15 MARCH 2021
YOUR INDEPENDENT STUDENT NEWSPAPER
KARIM KHAN ICC
LIVE COMEDY DURING
UCL BUYING SOAS
Students Respond to Director Adam Habib Saying Racial Slur
The recent controversy has caused students to call for Habib’s dismissal as SOAS Director. (Credit: The World University Rankings)
Maliha Shoaib, BA English and World Philosophies; Louisa Johnson, MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries; Frances Howe, LLB Content warning: anti-Black racism and racial slurs SOAS Director Adam Habib said the N-word slur in the All-Students Meeting on 11 March. Chaired by the Students’ Union (SU), the meeting was organised to allow students the opportunity to give feedback to Habib regarding SOAS’ strategic plan. During the meeting, the following question was read aloud by the SU: ‘How can SOