described as the coming ‘tough weeks ahead.’
“Pressure is now on the government to curb the virus’s spread during what the PM described as the coming ‘tough weeks ahead.’”
These figures follow discovery of the UK variant in December, dubbed B.1.1.7, which has been identified as more
transmissible than previous forms. During a Downing Street briefing the PM revealed it also ‘may be associated with a higher degree of mortality.’ While January saw the UK record the world’s highest daily death toll due to Covid-19, the BBC’s health correspondent, Nick Triggle, offered ‘two rays of hope’ amid the gloom and doom. Triggle highlighted a steady decrease in the number of daily reports of new Covid-19 cases: ‘This means that in the coming weeks we should start to see fewer people in hospital and eventually fewer deaths.’ Triggle also mentioned that we are now ‘one step closer to getting on top of the virus’ as the number of vaccinations continue to rise. The BBC’s Triggle went on further to explain that even with the plan to vaccinate the most vulnerable by midFebruary, it is difficult to predict when lockdown restrictions will be eased, given challenges the new, highly virulent variant poses. Dr Marc Banguekin, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, a subgroup of the government’s SAGE body, warned that premature reopening of Britain’s restaurants and pubs before May could result in a ‘bump in transmission’ of Covid-19 cases and ‘another wave of some extent.’ January also saw Imperial College London put a halt on its efficacy trials for further Covid-19 vaccines and instead switched focus to Ribonucleic acid (RNA) technology to tackle emerging Coronavirus variants. Imperial College’s Professor Robin Shattock told the Independent that as ‘the broader situation has changed, emphasis [is now] rightly placed on mass vaccination.’ Professor Shattock explained that his team is now in the process of developing RNA technology to develop next-generation jabs. He also went on
to say these new jabs in development would act as a ‘safety net to catch escape mutations [and] reach variants that other vaccines may not.’ 27 January saw Johnson confirm ‘without exception’, that arrivals into Britain from a list of 22 countries, including Brazil, South Africa and Tanzania, will have to quarantine in government approved hotels for ‘10 days’. Dr Gabriel Scally told Al Jazeera English that this policy ‘is very limited… only applying to British nationals, exempting journalists and people coming on business from big companies. They [the government] have no track record of doing these things properly during the entire course of the pandemic.’ For Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, this new plan ‘does not go far enough.’ However, this was a move welcomed by Home Security, Priti Patel, as ‘absolutely essential’. The Home Secretary also said those wishing to travel abroad from the UK will need to fill a form explaining why their travel is necessary, in a bid to clamp down on Britons and residents going on holidays. The PM also said that the final week of February would ‘steadily [see people] reclaim their lives’ with his ‘roadmap’ to gradually ease restrictions. At the time, he said he was ‘cautious’ to ease restrictions for fears of a ‘surge’ in infections nationwide. He also announced ‘8 March’ as being the earliest date English pupils would be able to resume attending school. Appearing in front of the Health and Social Care Select Committee on 26 January, NHS England’s boss, Sir Simon Stevens, told members of Parliament his hopes of a return to a ‘much more normal future.’ Stevens warned the initial roll out of vaccines is going to be ‘crucial’, but over the next six to 18 months the virus would become a ‘much more treatable disease.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson vows ‘greater resolve’ to fight the virus’ spread. (Credit: AAP)
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Assange Extradition Put on Pause Frances Howe, LLB Trigger warning: mention of suicide and sexual violence On 4 January 2021, the United States’ request to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the UK was blocked. Judge Vanessa Baraitser dismissed the request at the Old Bailey Crown Court on the basis that Assange’s mental health had deteriorated, putting him at risk of suicide. The US Department of Justice has applied to appeal the decision. Assange was denied bail on 6 January with Judge Baraitser citing his asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy as evidence that Assange may again attempt to abscond from future proceedings. Assange has already been in Belmarsh Prison for 18 months. The US Justice Department formally requested the extradition of Assange in June 2020 following Assange’s detainment by British police forces on 11 April. If the appeal is successful, Assange will face up to 175 years in prison in the
United States for multiple breaches under the Espionage Act of 1917. Assange is accused of publishing 470,000 classified documents pertaining to the US military through Wikileaks. On 4 January 2021, Judge Baraitser told the court that she found that the ‘mental condition of Mr. Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.’ Judge Baraitser noted the ‘extreme’ US prison conditions as a threat to Assange’s mental health. Judge Baraitser otherwise accepted the allegations by the US Department of Justice against Assange. Assange was arrested in April 2019 after British forces were invited into the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he had spent seven years. Assange first sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in 2012 following an extradition request from Sweden to face an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual assault against him. Assange remained in the Embassy until Ecuadorian President, Lenín Moreno, refused to continue to grant him asylum. Assange founded Wikileaks in 2006, wherein thousands of confidential documents have been published, including
information on US involvement in the conflicts Afghanistan and Iraq. The US Department of Justice began criminal investigations into the organisation in 2010. Both Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have also been accused of committing crimes under the Espionage Act of 1917. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking around 750,000 documents to Wikileaks. Her sentence was commuted by Barack Obama. In 2013 Snowden released documents relating to masssurveillance by the US intelligence authorities. He remains in exile in Russia where he was granted permanent residency in October 2020. Neither Snowden nor Assange were pardoned by Donald Trump upon his departure from office in January of this year despite calls to do so. Snowden pleaded directly to Donald Trump on 3 December 2020 via Twitter saying, ‘Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency during your time in office: free Julian Assange. You alone can save his life.’
Death of Mohamud Hassan: Family and Protesters Demand Justice Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communications Following the night Mohamud Mohammed Hassan spent in South Wales Police (SWP) custody on 8 January, he was found dead at his home the next day. Hassan, a 24-year old Black man, was arrested for domestic disturbance but was released without charge. According to Voice Wales, Hassan had told his friend how police ‘beat the s***’ out of him’. Voice Wales also cited a neighbour of Hassan who stated that Hassan’s clothing was ‘bloodstained’ upon his return. While SWP described Hassan's demise as
‘sudden and unexplained’, his family claim he was beaten during his brief incarceration. His aunt, Zainab Hassan, lamented that her nephew returned with ‘lots of wounds on his body and lots of bruises'’ that were not there prior to his arrest. SWP, on the other hand, denies any wrongdoing, citing no evidence of ‘misconduct or excessive force’ used. SWP also confirmed the incident had been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). As of 12 January, the IOPC corroborated SWP's statement, concluding there being no ‘preliminary indication… [of] physical trauma injury… [but] toxicology tests are required’.
24-year old Mohamud Hassan’s death sparked protests in Wales and England. (Credit: Twitter/@ Hashim_PJ)
In the aftermath of Hassan's death, protesters took to the streets demanding answers and justice for Hassan's family. Protests in Cardiff began on 12 January with hundreds of people at Cardiff Bay Police Station rallying with chants of ‘no justice, no peace’ and picket signs reading ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘stop police brutality’. Protests also erupted in the British capital. 17 January saw five people arrested at Parliament Square for breaching lockdown restrictions while protesting the death of the 24-year old. Somalis across the diaspora also took to Twitter to voice their anger. On Twitter, @AfricanAstro tweeted how this tragic incident highlighted, once again, ‘the reality of how UK law enforcement [has] treated Somalis before’. In his tweet, @AfricanAstro mentioned ‘the ‘Mohamud’ of 1952’. That was in reference to Mahmoud Mattan, a 28-year old Somali sailor wrongfully executed for the murder of Lily Volpert in Cardiff. Harold Cover, the key witness during Mattan's trial, was later revealed to have been paid to give damning evidence against Mattan, leading to his subsequent hanging. It was not until 1998 that the Court of Appeal's Lord Justice Rose declared Mattan's case, and eventually sentencing, ‘demonstrably flawed’ and overturned his conviction. Mattan's gravestone epitaph reads ‘killed by injustice’. BAME Lawyers 4 Justice's vice-chairman, Lee Jasper, has been vocal about Mohamud Mohammed Hassan’s recent death. On his personal blog he penned: ‘[Hassan's] death marks a grim and tragically familiar start for
2021’. On Facebook, Jasper demanded SWP release the police body-cam and CCTV footage recorded at the time of Hassan's arrest and during his detention. He wrote on 16 January that ‘if SWP have nothing to hide, there should be no problem releasing [the footage]’. In a statement on 9 January, a police spokeswoman for SWP stated that they have provided all the relevant CCTV footage and body-worn video to the IOPC for them to undergo their investigation: ‘Therefore, the footage cannot be released by SWP while the IOPC is investigating’. Hassan's cousins, Manal Abdirahman and Ikram Hamud, set up a GoFundMe online fundraiser the day after his passing to ‘raise money for funeral arrangements and legal fees’. Abdirahman and Hamud stressed in their petition that they do not want ‘the eldest son [of their family] to become another statistic’. As of 19 January, donations from the public reached £50,000. Liz Saville Roberts, a member of Wales' Plaid Cymru, tabled a motion in Parliament on 12 January for the House to mourn Hassan's death. Saville Roberts' motion recognises the ‘legitimate concerns arising from evidence that people of black and minority ethnic [background] die at a disproportionately higher rate as a result of the use of force or restraint by police’. The motion goes on to call for ‘institutional change to end racial discrimination within the criminal justice system’. For Zainab Hassan, she and her family ‘will not rest for a second until [they] have justice’.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Brexit: the New Rules of the EU-UK Relationship
Mural painted by street artist Banksy in March 2017 near the ferry terminal in Dover, showing a worker chiseling out one star out of the EU flag. (Credit: Photo by Dunk on Flickr | CC BY 2.0)
Charlotte Paule, MSc Politics of Asia After months of negotiation and worries over the UK crashing out of the European Union (EU) without a proper trade agreement, a deal was finally reached on 24 December. While the UK had already left the EU on 31 January 2020, this new deal comes after a one-year transition period and establishes new rules of work and trade, among other things, between Britain and the European bloc. So, what has been agreed on? What will change in our everyday lives in the UK? And what will the future UK-EU relationship look like? Agreements, or temporary agreements, have been reached on the major areas of trade, services, travel, fisheries, security, education, and the Northern Ireland border. 1 January saw the commencement of a free trade agreement, which stipulates there will be no tariffs or quotas on goods traded between the EU and the UK. However, new checks have been put into place at the border, which has created longer delays and other disruptions. Service sector professionals have also lost their automatic access to the EU market, and professional qualifications will not always be recognised anymore. But since it is not part of the EU anymore, the UK is now free to negotiate and sign free trade agreements with any country, and has already begun talks with the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Travel has also been made slightly harder, as UK nationals will now need a visa to stay in the EU longer than 90 days in any 180-day period. A new immigration system has
also been put into place for EU nationals wanting to settle in the UK, as they now need to apply for a visa. For instance, a student visa now costs £348 outside of the UK, and each person will need to pay a £624 health surcharge every year. In a surprising turn from their original position, the UK has also withdrawn from the Erasmus academic exchange programme. It has, however, announced a new scheme that will be unveiled in September 2021, and will cover countries all around the world. Telephone companies are also not banned from applying roaming charges, also both the EU and the UK have set caps on how much extra can be charged. One of the more contentious issues during the negotiations was the question of fisheries. The UK was eager to regain complete sovereignty over their fishing waters, and found a compromise with the EU in the form of a 5-yearlong gradual decrease of EU boats on UK waters. The UK has also left Europol, the EU’s cooperative police organ, and will not have automatic access to European security data. The case of the Irish border was also a major topic in the negotiations. In the end, it was decided that there would be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but that the whole Irish island would continue to follow EU rules. As such, some checks have been put into place for goods coming from the UK into Northern Ireland. While this deal means that the disruptions in people’s daily lives will be limited, we can still expect to see some bumps in the road. First, aspects of the agreement, such as in regards to fisheries, are only temporary. From 2026 onwards,
negotiations on fishing access will restart between the two powers. Second, not all decision making, especially on data sharing and financial services, have been finalized. Finally, because the EU or the UK can choose to reinstate tariffs the ‘level-playing field’ is not respected anymore. This means that while they are not legally bound to, the UK will have to maintain EU-levels of standards and regulations to be able to freely trade on the continent.
“While this deal smoothed out many aspects of the future EU-UK relationship, which for now is limited to free trade and a few agreements on regulations and immigration, it does not prevent future disruptions.” Thus, the end of ‘Brexit’ is still yet to be reached. While this deal smoothed out many aspects of the future EU-UK relationship, which for now is limited to free trade and a few agreements on regulations and immigration, it does not prevent future disruptions. It is yet to be seen whether future negotiations will be less hectic and conducted in a more timely manner.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Climate Catastrophe continues as 2020 is ranked as the warmest year on record by NASA Diva Sinha, MSc Environment, Politics and Development According to a climate analysis conducted by the scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, 2020 was the warmest year on record, edging out 2016 by a narrow margin. The analysis also showed that the trend of rising temperatures has remained consistently high for the last seven years. In response to the analysis, Gavin Schmidt, director of GISS said ‘The last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record, typifying the ongoing and dramatic warming trend. With these trends, and as the human impact on the climate increases, we have to expect that records will continue to be broken.’ Independent analyses conducted by the United States Scientific Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Copernicus Climate Change Service (CS3) also displayed similar results concerning the rise in global temperatures. Both NOAA and Copernicus verified that 2020 was the second-warmest year in their records, slightly behind 2016. The average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe in 2020 was 1.76 degrees above average, just 0.04 of a degree cooler than 2016. The UK Met Office also ranked 2020 as the warmest year in Europe as well as globally on record.
“The average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe in 2020 was 1.76 degrees above average.” ‘2020 stands out for its exceptional warmth in the Arctic and a record number of tropical storms in the North Atlantic. It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future,’ says Carlo Buontempo, Director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service. In 2020, the Northern Hemisphere witnessed above-average temperatures for the year, apart from a region over the central North Atlantic, whereas areas of the Southern Hemisphere saw below-average temperatures, particularly near the eastern equatorial Pacific, which is normally associated with the cooler La Niña Event. It is worth noting that
Global temperature anomalies averaged and adjusted to early industrial baseline. Data as of 15 January 2020 (Credit: NASA GISS & NOAA NCEI)
despite the cooling effects of La Nina in 2020, global temperatures were on the same level as 2016, which was influenced by the strong warming El Niño currents. Speaking on the effects of rising global temperatures and La Niña, The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) SecretaryGeneral Prof. Petteri Taalas said ‘Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016. We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year's heat. Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near-record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016.’ The cause of concern is not just the consistent rise in global temperatures, but its impacts across the globe. This includes several high-impact climate anomalies that continue to ravage the planet. Additional
findings by NOAA report that 2020 bore witness to a total of 103 storms, 45 hurricanes - including one of the most powerful super typhoons, Goni, which battered the eastern part of the Philippines - third-highest ocean surface temperatures across Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans after 2016 and 2019, and received the fourth-smallest annual snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere in the 1967-2020 record. Further negative impacts included severe flash flooding across Asia and Africa, as well as heat-induced fires and droughts in South America and the USA. Though the last year saw global transportation, industrial, and economic activities suffer a setback due to the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, the reduction in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere seems optimistic at best. While the Global Carbon Project estimates a 7% reduction in fossil fuel emissions, the figure remains debatable. An analysis of satellite data reveals that CO2
concentrations continued to rise in 2020, reaching an unprecedented global column average of approximately 413.1 ppm. ‘While carbon dioxide concentrations have risen slightly less in 2020 than in 2019, this is no cause for complacency. Until the net global emissions reduce to zero, CO2 will continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and drive further climate change,’ comments Vincent-Henri Peuch, Director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). Climate Change requires coordinated international agreements and efforts to reduce global emissions and environmental destruction. With the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, pledging to re-enter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the world waits to see if more environmentally friendly mitigation efforts are made in the fight against climate change.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Rohingya: stateless and now homeless Adhya Moona, MA Global Media and Communications
Trigger warning: mentions of sexual violence and death A fire swept through Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh on 14 January, destroying the homes of thousands of people. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that more than 550 shelters accommodating about 3,500 people, 150 shops, and a community centre were completely destroyed in the blaze. The UN reported that there were no casualties, and the fire was brought under control in a few hours by firefighters, volunteers, and refugees. The UNHCR said ‘security experts are liaising with the authorities to investigate the cause of fire.’ Marin Din Kajdomcaj, an official with the UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar said, ‘We are working with our Government and NGO partners, other UN agencies, and Rohingya refugees to help people who have lost their homes and possessions during last night’s terrible fire in the refugee camp at Nayapara.’ The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is providing emergency food assistance, including hot meals, to families affected by the fire. The fire added to the ongoing ordeals of Rohingya refugees amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, putting the health of those left homeless at risk. However, UNICEF and other UN agencies and partners are providing safe water and soap supplies, and have installed communal handwashing stations in the camps. The UNHCR has also trained a group of community health volunteers who provide health education, conduct community outreach, and deliver first-aid to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Farah Kabir, ActionAid Bangladesh’s Country Director said, ‘The reality on the ground is 800,000 people have to be provided with water with access to latrines and sanitation and sludge management. And that’s still not possible. So that vulnerability is there and the possibility of exposure is also very
Rohingya children at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. (Credit: Creative Commons, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid)
high in this case.’ The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority who reside in the Rakhine State in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. However, the Rohingya community have sought refuge in Bangladesh to escape from the Myanmar regime. Most Rohingya refugees reside in the refugee settlements in Kutupalong and Nayapara in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar region. UNHCR has been actively providing immediate and long-term assistance to the refugees including psychosocial support, food, water, shelter, health, and education services. The Rohingya refugee crisis dates back to 1977, when the Myanmar Government launched Operation Dragon King in Rakhine state, which led to Rohingya being stripped of their citizenship and forced to emigrate. The situation for the Rohingya got worse, noted by Human Rights Watch, as they faced persistent discrimination and suppression
under successive Myanmar regimes. They were denied citizenship and rendered stateless after the implementation of the 1982 Citizenship Law. The recent Rohingya refugee crisis and the subsequent exodus of Rohingya to Bangladesh in August 2017 took place as clashes broke out in Rakhine state after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacking more than 30 police posts. The government responded by declaring ARSA a terrorist organization, and led a violent campaign against Rohingya as they demolished hundreds of their villages and forced about 700,000 members of the Rohingya community to flee from Myanmar. According to Doctors without Borders, at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of attacks. The Myanmar military raped and assaulted Rohingya girls and women, as stated by Amnesty International. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called the brutal campaign against Rohingya as a ‘textbook example of ethnic cleansing.’ Furthermore, according to Human Rights Watch, about 900,000 Rohingya are currently residing in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Approximately 600,000 Rohingya who still live in Rakhine State continue to face government persecution and brutality, subjected to a life of indignity, and experience low standards of living as they cannot access adequate food, health care, education, and livelihood, as observed by Human Rights Watch. State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has not publicly condemned the military’s conduct towards the Rohingya, and rejected all allegations of genocide as ‘incomplete and misleading’ when she appeared at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague in December 2019.
Cambodian court begins mass trial against human rights activists Sophie Zwick, BA Politics and International Relations On Thursday 14 January, a Cambodian court commenced a mass trial of around 150 human rights activists and affiliates of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The prosecution charges the defendants with plotting against the government and treason for supporting the planned return of exiled CNRP president Sam Rainsy in 2019. Human Rights groups criticise the trials for their political motivation and call for an immediate release of all accused individuals. The Phnom Penh Municipal court is
holding the first of two mass trials against government critics and supporters of the CNRP. The various accusations range from incitement to commit a felony, to criminal attempt. The latter is punishable by imprisonment of up to 30 years. Investigators claim that the defendants were involved in the planned return of exiled CNRP president Sam Rainsy to undermine the Cambodian government. Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American defendant, told reporters: ‘Mr. Hun Sen is not the owner of my life. He will not intimidate me with these charges. I will face them, and because they are a sham, they are not real charges.’ Rainsy, who legally cannot enter the country, told Al Jazeera: ‘Anyone who does
not agree with the Hun Sen government is accused of treason.’ Prime Minister Hun Sen enters his 36th year as head of the Cambodian government. At the last general election in 2018, his Cambodian People's Party secured all 125 parliamentary seats. Months before this election, the CNRP was dissolved by a Supreme Court ruling. Yamini Mishra from Amnesty International explains: ‘This onslaught of cases is the culmination of a relentless campaign of persecution against Cambodia’s political opposition and other dissenting voices.’ On the day of the trial, there were accounts of security guards attempting to hinder reporters and human rights monitors
from taking pictures in front of the courthouse. Security forces barred families and supporters of the defendants from seeing the accused. The Cambodian Human Rights Organisation LICADHO places the mass trials within a long history of Hun Sen's strategic oppression. In their recent Human Rights Report, the organisation highlights several arrests, violent dispersion of protests, and restrictions on press freedom. Reporters believe that Hun Sen will further consolidate his power and crack down on dissidents to prepare for the 2022 local and 2023 general elections.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Museveni declared winner of Ugandan vote amidst accusations of electoral fraud
President Yuweri Museveni speaking at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning (Credit: DFID - UK Department for International Development via Creative Commons)
Hasna Choudhury, BSc Economics On 16 January, the Electoral Commission of Uganda declared that the incumbent Yoweri Museveni had officially won the Presidential election. One of the longest-serving leaders in Africa, President Museveni of the National Resistance Movement has been in power for the last 35 years. This will be his sixth elected term. The election was held on 14 January, and saw a voter turnout of 52%. Of the ten candidates challenging the 76-year-old for presidency, Museveni’s main opponent was 38-year-old Reggae musician Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by the stage name Bobi Wine. The commission reported that Museveni had won 5.85 million votes, 58.64% of all votes cast, while Bobi Wine trailed behind with 34.83%, securing 3.48 million votes. Long-time supporters of President Museveni praise him for bringing prosperity to Uganda, coming into power at the end of a five-year civil war in 1986. His health policies have also been attributed to tackling the spread of HIV, and - more recently - the
coronavirus pandemic. Last May, his strict lockdown measures called for the prohibition of vehicle use, the closure of schools and businesses, and the mandatory use of face masks in public. As a result, Uganda, with a population of more than 42 million, has remained relatively unscathed by the virus, recording 300 deaths and fewer than 40,000 cases, according to John Hopkins University. Bobi Wine was held under heavy security at home at the time of the announcement of the election results. While the government said security personnel had been assigned for his safety, Wine’s party claimed he was in fact under house arrest. News of the 38-yearold’s arrest last November sparked political unrest, marking one of the bloodiest electoral campaigns in Ugandan history. Wine’s detention, on account of breaching lockdown measures, incited violent protests across the capital, leaving some 54 dead and hundreds more arrested. Wine reports having survived several assassination attempts, and has since taken to wearing a bullet-proof vest and helmet at public rallies. In a country where the median age is just 16, the popstar-turned-politician galvanised
support among the youth, who have long admired his efforts to promote social justice through music. He ran as a presidential candidate little over three years after entering politics. Critics of Mr Museveni have chastised his authoritarian-like regime, fuelling allegations of corruption. In 2017 he advocated the removal of the presidential age limit of 75. He currently has no successor appointed within his party. The incumbent President has faced several contenders over the years. His most prominent rival, Kizza Besigye, has been arrested on multiple occasions, and decided not to run in the 2021 elections. Bobi Wine has contested the legitimacy of recent results, claiming it was ‘the most fraudulent election in the history of Uganda.’ A day before the election, the government had ordered an internet shutdown, which raised questions as to how results would be transmitted across the country. The electoral commission claimed to have designed their own system, but chose not to elaborate on how this worked. Benjamin Katana, head of Wine’s National Unity Platform, said the commission had assured candidates that they
would receive copies of district results before they were sent to the national tally centre. However, Katana told Al Jazeera that this did not happen. While polls were tightly controlled, with soldiers and police officers patrolling the capital, the voting process was devoid of international supervision. Both the European Union and United States claim their offers to deploy diplomatic observers were duly declined. Now, as internet connections have been restored, Wine and his party are threatening to release video evidence of voting fraud. In a political parallel earlier this month, Trump supporters violently raided the US Capitol in rejection of Joe Biden’s appointment as President of the United States. Though Trump’s electoral fraud accusations were discredited, tensions are mounting in Uganda as Bobi Wine remains under house arrest. Following a 100-hour virtual blackout, Ugandans may not be so trusting of their electoral system – which begs the question: will democracy prevail once more?
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Nigeriens Say “Saï Bazoum”
Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communications On 27 December 2020 Niger held a landmark general election, poised to be the West African nation’s first democratic hand over of power since independence in 1960. 69.67% of the Nigerien electorate headed to the polls to vote for their future president and members of the Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly). None of the 30 presidential candidates were able to secure the mandated majority of votes needed. A second round is due to be held on 21 February 2021. Most Nigeriens yielded to the rallying cry of former interior minister and the ruling party’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, putting him in the lead with 39.33% of votes cast. ‘Saï Bazoum’, i.e. ‘none other than Bazoum is fit for the job’ in Hausa, doubled as both his campaign slogan and popular Twitter hashtag among his supporters. Bazoum and his party, le Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme-Tarayya (PNDS-Tarayya, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism-Union), took to Twitter to keep Nigeriens up to date with the PNDS-Tarayya campaign online. Tweets and videos were mainly in the official language of French, but content was also uploaded in Hausa - which is spoken by half of the population, Arabic, Zarma, Fulani, and Tamashek, amongst others. Bazoum, himself a former teacher, said during a rally in Zinder, South-Central Niger, that he would prioritise education. He told supporters that ‘if we want to develop our country, we must therefore promote education. As a teacher, if I
Presidential frontrunner, Mohamed Bazoum, casting his vote at a polling station in Niger’s capital Niamey on December 27, 2020 (Credit: @mohamedbazoum via Twitter)
become president of Niger, I will give priority to education.’ The run up to the December polls was marred by increasing extremist violence - an issue Idrissa Ibrahim Ayat, a specialist in Nigerien political and security affairs, cited as what should be the top priority for outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou’s successor. For Ayat ‘the first task of the future president lies in rebuilding confidence in the national army to combat armed groups.’ Halimatou Hima, counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Niger to the United Nations, explained in her article for West Africa Insight that the Sahelian country faces security threats ‘on multiple fronts.’ Namely, from ‘Boko Haram on the southeastern border with Nigeria and from other terrorist groups and criminal organisations active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Libya.’ Hima highlighted that between December 2019 and January 2020, terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 174 Nigerien soldiers. The country also has over 102,000 internally displaced persons. She stressed the need to bolster the nation’s security for the sake of its development, as ‘without sustained development, we can expect worse.’ Ayat also pointed out the need for the next president to ‘rebuild national unity through programs focusing on peaceful coexistence and cohesion among all peoples of Niger; irrespective of whether a faction of society is in the majority or minority.’ Bazoum, himself a champion for national unity, hails from the nation’s ethnic Arab minority. In an interview
with AFP he asserted that he is a ‘Nigerien and an Arab at the same’ and said that his opponents who denounced his presidential bid on the basis of him being ‘foreign’ were ‘shameful’ and ‘racist.’ But for Lamine Sanda, a Nigerien university student studying in France, the fact that Bazoum was able to secure the majority of votes in the first round from all regions and ethnicities in the country showed that ‘in reality, his ethnicity played no part in the election.’ Sanda also went on to argue that Niger is in need of a ‘complete overhaul of the entire political class,’ citing Bazoum as not being a stranger to the political scene. Sanda questioned whether a Bazoum win will yield ‘extraordinary change for the lives of Nigeriens,’ given that he positioned himself as the candidate who would ‘be in the continuity of [former president] Issoufou’s work.’ Round two of the election will see Bazoum go head-tohead with Mahamane Ousmane, the first democratically elected and fourth president of Niger, who placed second with 16.99% of the vote. Analysts say Bazoum will need to seek alliances before the February run-off to secure his presidential bid. For Hima, this election is ‘historic’ as the posited democratic transition ‘would not just be significant for Niger, but for West African democracy in general.’
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Student protest in Sri Lankan University: how the destruction of a Tamil War Memorial highlights the legacy of the Civil War Emma Holdsworth, BA International Relations and Japanese Protests involving dozens of Tamil civilians, students, and politicians broke out in Sri Lanka following the news of a Tamil war memorial being destroyed by a bulldozer on Jaffna University Campus at 8:45pm on 8 January. The Tamil Guardian reports how protestors sat peacefully, waiting for explanations, chanting: ‘we need to speak, we need to speak with the Vice Chancellor’ and ‘Don’t commit race betrayal.’ As a result, government authorities deployed a Special Police Task Force to block the campus entrance, ordering protestors to go home. Vice Chancellor, S. Srisatkunarajah, himself a Tamil Sri Lankan, expressed the necessity for the protest to be dispersed: ‘if
they do not go by themselves, we will deal with them.’ The Tamil Guardian reported that by the evening, two students had been arrested. The protests continued over the weekend into a hunger strike, as protestors erected tents in front of the campus. BBC News reports the arrival of a doctor on site, as a student’s health deteriorated with the continuation of the hunger strike. The memorial itself had been unveiled in 2019 by students to mark the 10 year anniversary of the Mullivaikkal massacre. The 2009 massacre resulted in the death of 40,000 Tamil civilians at the hands of Government forces. The government and the University’s Vice Chancellor claimed that the memorial had been illegally erected, and hence must be destroyed. The University Grants Commission also deemed the monument a threat to
national unity, while Public Security Minister, Sarath Weerasekera, declared that ‘no one will and should be allowed to commemorate dead terrorists.’ In a statement to the Tamil Guardian, the University’s Student Union accused the government of an anti Tamil-decision: ‘This act is an insult not only to the university students but also to the entire Tamil people. It is also an act of denial of a people’s right to memory.’ The Indian province of Tamil Nadu condemned the Sri Lankan government’s actions, while Tamils in Canada organised a car rally. The Student Union also redacted an official letter appealing to international governments’ help: ‘We [are] afraid for our lives and we cordially request your help to prevent this situation.’ This triggered support from Germany and the United Kingdom, as
Oxford University officially supported the protests. Similarly, the British MP Siobhain McDonagh declared on Twitter that the UK government must ‘take a leading role at the UN Human Rights Council in March’ for ‘the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka.’ On Monday the 11th, the Sri Lankan Government promised to rebuild a legal memorial at the same place. Following this, the University Vice Chancellor met up with student protestors in the morning to set the first stone, as shown by a BBC News video. Although this halted hostilities, university student Dwakaran told BBC News: ‘if the memorial is not built again we will resume our protest.’
Farmers in India to reach the pinnacle of their protests on Republic Day Rishika Singh, BA Politics and International Relations Farmers in India carried out a large tractor rally in New Delhi on 26 January during India’s Republic Day celebrations to protest three controversial farm bills that were enacted by the central government last September. The decision to continue protests comes in light of the tenth round of talks between the Farmer Unions and the Indian Government resulting in a deadlock. Farmers across the country, particularly in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at state borders to Delhi for over two months against the bills. The protesting farmers, many over the age of 60, have been met with police barricades, water cannons, and teargas shells. The three laws - the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act, Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act - were passed by the central government as emergency ordinances in June 2020, and later passed in September 2020 without adequate debate or discussion in the Parliament. Farmer Unions and Opposition leaders have since shown dissatisfaction over not being consulted before passing the legislation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has repeatedly defended the farm laws, insisting that they are crucial to boost the agriculture sector through private
investment. Weakening the pre-existing state controlled APMC ‘mandi’ market system, the new laws allow farmers to sell directly to private companies, thereby allowing farmers to sell beyond their designated districts. Angry farmers have however rejected the bills, deeming them ‘anti-farmer’ laws as they leave vulnerable agricultural workers at the mercy of big corporations. Farmers also suspect that the laws are only the first step to completely liberalise the agricultural sector, and that the government plans to do away with MSP (Minimum Support Price), further leaving small farmers vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations. While none of the three bills mention MSP, Modi’s government has made verbal promises to assure the farmers that the MSP system will be retained. Farmer Unions, however, seem hesitant to trust the government, and among other things demand making the purchase of crops at MSP rates compulsory - a demand that the central government has refused. The laws were temporarily stayed by the Supreme Court of India in January, with the court appointing a committee to mediate and resolve the stand-off between the government and the Farmer Unions. However, the farmers have refused to cooperate with the committee, accusing its members of being biased against the farmers. Talks between Farmer Unions and Home Minister Amit Shah have largely remained inconclusive, with ten rounds of talks failing
An estimated 200,000 and 300,000 farmers have been protesting at various state borders on the way to Delhi since November 30th. (Credit: Aalekh Dhaliwal)
to end the deadlock. In what was seen as the biggest concession yet, the Government proposed to suspend the farm laws for a time period of eighteen months and appoint a committee to placate the farmers’ concerns. Rejecting the proposal, the Samyukta Kishan Moracha (United Farmers’ Front) and other Farmer Unions have claimed that protests will not cease till there is a complete
scrapping of the laws. In light of the failure of their eleventh round of talks with the government, protesting farmers have claimed that their tractor rally on New Delhi’s busy Outer Ring Road on India’s Republic Day on the 26 January will go ahead as planned.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Qatar Blockade Quashed
Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communications
The New Year marked a turning point for international relations within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The once frosty relationship between Qatar and the neighbouring Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is now in the process of thawing. 4 January 2021 saw Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, announce that the KSA will be lifting its air, sea, and land blockade on Qatar. Sheikh al-Sabah told Kuwait TV that the two Gulf states had ‘reached [an agreement] to [re]open airspace and land and sea borders’ with one another. The almost 4-year long KSA-Qatar rift began on 5 June 2017 when GCC members KSA, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as non-GCC member Egypt, announced the severing of diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar. Thereafter, several other countries, including the Maldives, Niger, Jordan, and Mauritania, had also either cut or downgraded ties with Qatar. The blockading countries charged Qatar with inciting regional unrest, aiding and
abbeting terrorism, and ‘getting too close to Iran.’ Qatar vehemently denies these charges. Analysts point to the presidency of Donald Trump for having fuelled the fire of the diplomatic rift. Middle East Eye (MEE) noted that the Trump administration had pushed for tough action against Qatar due to its close relations with Iran. MEE’s Alex MacDonald went on to highlight the 2017 Riyadh Summit, where former President Trump called for the KSA to crack down on regional terrorism, giving the ‘greenlight’ for GCC hostilities against Qatar. In a series of tweets after the Summit, Trump appeared to take credit for the blockade that transpired, penning ‘leaders pointed to Qatar’ when he called for a clampdown on radical Islamist ideology and funding thereof in the region. July 2017 saw the blockading nations issue a 13-point list of demands to end the Gulf crisis - demands which had to be complied with within ten days. Among them was the termination of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera (AJ) news network and all affiliated stations. In a tweet, Bahrain’s former Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, accused the AJ network of ‘spreading lies and rumours that cause confusion in our countries.’ In the wake of the 13 demands, Marwan
Bishara, AJ’s Senior Political Analyst, commented that the approach of the blockading countries showed ‘total ignorance of international relations and a lack of understanding about what state sovereignty means.’ Qatar’s rejection of the 13 demands lead to a stalemate in the rift. In May 2018, Bahrain’s al-Khalifa told Alsharq Alawsat newspaper that he saw ‘no glimmer of hope’ of an end to the GCC crisis. However, fellow non-blockading GCC members Oman and Kuwait remained neutral in the spat and facilitated mediation geared towards Gulf reconciliation. Despite an initial financial strain and food security scare due to reliance on imports from the KSA, Qatar proved resilient. The National Development Strategy, released in 2018 by Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, roadmapped how the Gulf state would ‘raise its self-sufficiency.’ For the Financial Times (FT), however, the recent turn of events and sudden rapprochement is attributed to the culmination of Trump’s presidency. The FT argued that now the KSA’s crown prince ‘...needs to earn credit with team Biden, which has publicly criticised the [KSA’s] human rights abuses…
Easing the dispute with Qatar was the lowhanging fruit.’ January 2021 saw Qatar’s Emir arrive in the KSA’s heritage site Al-Ula to attend the 2021 GCC Summit. The regional rift symbolically culminated with MBS embracing Qatar’s Sheikh al-Thani upon his arrival. Later during the summit, the pair signed an agreement on regional ‘solidarity and stability.’ For Saudi Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, this marked ‘the turning of the page on all points of difference and a full return of diplomatic relations.’ While the remaining GCC members also signed the agreement, Emirati diplomat Omar Saif Ghobash erred on the side of caution during his January interview with CNBC International. For Ghobash, ‘things are not going to be rosy straight away.’ He went on to explain that Qatar was in fact ‘not blockaded,’ but GCC states ‘withdrew cooperation’ therewith based on the former’s problematic ‘fundamental approach to the region.’ According to Ghobash, the Emirates will now be giving Qatar ‘the benefit of the doubt and will see how it goes’ from there.
Dutch government steps down over childcare allowance scandal Charlotte Paule, MSc Politics of Asia Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on 15 January that his government would resign over a childcare allowance scandal. Thousands of families were wrongly accused of fraud and forced to pay back tens of thousands of Euros. Around 26,000 people were affected, according to Dutch media. The scandal comes after a parliamentary report published in December that revealed civil servants had cut benefit payments to wrongly accused families. It also comes just a few weeks before the scheduled March parliamentary elections in the Netherlands. Most cabinet members have announced that they will stay at their posts in a caretaker capacity until after the elections, in order to maintain a coherent response to the coronavirus situation. This scandal is not a recent revelation in Dutch politics, as State Secretary of Finance Menno Snel resigned in 2019 over his involvement. The scandal returned to headlines in December 2020 with the publication of a parliamentary report titled Unprecedented Injustice. The document stated that the ‘fundamental principles of the rule of law had been violated,’ and showed that minute errors, such as wrongly-filled forms or a missing signature, were used as pretenses to accuse tens of thousands of families of fraud and sometimes demand repayments of as much as €125,000. Some of the affected families were
financially ruined, forced to move house, denied childcare and other allowances causing some couples to split up. It also revealed that up to 11,000 dual-citizenship families were singled out for special scrutiny, leading to accusations of racial profiling. After a cabinet meeting on Friday 15 January, Prime Minister Mark Rutte handed in his resignation to King WillemAlexander. At a press conference, he admitted that the report was ‘fair’ and ‘scathing,’ and announced his government would step down. While most ministers, including Rutte, will stay as caretakers until the 17 March elections, Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Eric Wiebes resigned with immediate effect. Opposition Labour Party leader Lodewijk Asscher also resigned over his involvement in the scandal while he was Social Affairs Minister in the former government, stating that the system ‘made the government an enemy of its people.’ The government took steps to try and repair the damage by setting aside more than €500 million, with around €30,000 allocated to each affected parent. Rutte also promised to make policy decisions more transparent by publishing official documents publicly. According to Politico, this is a departure from the ‘Rutte Doctrine’ which posits that civil servants should be able to discuss things and make decisions without these being made public in order to promote a more open civil service culture. Many observers have, however, pointed out the timing of this resignation, which
Mark Rutte was first elected Prime Minister of the Netherlands in 2010, and his party VVD is still expected to win the 17 March elections despite the scandal. (Credit: ErikSmit via Pixabay)
occurred just a month before parliament was scheduled to break up in preparation for the 17 March general elections. Though Rutte takes full responsibility for the injustice done to Dutch families, this move has widely been seen as a symbolic gesture. The Prime Minister has rejected this criticism; during his 15 January press conference, he stated that ‘the government was not up to standards throughout this whole affair,’ and that resignation was ‘unavoidable.’ Rutte’s center-right Party for People’s Freedom and Democracy (VVD), projected
to win 35 seats in the March elections, was polling at around 27% in December. It is followed by Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom Party with 25 projected seats. Rem Korteweg from the Clingendael Institute told The Guardian that ‘the government is taking political responsibility with little political cost,’ and that this scandal should not affect their overall ability to win the elections. If this is the case, it would be the third coalition government led by Rutte since 2010.
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Opinion Belarus fights on in silence http://soasspirit.co.uk/category/opinion/ Opinion editor: Anna Fenton-Jones
Weronika Krupa, BA International Relations and Chinese Trigger warning: mentions of torture and rape.
There is a revolution happening right on the EU’s doorstep. It was sparked by the rigged election of president Alexander Lukashenko, who started his sixth term in office after allegedly winning around 70% of the popular vote in August, after having imprisoned and detained the opposition candidates. The peaceful protests convey the frustration of the Belarussian people. Through Telegram or media agencies like Belsat, Nexta, or Radio Svoboda (Radio Free Europe), protestors have shared shocking and heart-breaking stories of the brutality they have experienced at the hands of the state Militia and the KGB. Beaten, shot, tortured and raped, the Belarussians have struggled in their fight for democracy for more than half a year. The EU has already placed multiple personal sanctions on senior Belarussian officials, and many Eastern European countries have eased their visa procedures in favor of the citizens of Belarus. Yet the media coverage of the situation lessens every day – it is shocking how little of a conversation we have in Western Europe about the significant events taking place on the other side of the continent. Belarussians lose their lives every day whilst fighting for a morsel of the freedoms we enjoy. I spoke about the protests with Zmicier, a young student
from Belarus. Zmicier has been separated from his family back home and currently resides in Poland. He is counting down the days until he can come back to a free and democratised Belarus. I asked him how he felt, half a year after they started. ‘You know, unfortunately, the protests have now entered some sort of a “cold phase”.’ Zmicier said, ‘There aren’t as many open protests as there were in summer, for obvious reasons. The format is a bit different now. Smaller manifestations around the blocks make it easier to escape from the militia. It’s a total guerrilla fight over there. A lot of political experts prognose a second wave of protests in springtime – maybe even more powerful than the summer one. The regime is falling apart, and it’s visible.’ I asked him how he felt about the EU’s response to the situation. The sanctions, the visas – did he think enough was being done? Zmicier responded, ‘Well, myself, living in the EU, I have already been introduced to the EU apparatus. I kind of understand how it works here. However, during the first days and months of the protests, when I was talking with my friends back home at the barricades, they kept asking: “Why isn’t the EU doing anything? Why are we being shot at, and the EU stays silent?”. Well, it was obvious to me back then that the bureaucracy needs some time to work. I think the EU could have done more, but I understand that not everything is possible. The Belarussians need to understand that too.’ Though this situation brought together the V4 countries,
I asked Zmicier if he was disappointed that countries further afield in Europe were not getting involved. ‘I mean, a random Brit living in London does not care about what’s happening somewhere in Belarus.’ He replied, ‘What is their relation to it? Just some protests somewhere, one more dictator being overthrown, so what? But yeah, we got a lot of support from eastern countries like Poland and Lithuania.’ I asked him if there was anything he would like to say specifically to the people of Great Britain, or to the whole Western-European community. He responded, ‘I have nothing to say. Those countries are doing everything they can. They can’t just enter Belarus in tanks and overthrow Lukashenko. We need to do it ourselves. I think democracy is something that every nation has to earn. If we don’t fight for it ourselves, no one will.’ Despite the EU’s diplomatic involvement, it seems that Belarussians can only count on themselves. The situation in Belarus calls for a wider discussion. A discussion on democracy, solidarity and mass mobilisation. A discussion we need to have in order to spread awareness of the significant political shifts which are already happening in Europe. As Zmicier pointed out, democracy cannot be taken for granted. It is fought for, it is cultivated and protected through direct action. If Belarus succeeds in liberating itself from Lukashenko’s regime, it may serve to remind us that citizens who stand together in solidarity against oppression are a force to be reckoned with.
Mental Health Is A Social Justice Issue Ashika George, BA History of Art Trigger warning: Mentions of mental illness and suicide.
Those who suffer with mental health issues often feel isolated in society (Credit: Grae Dickason, Pixabay)
A typical day for a student with mental health issues involves long hours spent in bed, a lack of energy to perform even the most menial tasks and a constant feeling of hopelessness. I am filled with guilt and regret every time I hear of anyone suffering like this. If this imagery can provoke such concern, then why is there - even during an age of acute activism - still no major shift in the system to aid those who are afflicted by these disorders? We must understand why mental health is an important social justice issue. Poor mental health affects a significant proportion of the British population. In 2020, Mental Health First Aid England stated that 26.8% of those aged between 16-24 reported having suicidal thoughts in their lifetime. Even at SOAS, it is clear that mental illness is increasing while students continue to fight for access to the same resources. Despite the services provided by educational institutions and the NHS, many will not receive the medical help they need or will never understand their disorders as many go undiagnosed. Our institutions are not listening to their pleas for further support and extensions. If we remain apathetic towards the mentally ill, we are as guilty as the systems who have failed them. Those who are formally diagnosed may be prescribed medication, but prescriptions must be paid for at £9 each even for students who study full-time. Receiving therapy can
be a lengthy process filled with extensive waiting lists and diminishing hope. One cannot help but feel the system is inherently exploitative, especially towards those from marginalised backgrounds. For those of us in a place of privilege, it is our responsibility to first educate ourselves on the mental illnesses that exist, and then progress to ensure there are accessible consultations, diagnoses, and treatments available in a reasonable amount of time. In the contemporary moment, mental health has a large presence on social media in particular. There is a plethora of infographics and some peer support for suffering individuals. But is this the best we can do? Ultimately, sharing resources, petitions and calls to action for the government to aid the NHS and the mental health sector once on a social media profile is the bare minimum effort we could display. We must realise that if we truly care for the mentally ill, we must consistently work to encourage a shift and push for an improved system. Sparking further conversation amongst politicians is not just an idealistic dream, it is a human rights issue. The sooner we stop acting passively, the sooner we can bring an end to this barrier preventing effective treatment, and the more individuals we can save. Let us make this our generation’s mission. We must ensure that these calls for help are not shouted into an echo chamber, but rather, are made into a reality.
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Amid a tidal wave of austerity, the UK aid narrative should be one of substance over sum
Last year, the government announced a merger within the UK aid sector and a £2.9bn budget cut (Credit: UK MOD Crown).
Maxine Betteridge-Moes, MA Media in Development The year 2020 dealt two serious blows to the UK aid industry. First was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s June announcement of a merger between the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which was widely condemned by aid officials for draining the resources of an agency ranked the most accountable aid donor in the world. Next came Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement in November that the government will cut its aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income in 2021. The fiscal strategy behind these decisions was justified under the guise of securing Britain’s ‘national interests’ in light of the economic and social crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. How an individual reacts to this news, considering it either sensible or nonsensical, can largely be attributed to a person’s political affiliation and media consumption. For example, the conservative tabloid the Daily Mail ran an op-ed titled: ‘Good riddance to Foreign Aid's self-serving Department for International Narcissists.’ The writer, Ian Birrell, argues for wider reform of the sector despite ‘predictable protests from charity chiefs and fat-cat aid consultants fearful that
their chunky salaries might now be curtailed.’ On the other end of the political news spectrum, the left-wing Guardian published the op-ed: ‘Cutting UK overseas aid in the name of Covid fiscal prudence is pure nonsense.’ Economics editor Larry Elliott argues that the UK has enjoyed real global clout in development thanks in part to a separate and well-resourced DfID that has now been ‘tossed away in acts of wilful political vandalism.’
“While progressives and conservatives alike tend to agree on the concept of development, media coverage often asserts that disagreement over foreign aid all boils down to budget.” These conflicting viewpoints in two of England’s biggest news outlets illustrate a broader trend of aid as a partisan issue. While progressives and conservatives alike tend to agree on the concepts of
development, media coverage often asserts that disagreement over foreign aid all boils down to budget. As Pablo Yanguas points out in his book ‘Why We Lie About Aid,’ money, by itself, means nothing when it comes to solving the challenges of development. ‘You could have a smaller budget and still have the same impact if you use it better,’ he told me. ‘There will be a disruption effect for sure, however I do think it's an opportunity to rethink whether the equation money equals impact holds true or not.’ Another important point is that despite knowing little about how foreign aid actually works, the British public is easily swayed by exaggerated headlines and over simplistic narratives about the industry. Even in these times of austerity, the media narrative of UK aid should be less about the money and more about the impact. There are a number of ways the aid sector and the media can achieve this in the short, medium, and long terms. Journalist Molly Anders reported on several of them in her excellent series for Devex about how media coverage affects aid work. In the short term, charities need to acknowledge wrongdoing quickly and should address organizational or sector-wide issues in these responses to minimize a feeding frenzy of damaging news cycles. Context is also key in crisis response and
in the news cycle. The UK aid budget gets disproportionate media attention, with little analysis around the purpose of interventions such as gender empowerment, agricultural innovation, and anti-corruption, how much these interventions cost, and whether they are working. This context will in turn shape long term efforts to tell stories about aid through more relevant storytellers. This involves more coverage of staff onthe-ground, beneficiaries, and other partners that are more relatable and can comment directly on the work being done. As Yanguas explained to me, there needs to be a distinction in coverage between humanitarian work such as crisis and disaster response, and interventions that accelerate development that is already taking place. The UK prides itself on its global reputation as a leader in international development. That reputation will be tested later this year when the government hosts the COP-26 and G-7 summits, but budget and reputation are not all that matters. If we are to hold the aid industry and the government to account in these times of unprecedented need and widespread misinformation, it’s more important than ever for the media to provide an honest, complex, and nuanced narrative of the sector that is, above all, concerned with substance over sum.
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The bitter truth of Israel's vaccination ‘success’ Zahra Jawad BA Politics and Economics The world is racing to vaccinate its population against the notorious Covid-19 virus. Many see Israel's vaccine effort as a triumph because it administered first shots to 2.6m citizens as of mid January, and secured more doses of vaccine than it actually needs. The country leads decisively in this race of man versus virus, however serious ethical concerns are being raised as almost all the 4.5 million Palestinians residing in the occupied territories are yet to receive a jab. According to the United Nations, only Palestinians who hold Israeli IDs get the privilege of taking part in the mass immunisation process. Covid-19 has been nothing short of a humanitarian disaster for the Palestinians. Prior to the crisis, Gaza had been suffocating under the Israeli imposed blockade with access to only six hours of electricity per day, just 500 hospital beds and 70 ICU units. Health officials stated in 2020 that Israel’s ongoing siege was a death sentence for Gaza’s Covid-19 patients. Earlier this month, the Palestinian Authority made a statement on Israel’s
immunization policy, stating that seeking help will give creedence to the case made by Israeli law makers to undermine Palestinian statehood. Israel has claimed in the past that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas hold rights to govern their own affairs, yet the Israeli authorities still remain largely in control. From collecting taxes on behalf of the Palestinian authority to even regulating the central bank, Netanyahu's right wing regime can pick and choose which aspects of governance they want to deny the Palestinians. Unapologetic Israeli advocates will cite the much misused Oslo Accords, which state that the Palestinian Authory is solely responsible for the health care of Palestinians in the West bank and Gaza. However, this was only agreed under the assumption that there would be better constructed relations of peace between the two peoples. Over the years after 1991, we see that now it is far from fair and peaceful. Illegal settlement in the West Bank has grown exponentially since the signing. On the eve of Joe Biden's inauguration on 20 January, the Israeli government published plans for 2,112 illegal units of housing in the occupied West Bank and 460 in East Jerusalem. Judging by
A mural located near the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip (Credit: Mohammed Abed/ AFP, Getty Images).
these numbers alone we can see there has been no development for bilateral peace. The unfolding of events since 1991 have done nothing more than slowly erase hope for the establishment of a Palestinian state. To all those who remain insistent on defending Israel, it’s worth noting that human rights experts have shot back, stating that Israel is required under the Fourth Geneva Convention under article 56 to use preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics as it stands as the occupied power. Israel has violated these terms by doing no such thing. Despite the grim reality which faces the Palestinians, a ray of hope arises as on 11 January the Palestinian health ministry said
it had approved the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Despite the good news, Russian officials emphasize the harsh reality of short supply, and the agreed upon 4m doses may be delayed. All this would not be a problem if Israel took up its duty and followed its moral and humanitarian obligation to aid the Palestinians. The overheated debate has caused a massive uproar in the international community, which led Health Minister Yuli Edelstein to publicly announce that Palestinian detainees will receive vaccinations in the coming weeks. However, the Israelis must continue to be held to account - how many lives could have been saved if they had bowed to international pressure sooner?
10 Years on, did the Arab Spring bring stability to the region? Clayton Barrington-Russell, BA Arabic and International Relations Freedom of speech, the reduction of sky-high unemployment rates and an end to government corruption and political repression. These were the demands of thousands of protestors who, in 2011, took to the streets of the Arab world from the Maghreb to the Gulf. Unfortunately it is clear that ten years later, many of these demands still have not been met. So what has the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ actually brought to the region? DEMOCRACY Triggered by the self-immolation of the 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid, the so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’ led to the overthrow of President Ben Ali, and the deaths of 338 protestors. Their memory lives on through murals and memorials, and their legacy means that Tunisians can now hold regular democratic elections - the most recent being in 2019. Despite this, many of the Revolutionaries' dreams remain unfulfilled. This January’s demonstrations in Tunis are a spitting image of those held almost exactly 10 years ago to the night. Rising unemployment remains as relevant as ever in this small North African nation. CONFLICT While Tunisians now have the right to openly criticise their government, this is not the case for millions on the Mediterranean’s Eastern shores. Despite the resignations of many Syrian politicians, the violent military crackdown on public demonstrations in early 2011 gave rise to the Free Syrian Army - a rebel group aiming to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power. As the Civil War progressed,
various Islamist factions such as Daesh and al-Nusra Front established footholds in the East, and Kurdish militias in the North. Daesh were driven out of the cities by US-led coalition airstrikes, however their continued presence threatens to destabilise the region. It is no secret that the chaos of the Syrian Civil War has had a devastating impact on the entire region. After approximately half a million deaths, the anti-government sentiment within Syria still remains strong. Recent demonstrations in the government-controlled Southern town of Suweida show that in spite of the merciless annihilation of his political opponents, Syrians are still not afraid to voice their discontent toward al-Assad’s regime. Assad may be close to winning the war on the ground, but he has definitely not won over Syrian hearts. The momentum of the Syrian Revolution relentlessly continues. INSTABILITY Whilst the ghosts of revolution still haunt Syria, the momentum of the Egyptian uprising was crushed just two years afterward. Despite the initial violent responses taken by the government, millions packed the streets of Cairo in February 2011 demanding the resignation of President Mubarak. This was ultimately successful, but Mohamed Morsi - the winner of the resulting democratic elections - was ousted in 2013 by the Egyptian Army. In the words of Professor Gilbert Achar, a renowned regional specialist in Middle Eastern Politics, ‘Euphoria gave way to pessimism as many quarters declared the dreams of the “Arab Spring” to be dead.’ The subsequent instability caused by the coup continues to this day. Calls for current President Sisi to step down grow by the year, while the current instability of the Sinai insurgency threatens to further deepen the religious divisions within Egyptian society.
UNITY In spite of the bloodshed, the speed at which these protests gained momentum undeniably provided much-needed hope to millions across the region. United, Tunisians had disposed of their authoritarian regime, and, despite the ensuing violence, Egyptians held their first elections with more than two candidates. Drawing inspiration and then condemnation from all over the world, this form of united resistance had not been seen in the region for generations.
“These protests… provided muchneeded hope to millions across the region.”
During the past decade, anti-government protests have been ever-present throughout the Arab World, from the initial revolutionary uprisings in Tunisia to the bloody civil wars in Libya, Yemen and Syria. The uniting force of this revolutionary protest has demonstrated that it is here to stay, and in the last few years many smaller demonstrations have taken place within specific regions, such as the Hirak Rif movement of Northern Morocco. Furthermore, the Arab Spring’s momentum and anticipation of change proved influential outside the Middle East, inspiring the Tuareg Rebellion in Mali and protests as far away as the Maldives. One thing is for certain - we have not seen the last of mass protests across North Africa and the Middle East.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
The Indian Farming Reformation
Farmers from the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, angry at recently enacted farm laws, have been trying to stage protests in the capital, New Delhi. (Credit: Dansih Siddiqui, Reuters)
Abdul Basit, BA Economics and International Relations Annadata is a Hindi epithet that has spiritual roots and can be roughly translated as ‘he who is the bestower of nourishment.’ It is often attributed to the farmers of India by its political classes, and this term perhaps best encapsulates the nation's attitude towards its farmers. This artificial conflation of what is a standard occupation in most countries has led to the crisis in which India finds itself today. These protests are only the manifestation of decades of substance-less rhetoric. Agrarian activities are still the primary occupation of 70% of the Indian labour force, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rural India, which is where most Indians live, is still organised around farming. Therefore it is no surprise that any attempt to reform this sector is met with fierce, if not an ignorant backlash. However, that does little to dull the urgency of these reforms. A fourth of India's total agrarian output is wasted every year, and there are massive discrepancies in agricultural land holdings across the country which exacerbate the problem of hidden unemployment. The simple truth is that there is no relation between what the farmers are supplying and what people want to eat. Despite having the capacity to grow anything the Indian palate demands, we still import onions, potatoes, cauliflower, green peas, and more. In fact, India is the 7th largest importer of agricultural products in the world despite record-breaking harvests of rice, pulses, and
sugarcane. I invite the reader to consider the predicament of the Indian economy which employs almost 70% of its workforce in agriculture and related industries whilst simultaneously relying on food imports. All of the above are symptoms of backbreaking structural issues which require immediate and decisive change. Now, this article does not opine that the Indian farming sector is inherently inept in its output, far from it. It regularly outdoes itself in terms of harvesting certain crops. Yet, due to poor demand for these crops, the Indian farmer is caught better harvests mean lower prices per unit. This brings us to the issue of the Minimum Support Price (MSP), the focal point of these protests. Simply put, it is a mechanism by which the Indian government ensures farmers that it will procure certain crops at fixed prices. This has led to farmers choosing, almost exclusively, to grow only such crops that the government will procure as it guarantees a buyer even though there is not nearly enough demand for them in the grocery stores. This not only makes the job of storing these endless surpluses impossible but also ratchets up the MSP bill that the government bears whilst importing fruits and vegetables to meet the population's needs. It is essentially a subsidy given to the farming sector in the form of a blank cheque. While these subsidies are intended to support farmers, it is estimated that only 6% actually sell their crops at MSP. This means that farmers are already vulnerable to the ‘middlemen’ in the selling chain and, ultimately, the Indian government’s
process is ineffective. The proposition that agriculture ceases to be the exclusive purview of farmers and the state, and instead includes private players, is a wise one. It will restore supply-demand balance in the sector, thus ensuring that farmers get a fair price for their labour. Precautions will still need to be taken to stop these private players from becoming monopolies, and floor prices will need to be established. However, such a step would obviate government-funded MSP programs which accounted for a whopping 50% of the National Budget last year. It ought to be remembered that this government is not the first to realise that India's farming sector does not work. It is simply the first in almost 50 years to have the political capital to do something about it. For too long, farmers have been used as a vote bank and each election cycle has brought with it promises of loan waivers and higher MSPs. Yet, what Modi’s new laws envisage is an agrarian sector that can sustain itself without governmental handouts, as an independent part of the national project that is congruous within a market economy. There is a lot to be said about how the Modi administration handled these bills by rushing them through the houses of parliament without consultation. I implore the readers to not judge the efficacy of these reforms by the reputation of their authors, but by the benefits they offer. It is possible for tyrannical governments to formulate agreeable policies. And these farm laws are an incandescent gem in what is otherwise a gloomy cavern of right-wing hysteria.
8 FEBRUARY 2021 http://soasspirit.co.uk/category/features/ FEATURES EDITOR: Ella Dorn
Humans of SOAS: Professor Costas Lapavitsas
Professor Costas Lapavitsas. (Credit: Kevin Walsh, Flickr)
Juan Ignacio Rubio Gorrochategui, MSc Environment, Politics and Development Costas Lapavitsas is a professor of Economics at the eponymous department at SOAS, a former MP in Greece for the socialist party Syriza and one of the leading voices lending support for Brexit among the British left. Juan Gorrochategui talks to him about the state of modern capitalism and the ways the left can become a motor for change again. I want to talk about your recent article on Tribune about Covid-19 and capitalism. I found it very easy to understand, but I have a couple of questions about it. As you wrote, the nation state has taken a central role in the crisis. Do you think it was inevitable this would happen in the next chronic crisis of capitalism, even if the virus had not been involved? History happens and events happen, and what has happened is that the state has intervened in ways that are unthinkable. When you look at the trajectory of the state over the last decade, you will see evidence of state intervention that was unprecedented [in order to deal with the downturn that occurred after the 2008 crisis], which was not a sudden event. But on the other hand Covid-19 was a unique historical event,
which forced the state to shut down entire sectors of the economy. There are structural elements but also unique historical contingent levels. You comment that the virus affected economic structures massively. Can you elaborate on the specifics of it? The decade that followed the 2008 crisis was of weak growth and weak performance in finance, both in low income and developed countries. The system did not have solid foundations. Thus, the virus fell on a weak system, and the state, by intervening in the economy in ways unthinkable before, created new dynamics and scenarios. Why did it do so? Because the state is very weak, and in fact the ways in which it has intervened have not been particularly helpful for the poor. I am talking of measures such as guaranteed sick pay, providing financial stability for those who need to self-isolate and primary healthcare. It did not have the capacity to do that, states were unprepared. Instead, they chose lockdown. States combined this with relying on big business to find the vaccine, which created a massive economic problem as it disturbed supply chains across the world and caused disturbance in aggregate demand. The state catalysed the crisis and made it worse, paradoxically out of both weakness and authoritarian
impulses. Is that a consequence of decades of the social net being hollowed out by neoliberalism? There is no doubt about it. When it mattered, states showed enormous strength, nationalising the wage bill and income statements and using central banks to provide liquidity. This crisis shows that the nation state is enormously powerful and globalised capitalism parasites it. At the same time and as commented before, the state is weak. It is a very peculiar combination. Both authoritarian, but also unable to stand up to big business. Do you think that now outside the EU, the UK will be able to reform along lines that go beyond the current neoliberal dogma? Are the ingredients there? The ingredients are there. Brexit indicated that working people in this country had had enough. Obviously at some points there was confusion, but the interpretation is clear: they wanted change, and they still do. The situation in the country is bad, and the pandemic has only made it worse. That is the importance of Brexit, it is a break for change. The problem has been the Left. The political current that historically spoke for change has forgotten how to do it, and has lost its organic connections with the working
classes. The Labour Party does not speak for them. Would you say the Labour Party is not up for the task in this challenge? The Labour Party is trying its best to make a bad situation appalling. In this leadership I do not see political skill or talent, and the way they behaved towards Jeremy Corbyn is appalling. The reason why they lost the election is because they refused to listen to the working classes and their desire for Brexit. It is astonishing. I have no illusions about the party, but historically they have done everything to win elections. Except for last time! The reason for that is because they failed to take a brave position and go for Brexit. To finish off, if not Labour, what is left? The lesson I have learned after many years in this country is that Labour has deep roots and deep organic links with the British working classes. At the moment it is a shambles, but that does not mean it is finished or that it is time to create a rival left organisation. I have been there and that does not work. The task right now is being involved in the struggles and debates within the party, because that is where the working classes still look to. The change that British people are seeking at the moment will come from there.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
The Story of Hacer
Deniz Demirag, MSc Environment, Politics and Development
1. I want to take you on a journey to an ordinary village in Southeast Turkey. I never knew what home felt like after nomadically living in four countries and countless cities. I was in search of unknown treasure in uncharted places. Then a breeze of my lost memories of childhood found me, and I knew that the real gem was where it all started - in this ordinary Turkish/Kurdish village. Despite the euphoria of this place, red-whiskered bulbuls aren’t always singing, and the roads get rocky.
Hacer when she was young. (Credit: Deniz Demirag)
Hacer at her engagement. (Credit: Deniz Demirag)
3. Beauty lies in people's simple words, in a world where stories are only worth telling if they are good, gracious and glorified. My aunt, Hacer, was very kind to share her humble story to us, going through a divorce almost 20 years ago in a traditional village. ‘My marriage was arranged by my parents against my will. My ex-husband was a family member, and I was forced at an early age because my parents said the “customs” (âdet) and “traditions” (gelenek) must be protected. There was no love. He mistreated me from the beginning like I was an animal.’
2. This is my plan to document ordinary people with their highs and lows. Their experiences guide us through socioeconomic, political and cultural veils, but most importantly, they provide a platform to put minds into perspective. I want to explore the development processes that affected people’s lives - migration, violence, forced labour and marriage - and how these had an unravelling psychological impact.
Hacer’s wedding; the bride is being taken to the groom's house. (Credit: Deniz Demirag)
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Hacer and her ex-husband at the wedding. (Credit: Deniz Demirag)
4. ‘I gave him four kids; my oldest child - my daughter - has gotten sick. She lost all her vision due to a cataract. She was misdiagnosed at first, and the correct treatment was not given. She wouldn’t be blind now if the conditions were different. That is our destiny. It is a small village. We had to get her treated in Germany where our relatives lived, but it was too late. I had to take care of the house and my visually impaired daughter.’
Hacer and her son. (Credit: Deniz Demirag)
6. ‘My family took care of me financially. He did not even pay for the alimony. On top of that, I took care of his father and mother all my life. He only paid me to take care of his parents. I had animals; I was selling them, milking them and making cheese. My mother-in-law stole my cheese. I would lock the door to hide them, but my ex-husband would break the doors to start a fight so that I could kick him out. If I kicked him out, he would have nowhere to go. He wanted that so he could humiliate me in front of the village. ‘We saved our money from our truck farms of pistachios to get my son a driver’s license and a car. Unfortunately, my daughter’s disability allowance was cut when we bought a car as if we were wealthy. As a woman who took care of the truck farm my whole life, I received nothing as a share. It was all given to my ex-husband. ‘As a woman, I felt disregarded and humiliated by a man. If I could go back, I would have divorced earlier. I want no husband, no men. I would never have gotted married. I wanted to study. Maybe I would have become a doctor, who knows? A woman should never depend on a man no matter what.’
Hacer and two of her sons at the truck farm. (Credit: Deniz Demirag)
5. ‘I bore his actions for the sake of our children, and I never thought divorce was a possibility. We divorced when he intended to migrate to Germany. He said he would send money to us. People at first condemned and shamed me; it is a small village. They degraded me and “attacked my honour” (onur). He was living comfortably in Germany while I was taking care of the entire house. Some people even blamed me for manipulating my kids for not talking to their father. Their father never showed them love. Sometimes the kids would want chocolate; he would get nothing.’
Hacer now, taking care of her chickens. (Credit: Deniz Demirag)
8 FEBRUARY 2021
How the Fire got its Smoke Amelia Storey, BA History In a quiet valley between ancient hills, There lived an old lady, with ancient skills. She weeded her crops, milked her goat And tended a fire which never, ever smoked. It had been burning for as long as she knew Through rain, snow and winds that blew. It warmed the old lady, cooked her dinner, And kept her company when the stars didn’t glitter. Then one morning, whilst out stacking wood, The earth started shaking beneath where she stood. An ugly giant came over the hilltop, And paused on the crest to hoist a big flag up. “I’m here!” He announced with a sneer. “Now feed me with all of your knowledge, old dear. My belly groans and rumbles like thunder, And it is for power that I hunger!” “I’ll swallow your books, your papers I’ll bite – There can’t be much in this simple life. Trust me, it’s best I rule this land,” He crossed his heart with a grubby hand. The old lady held her temper And said: “My knowledge isn’t trapped on paper! It’s not all dusty on some shelves. It’s right here, in between ourselves.” The Giant, he looked all around; There was no knowledge to be found. He saw no books, no written word, Just a fire that burned and burned. He thought that she was ‘poor’ and ‘dumb’ To live as she did with the Earth and the Sun. But his hunger for knowledge was far too great To leave any crumb off his worldwide plate. Books were what the Giant preferred. His mouth would dribble for the printed word, But he’d eat knowledge however it came: To him all knowledge meant power the same. So if this old lady had none of the ‘good stuff ’, He’d gobble her up (though she looked a bit tough!) She might taste of old herbs, or wood sap all burnt,
And surely of tastes he’d never yet learnt. Whilst he sat, dribbling and thinking, The old lady waited and broke up some kindling. Her life, to him, might appear strange, But she was happy, wise and had no wish to change. “I keep no books, no written word. Knowledge is something used, and heard. It is my tool, my tune and tongue; It’s in this fire, my heart and lungs.” After a moment, the Giant lurched, “This fire must be studied, watched, researched! Its knowledge will be all laid bare For me to eat from my armchair. I’ll know it better than ever you did Because I’m clever, and you’re like a kid.” He pounced, trying to catch the flames But they dodged and dived in a dangerous game. Having watched him for a bit, The old lady plucked a stick alit. “This fire cannot be understood By he who wishes no one good. It cannot be stolen, put out or harmed; It will survive, even if you are armed. But since you are hungry for its knowledge, Why not eat some, as if it were porridge?” The Giant, so greedy for knowledge was he, Couldn’t resist such an offer, you see. He opened his mouth bigger than her, And in went the flame and the stick with a whir. Down it dropped, all the way to his tummy And landed on a pile of books and honey. Before you could say “Knowledge for tea!” The flames had spread all the way to his knees. “Ouch, ouch, ouch!” The Giant cried As he hopped all the way to the seaside. Then, in he went, head first with a splash; Gone were the Giant and the flames, in a flash. The old lady sat alone Close to her fire, warmed to the bone. She gave the logs a gentle poke, And over the hills, glimpsed a cloud of smoke.
“His hunger for knowledge was far too great to leave any crumb off his worldwide plate” (Illustration by Amelia Storey).
Romance behind a screen (Credit: Markus Winkler, Unsplash)
Love in the Time of Corona Back to Basics Anonymous The pandemic has irrevocably advanced the digital age: Zoom parties have become a staple fixture in our weekend plans. However, when it comes to dating, there is something very archaic about how we are having to navigate our love lives. After just one brief in-person date in early March, I began a seven-month-long involvement with another woman — five months of which were long distance. The situation was so uncertain; I didn’t know when I would see her again, or if she was even a good kisser. And yet I became very invested, as if we had been meeting up every weekend. With the physical element of dating removed entirely, I realised how important it is to me, but also how much even an innocent touch can fast-track a relationship. In lieu of this, I suddenly found myself getting more creative. We made a shared Spotify playlist, sent 7 minute voice notes and made each other video diaries. We invested more time in getting to know each other. By the time she was back in the country with lockdown restrictions eased, I already felt committed. Previously, I’d joked about the excessive amount of lesbian period dramas, and yet somehow, amidst all this tech communication, I had entered into a Victorian style of courtship myself. Unfortunately, her circumstances changed, and COVID made it too difficult to sustain a long distance relationship indefinitely. But I certainly learned something. I experienced a flash of that romance that I’d often wished for in my cinema-induced nostalgia. It makes me think that perhaps we all need to stop and smell the roses more when dating, instead of hurrying to swipe and meet up with our next “match”.
A Tinder Success Story Anonymous I like to think I’m a bit of a Tinder expert. Whenever I decide to start dating again, I find someone I click with within my first few swipes. This May was no different - apart from the fact that we were in a pandemic. Usually, I’m not one for waiting. One conversation to make sure they’re not a complete weirdo and then I’ll suggest we meet for a drink. Within 5 minutes of meeting them, I usually know if I’m game. But this time round, both stuck quarantining in our parents’ houses, we were unable to meet for a month. And during those four weeks of yearning I grew concerned it would be weird when we finally did meet - that there would be no chemistry, or that his sharp wit required the thinking time that texting allows. You can get away with a lot more when you’re hiding behind the screen. Without the distractions of external activities, we dove deep into our psyches, asking questions that required pure emotional vulnerability. I found myself confessing to this stranger my hopes and fears, my insecurities and flaws, the things that make me who I am. We were having some of the most emotionally intense conversations I’d ever had and I was learning so much about him and even about myself, and yet we still hadn’t met. Luckily, when we did finally meet there was no awkwardness that might have been expected. It’s been strange getting to know someone completely isolated from the outside world. But, months later, I’m happy to say I’m still entirely entertained and enamoured by this man in his purest form. No distractions needed.
8 FEBRUARY 2021 http://soasspirit.co.uk/category/culture/ Culture Editor: Elizabeth Edwards
When will the film industry go back to normal? Yasmine England BA Development Studies
The smell of fresh popcorn, the extra-large fizzy drinks, the (painfully) expensive sweets and chocolates. Going to the cinema is an
experience we all enjoy. It allows us to be completely immersed into another reality and to escape from whatever else is going on in our lives. We’re able to feel connected to others without a single word, all experiencing the same emotions and gripped by the huge screen and loudspeakers.
A drive in movie theatre with tens of cars facing it. (Credit: LA times, 2020)
However, the pandemic has had a large impact on the film industry since 2020, closing down many movie theatres and repeatedly postponing the release of movies. The film industry as a whole has suffered great financial losses and an abundance of people in the industry have lost their jobs, forcing many into insecure freelance capacities. Though there have been dire consequences, it has now prompted a mass of creativity from the film industry. There have been many efforts to find ways of replicating the same escapism and connectedness induced by cinemas, something many of us crave through these severe periods of isolation. It has led to the reintroduction and popularity of drive-in cinemas in many countries such as Italy, the US, and the UK, as well as portable cinemas in Madrid for those stuck in their flats. Some films were released and streamed online to adapt to the pandemic. Mulan (2020), the live-action adaptation of Disney's 1998 Mulan, was originally scheduled to be released on 27 March 2020 but it was postponed thrice until the decision was made to release it on Disney+ for the cost of £19.99. This produced a debate about whether the price was worth it, offering insight into the attitudes of many people towards streaming new films. Some argued that it was a
good price as it is cheaper than the price of a family trip to the cinema whilst others argued that they were already paying the subscription for Disney+ and they weren’t getting the experience of the cinema, making it extortionate pricing. This begs the question: what role does streaming play? There have been several attempts for cinemas to reopen throughout the year but as the streaming of new films online has grown, with the Warner Brothers planning to release Dune and the next Matrix sequel online, it has begun to undermine the revival of cinemas. There is already a lack of new movies being produced, so now that streaming online has become popularised, there are no major or unique components of a cinema that can currently entice people. Regardless, the UK is under a national lockdown under further notice, pushing us to our limit and the film industry to theirs. The timeline of return for the film industry back to normal is still unknown, but distribution of vaccines has provided many of us with some light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, we will be back in the cinema and eating expensive popcorn with an enormous fizzy drink within the year.
London Fashion Week February 2021 throughout the Covid-19 Pandemic: What to expect? Madihah Najeeb, BA Global Liberal Arts
Whilst we endure the pressures of a national lockdown through the Covid-19 pandemic, there is one occasion to look forward to if you're a fashionista with an eye for this year's latest clothing trends. London Fashion Week, which is to take place between 19 and 23 February 2021, will feature both womenswear and menswear collections with a genderless showcase in a digital formatted livestream on the LFW platform. People can access collections that would have made their debut on the runway or in a presentation, and can also watch interviews with designers, listen to podcasts, and gain access to e-commerce. It has come as a surprise to many that this global event is still taking place considering the UK’s dire situation against Covid-19. But on several platforms, the official LFW organisation have emphasised that they want to prove the industry's ‘resilience, creativity and innovation’ in these difficult times (LFW Official Website). One of the key aims for this year’s LFW is to ‘de-gender fashion’ in order to be less reliant on gender norms. This is also a result of Men’s Fashion Week’s event being cancelled in January 2021 due to resurgence of Covid-19 and its new deadly strains, as well as issues surrounding the customs union post Brexit. As a result, the MFW will merge with the upcoming LFW which will also
minimize travel requirements in order to support the sustainable stance the fashion industry is taking on. This year's London Fashion Week will be dramatically different in comparison to last year's LFW, which occurred as normal and found itself immersed in controversies over sustainability and the importance of environmentally friendly fashion. At the time, Covid-19 was yet to be made wary of and the event took place at the Strand in Westminster, showcasing the signature London Fashion Week Catwalk and showrooms with the latest styles from high-end brands. Last year, LFW projected the concept of ‘Positive Fashion’ as a way of encouraging future business decisions to create positive changes. The event also took on a ‘City-Wide’ approach in order to unite London in an innovative festival to open up LFW to new audiences and communities. LFW faced various issues which were more pressing than Covid-19 in February 2020, such as the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests which took place during London Fashion Week. Many protestors halted traffic towards the fashion trade show in order to voice their concerns on “false fashion” and the problematic impacts the fashion industry had on the environmental crisis at the time. Throughout the event, which took place from the 14th-18th of February, only between 9 and 13 cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in the UK. As shown, this was not an issue significant enough to cancel the LFW event in February 2020.
Fashion in general has still played a significant role in our lives despite these strenuous circumstances. I speak for the majority who have spent most of this pandemic wearing hoodies and joggers as most of us have nowhere to go. Despite this, our obsessions with online shopping have significantly increased and our need to constantly buy new clothes is yet to be resolved. But why is this the case? Could it be because buying clothes online gives us a sense of control? Currently, everything around us, from supermarket shopping to family visits, have been controlled by the government as safety measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. On top of that, buying clothes online provides a comfort of normality that existed before Covid-19 dominated our daily lives. As well as dwelling on the past, buying clothes online provides us with a sense of hope that one day we will live in a Covidfree society. With all this time in our hands, the various lockdowns have allowed us to take fashion into our own hands and become our own stylists. Although LFW will be held virtually, this does not impact the influential factor of the upcoming trends that will dominate the 2021 fashion landscape. The day is yet to come when we shall strut in our new clothes that would have been piling up and hidden in our wardrobes, waiting for their debut in front of the critical eyes of society and the fashion industry.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Bridgerton’s Race Problem Sabrine Mahmoud, BA History Bridgerton, Netflix’s new show which has reportedly hooked 63 million viewers, is a period-drama set in the Regency era in England. We watch the London elite as they prepare their young for “the season” – a time in which courtships would occur in the hunt for a suitable marriage. It shows people of colour as British aristocrats; a unique take on the presentation and casting of race. At first glance, Bridgerton seems racially inclusive, with Black characters occupying positions at all levels of society, from aristocrats to boxers. This is a new take on period-dramas which are almost exclusively white-casted for historical accuracy. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that the majority of people of colour in a leading role were light-skinned, thus denying the much-needed space for darker-skin characters and representation. Even more troubling is that many of the black characters
were problematic in some way, coming in the forms of abusive characters, selfish ones or merely just outright cruel. It is also somewhat unsettling to see people of colour socialising with those who would have been their oppressors when the show is set in the early 1800’s. This was a time in which the characters would be living off the profits of the Atlantic slave trade, as well as a time in which people of colour were primarily seen in domestic work, in sharp contrast to the higher social stratus they take up in Bridgerton. The show is initially marketed as colourblind casting, however half-way Lady Danbury, a Black woman, explains that society was racially split before the black Queen Charlotte married a white King: ‘We were two separate societies divided by colour until a King fell in love with one of us.’ The issue with Bridgerton is the false idea it presents of a post-racial society. It oversimplifies racism, suggesting one interracial royal marriage would be enough to solve the discrimination
Bridgerton’s Lady Danbury. (Credit: Netflix)
at the time. Representation doesn’t solve racism on its own – albeit important, race must be addressed with care, which Bridgerton fails to adequately do. Race is not referred to in any other meaningful way, and the storyline glosses over the extremely complex nature of race relations in society at
the time. ‘Love, your Grace, conquers all’ - Lady Danbury’s words sum up the portrayal the show gives of the solution to race. If only love could indeed conquer all.
Somewhere over the rainbow: gay cinema’s stylistic decline Ella Dorn, BA Chinese and Linguistics What do you think of when you hear the words ‘film history’? Only one year after the first ‘talkie’ is made in Berlin, two women, their shadows blown up beyond proportion, are shown kissing on a cinema screen. They are accompanied by a swell of triumphant music. This is 1931 Mädchen in Uniform, and although the film is swiftly pulled from circulation when Hitler comes to power, it ends up inspiring a stream of remakes and imitators from Mexico to Japan. Across the Atlantic, Greta Garbo, already an established star, pulls off a homoerotic portrayal of Queen Christina of Sweden, Marlene Dietrich plays an androgynous cabaret singer in Morocco, and a Dracula sequel made at Universal Pictures (no doubt influenced by the silent classic Nosferatu, which was directed by a gay man) is loaded with lesbian subtext. The Hays Code, a set of strict censorship guidelines, finally came into place in 1934, but the visual language established in these films endured for decades. In the modern-day logic of representation politics, and of Netflix originals with purpose-built LGBT characters, it seems confusing that many gay and lesbian aficionados adore an era of cinema when the overt depiction of homosexuality was effectively banned. But any research on the topic will set observers straight. The star system of classic Hollywood inspired fervent cults of personality, creating icons - Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Garbo, Dietrich - with whom these fans could, and still can, identify with. Only some of these actors portrayed gay people on
screen: the great draw was that whatever stories they told existed shamelessly in sensuous, exaggerated worlds of cinematic camp. In their films, which were not relegated to any special-interest category, every emotion was blown up tenfold. Sets and costumes were lavish, scripts scattered with Wildean flourishes and snarky asides. Campiness could subvert social mores about age, giving lead roles to actresses who had ‘passed their prime’ (see the eternal 1950 classic All About Eve); it could overturn norms of gender in genre film, as in 1954’s Johnny Guitar. These productions brought gay audiences to the forefront of mainstream
culture, both as spectators (queued up to laugh at colourful parodies of heterosexual life), as avid fans of actors and actresses (who often slipped into androgyny), and as active creators. Even the public reputations and private lives of performers, which were composed in equal measure of fairy-tale press release and sordid rumour, became camp objects of high ridiculosity. The German director Max Ophüls had pioneered a monochrome but decadent visual language, that of swooping cameras and mirrored walls, which other artists would reuse in later years to give homosexual credence to stories that were heterosexual at
Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall in Designing Woman (1957), a film where everything is thoroughly homosexual - apart from the characters and plot. (Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
face value. Lauren Bacall, playing a bisexual woman in Young Man with a Horn (1950) collects nude Greek statues and is reflected, manifold, into gilt-edged mirrors, suggesting an ‘inversion’ beyond the camera; the same visual pun is used in Olivia (1951), a French pseudo-remake of Mädchen in Uniform. Both men and women could occupy the visual arena with smooth androgyny, appealing to gay and lesbian fans alike. It is too easy to conclude today that this glossy style of filmmaking, in the era of frequent jumpcuts and near-mandatory colour, has all but left us. The naturalistic, expository, and understated style of acclaimed LGBT films from the past decade - Blue is the Warmest Colour, Call Me By Your Name, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, even the 50s period piece Carol - betrays a break in a long artistic tradition. The actors themselves decamp, ditching their unbelievable press releases and preaching ‘authenticity’ over social media instead. Listen to classic film enthusiasts when we tell you: this is not a good thing. Against a backdrop of social acceptance and civil rights, gay people are losing an established cinematic identity. A canon of early role models, of aesthetic delight, of social critique, and of quotable snark sits and gathers dust. It is not enough to list films that simply feature LGBT characters but make no attempt to woo their viewers stylistically: modern-day critics should readily acknowledge the gay culture inherent in classic cinema beyond narrative level, and question the factors behind the stylistic decline of the last four decades, not least the potential loss of film industry creatives resulting from the coinciding HIV/AIDS crisis. Don’t let the Netflix listings deceive you: representation is not everything, and all the rest lies with style.
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Sports & Societies Getting 'Messi' in America? https://soasspirit.co.uk/category/societiesandsport/
Sport & Societies Editor: Artemis Sianni-Wedderburn
Messi addresses a crowd in his signature number 10. (Credit: Getty Images)
Luke Thomas, BA Politics and African Studies Barcelona icon Lionel Messi has revealed he is looking to play in the United States upon his departure from Spain. In an interview with Jordi Evole for La Sexta, Messi discussed his fallout with Barcelona, managerial relationships, and lingering ambitions in unprecedented detail. After relocating from his native Argentina to join Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy in 2001, the Messi-Barca footballing love story may finally be coming to an end. His contract with the Catalan club expires this summer, meaning he has been free to negotiate with other clubs since the turn of the year. Last summer marked the most turbulent period of Messi’s time at Barcelona, with turmoil behind the scenes at the Camp Nou and disappointment on the pitch resulting in a much-publicised dispute between Messi and the club’s hierarchy. Messi attempted to activate a clause in his 2017 contract, permitting him to leave for free at the end of any season so long as the clause is activated by 10 June 10 (the end of the season). Coronavirus rescheduling meant the La Liga season played on well into August, leaving Messi and his lawyers adamant the clause could and would still be activated past June. Those tensions were only ever temporarily healed, and the thinking that this 2020/21 season would be a final swansong for Messi has been reinforced by his latest comments.
Messi suggests he will be waiting until the end of the season to decide his next move, but it can be sure the wheels are now in motion for several top sides around Europe, and across the Atlantic, to make what could be the best free transfer signing the game has ever seen. Here are a few ways it could play out.
“I would like to play in the United States and experience life and the league there.” The last Lionel to make so many waves in America was Richie – though Messi does his dancing on the pitch instead of ceilings. Messi says he ‘would like to play in the United States and experience life and the league there’. By leaving now, close to his prime, he stands to make an indelible imprint on Major League Soccer (MLS). David Beckham chose to do the same in his pomp, and Beckham is now co-owner of new MLS outfit Inter Miami, who are looking for statement signings with global reach. MLS rules allow each club to sign up to three players whose pay exceeds league salary caps. Miami offers the project, glitz, sunshine, and Hispanic culture that could just tempt Messi. And there’s Phil Neville. Los Angeles FC, LA Galaxy, and New York FC are alternatives. Time in the MLS could also precede one
final move too: back to his homeland, Argentina, to play for his childhood club, Newell’s Old Boys. Messi’s compatriots, Carlos Tevez and Juan Roman Riquelme, both made similar fairy tale returns home. In terms of the The Premier League, it seems to harbour only one realistic suitor: Manchester City. Arsenal failed to sign him as a sixteen-year-old. Chelsea’s overtures have been rebuffed year after year for a decade. In his interview, Messi states his Barca delusion was in part because he ‘wanted to win titles and battle for the Champions League and felt it was time for change’. Man City offer near guaranteed domestic success, gargantuan wages, and they may see Messi as the final piece in the jigsaw for their European quest. They host an all-star cast guided by Messi’s past mentor, Pep Guardiola. The manager’s recent contract extension will not have harmed City’s bargaining power. Where would Messi fit in? A false nine has been a feature of City’s upturn in performances since Christmas, with Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling often utilised centrally in the absence of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. Messi would be another in a cast of a fluid frontline. This also provides a stop gap solution for City’s most pressing need – replacing the 30 goals a season Aguero has consistently provided over the last decade of club success. This temporary fix could open the door to a long-lasting solution come 2022, when Erling Braut Haaland’s £66.6m release clause at Borussia
Dortmund will be activated. Conveniently, City Football Group also own New York FC, providing a clear pathway into the MLS at the conclusion of Messi’s time in Manchester – or even split stints between the two clubs, in the style of Frank Lampard. In terms of Ligue 1, Paris St-Germain – sporting director Leonardo has not been shy in publicly expressing a desire to bring Messi to France, recently declaring he has a ‘place reserved’ for him in Paris. Much like Cristiano Ronaldo’s switch from Real Madrid to Juventus, the Paris move offers a guarantee of domestic success to further decorate Messi’s trophy laden career. And much like Ronaldo’s move, Messi’s arrival would undoubtedly be seen by the club as a way to bring the Champions League success its fans and Qatari owners desperately crave. Do not be surprised if soft negotiations have already begun through the persuasion of Messi’s former Barcelona brother in arms, Neymar. If the much-hyped transfer of Kylian Mbappe from PSG to Real Madrid is to go through this summer, there are few replacements who could soften the blow quite so soundly as Messi. Cue the unbridled elation of Madrid supporters who find themselves gifted a seismic arrival by the departure of Barcelona’s greatest. In terms of La Liga, Messi categorically ruled out a move to either of Barcelona’s Madrid rivals, but could he stay in Spain by staying at Barca? Messi says he has ‘all my life in this city’, and circumstances have improved – ‘I'm happier now and it took some time... even with the new players coming in, that all takes time to build’. Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned as club President in October, and subsequent elections remain delayed by Covid. The two main candidates sell dreams of the past and the future. Former President, Joan Laporta, hopes to entice Guardiola back as manager. Victor Font, meanwhile, aims to invest heavily in La Masia and recruit former captain, Xavi, as manager. As things stand, a myriad of free signings are planned for the summer (Eric Garcia, Georginio Wijnaldum, Memphis Depay), which should help to balance the club’s finances while improving results. And Messi currently sits as La Liga’s top scorer. By the time summer comes around, the 8-2 Champions League quarter final drubbing by Bayern Munich (summing up Barcelona’s turmoil last year) may seem a distant memory. The chance to bow out with success and harmony as a one club man may prove too tempting to resist. If this were to be Messi’s farewell season, it would have been in the absence of a packed-out Camp Nou. Might he stay, even if just for one more season, to say goodbye properly?
Sports & Societies
8 FEBRUARY 2021
A New Wave for Women’s Surfing Frances Howe, LLB Two-time world champion Tyler Wright has made surfing history with her recent Maui Pro win at Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. The event was the first time that the World Surf League Women’s Championship Tour has held a competition final at Pipeline. The Maui Pro began at Honolua Bay as normal on 4 December 2020. Following a shark attack which claimed the life of a surfer on 8 December, the event was postponed and relocated islands from Honolua Bay on Maui to Banzai Pipeline on Oahu. Before this event, the women’s tour had not been allowed to host an event final at the wave. Banzai Pipeline is located on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Pipeline is one of the most renowned waves both as an opportunity for surfers to barrel as well as the notoriously shallow reef. According to Tracks Magazine, at least seven surfers have lost their lives to Pipeline since 1989. Wright beat four-time world champion Carissa Moore in the event final earning her the number one spot on the championship tour. Following the event Wright took to her Instagram on 24 December and wrote ‘To all the women who pioneered and put skin in the game for equality, knowing that this day maybe wouldn’t come in time for their competitive careers. Thank you.’ The historic event comes two years after the World Surf League (WSL) announced that it would pay its female surfers the same as their male counterparts. Wright also made history at the competition by becoming the first surfer to wear a Pride flag on their jersey at a championship event. Wright wore both the Australian and Progressive Pride Flag on her jersey. The Progressive Pride flag adds black and brown to the traditional Pride flag to represent marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community. She is only the second surfer to wear a distinctive flag on the championship tour, following Soli Bailey who became the first by wearing the Aboriginal flag in 2019. Wright posted a photo of the jersey on her Instagram on 7 December and wrote ‘As a proud bisexual women of the LQBTQ+
Tyler Wright takes on the notorious Pipeline (Credit: WSL/Keoki Saguibo)
community as well as an Australian, I’m delighted to be able to represent both this year on my competition jersey.’
“Why are we forcing our female athletes to travel to foreign lands to compete?” The event final also comes one year after the Honolulu City Council voted to promote women’s surfing equality. On the topic of the vote, renowned big wave surfer, Heala Kennelly, spoke to Jason Lock of Magic Seaweed: ‘the men have five qualifying events on the North Shore this winter season: the women have zero. So, what this means in layman’s terms is that if you are an aspiring pro surfer, who wants to qualify
for the professional circuit and you are a male, the opportunities are here for you. If you are a female, however, you will need to travel to qualifying events in foreign countries at your own expense.’ Kennelly continued, ‘Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and the North Shore is referred to as the Mecca of surfing. So why are we forcing our female athletes to travel to foreign lands to compete? I consider this to be a travesty. I also consider this to be gender-based discrimination which goes against our Hawaii State Constitution and federal law.’ Kenelly is known for trailblazing women’s surfing at Pipeline. Wright’s win is the first of the 2021 championship tour following the cancellation of the 2020 season. The next tour event was set to take place on 19 January at Sunset Beach, Oahu but has been postponed due to Covid-19. The Australian leg of the tour is still scheduled to open with the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach in Victoria on 1 April 2021.
Resolute Rashford and the Order of School Meals Kat Brown, MA Chinese Studies
The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light many equality gaps in our society. For many, the gap has continued to widen as job losses are at an all time high with furlough schemes extended through until 30 April 2021. Schools in the UK have been through the A-Level and GCSE exam fiasco last year, experiencing rapid u-turns concerning the reopening earlier in January 2021, as well as the free school meal debate. The motion to provide free school meals which would help those most impacted by coronavirus lockdown measures began in June 2020 after Marcus Rashford MBE began lobbying with the government. His campaigning for free school meal provisions throughout school holidays has been one of the foremost issues at the centre of public discussion. The motion was initially rejected in parliament, including by Secretary of State for Education - Gavin Williamson - and
Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock voting against the extension of the school meal plan. However, the provenance of child poverty and lack of access to healthy foods alongside the decision to sideline the nation's most vulnerable children has created tension. According to a report from The Guardian in October 2020, the Treasury insisted that Gavin Williamson had never asked for the extra money to fund the half-term free school meals extension. In January 2021, photos of the food parcels distributed by Chartwells - a private catering company who supplied the subpar food parcels - were circulated on social media. Williamson was quoted saying that he was ‘absolutely disgusted’ and that his department had made it clear ‘this sort of behaviour is just not right and will not be tolerated.’ Chartwells has since apologised, and the education secretary said schools will be able to offer vouchers rather than food parcels from next week. Albeit this, the Chartwells issue highlights cronyism in the Tory government.
Rashford’s campaign has provided 1.3 million children in the UK access to free school meals vouchers and packages. The footballer, philanthropist and activist has spoken candidly about his family’s own struggles with poverty growing up and lack of access to food. This has spotlighted endemic poverty and child malnourishment in the UK. The government has pledged a further £170m in the winter grant scheme, £220m for holiday activities and food programme, and the rolling out of the national food voucher scheme. Rashford’s positive activism and leadership has won him a Sports Personality of the Year Award 2020, becoming a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020. Rashford has also set up his Child Food Poverty Task Force with the help of some of the UK’s largest supermarkets and food brands ‘to guarantee that no child goes hungry’. Currently, there were 4.2 million children living in poverty in 2019, with numbers projected to increase to 5.2 million by 2022. The pandemic will only
catalyse this growth. In a social media statement from November 2020, Rashford wrote: ‘I had a good conversation with the prime minister to better understand the proposed plan, and I very much welcome the steps that have been taken to combat child food poverty in the UK. There is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7m children who miss out on free school meals.’
“...a symbol of hope in the darkness of the pandemic." Rashford has become a symbol of hope in the darkness of the pandemic. He has successfully used his platform to raise awareness of the issues facing the UK’s poorest families and the growing number of children living in poverty.
Sports & Societies
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Our Top SOAS Society Picks!
SOAS Jammu & Kashmir Society To go online has certainly been a challenge for us at the Jammu and Kashmir society this year. Last year was a fun and memorable time at the society, with plenty of enjoyable activities. We would often host discussions relating to history, culture, and politics of the region. Of course, with that came sweets and various teas, including nun chai, the famous salted pink tea of the Kashmir Valley. We were fortunate to be able to use the school facilities to meet and discuss, as well as forge new friendships in the name of solidarity. Trying to adapt such experiences to a virtual space has been quite the challenge, and one we haven’t quite cracked yet. Our
fundamental focus throughout this year has been to be active as a society, but how do you translate the experience of a meeting online? How do you translate the fun of nearly setting off fire alarms while burning milk? We are still not sure. However, we have reinforced one thing we already knew: people are what makes SOAS so special. Despite being online, personalities and thoughtfulness still radiate through the screen, even without tea! So good job SOAS student body, we’re doing great. If you’d like to stay posted on our upcoming activities, or learn more about who we are as a society, please follow us @soas_jk_soc !
SOAS Painting Society The SOAS LatAm Society's Logo
SOAS Latin American Society The Latin American Society at SOAS aims to promote, educate and share Latin American culture, politics, and arts. We are open to everyone, aiming to create a community for all students with an interest in Latin America, as well as providing a supportive space for Latinx students at SOAS. Despite the challenges of going virtual, we have successfully hosted several academic events this year including our well-received BLM series! Going online has allowed us to feature guest speakers from around the world, gaining
access to insights that would normally be inaccessible. Our greatest challenge so far has been to create an engaging social environment online; however ‘Esquina Latina’ - our biweekly language exchange Zoom meeting - has provided a fun and casual way to stay connected. This group is open to all levels of Spanish and Portuguese! We’d love to see you at some of our events, please do follow our socials to see what’s coming up! Stay posted on our instagram page: @soaslatamsociety
We are an ever-growing society made up of beginners and professional artists with a passion for painting. Our zeal for painting was not impacted by the pandemic, as our love for creativity and learning about art continued. Even though we cannot meet in person, we have used this opportunity to hold numerous virtual events, including the first virtual Painting Society freshers’ event where we socialised, got to know each other, and took part in some drawing. More recently, we had an event over Zoom where our members collectively listened to different genres of music and then created an artistic piece based on their feelings/thoughts that were invoked. We enjoyed co-hosting an event with the Nap Society last year, and hope to continue hosting creative events this year. Keep an eye out and follow our Instagram @soaspaintingsoc for more details!
The SOAS Painting Society's Logo
SOAS Law Society SOAS Bangla Society SOAS Film Society The SOAS Law Society is an award-winning student-led society that is among the oldest and most active at SOAS. From its inception over 100 years ago, the Law Society has been working to provide top-tier career opportunities and engaging social events for law students and non-law students alike. As one of the most diverse societies in the UK, we pride ourselves on our unique member base, focus on inclusivity, and commitment to equality. Our committee is composed of 17 elected students, working to provide corporate and non-corporate career events to our members beyond those available in the UK by including a wide range of opportunities in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In 2020, our hard work won us the ‘Best Society for Social Events’, delivered by LawCareers. net. The law society had been proactive in shifting activities online to provide the best of opportunities for our members despite the unusual situation of the 2020-21 academic year, be it for advancing their career goals or just meeting new people through social events. We host these events very often so follow us on our social media handles to stay updated on them! @soaslawsociety
The SOAS Bangla Society is a space dedicated to celebrate and promote Bengali culture, heritage and history. Despite the limitations that come with being online, we’re still hosting events from quiz nights to playing ‘Among Us’ together! As we enter February, Bsoc has partnered with the charity MAA and we aim to host events to fundraise for Maternal Healthcare in Bangladesh. MAA describes themselves as a ‘grassroots charity dedicated to supporting mothers in resource-poor settings.’ As February is an important month for us, we’re also looking forward to Mother Language Day on the 21st February to celebrate the language that is Bangla and the varieties that come with it. In total, there are about 39 languages spoken across Bangladesh. Bengali is the official language spoken by the majority and it is also considered the sweetest language in the world! Follow our Instagram @ soasbanglasoc for updates on events and discussions. You can also dm us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to join our WhatsApp group chat :)
At the SOAS Film Society, we are a group who are interested in film and have created a safe space to explore this interest together. As a society we organise film screenings, cinema trips (which we look forward to starting again once it’s safe!) and host a blog. It has been interesting holding events in this climate as it does test our creativity, especially on where to find films that are the most accessible and ways to bring people together. The pandemic has definitely kept us on our toes but we always persevere and find a way to host an event! We’ve mostly been collaborating with other societies at SOAS which has been great since it means that people across the university get a chance to virtually meet up and connect with each other. If you have any film ideas that you want to screen and discuss or fancy writing something for the blog - or you simply like film and you want to join - don’t hesitate to do so and get in touch! To stay updated on upcoming events or learn more about us as a society, please follow us on instagram (@soas_ film_society), or drop us a line (email@example.com)!
Sports & Societies
8 FEBRUARY 2021
Join your student-run newspaper! Interested in journalism, writing, design, or photography? Want to gain valuable experience to pursue a career in the media or publishing? Want to express your opinions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about your student-run newspaper! The SOAS Spirit is your independent student-run newspaper; an on campus presence since 1936. We publish monthly throughout the term. We have opportunities to join our team as a writer, photographer, and much more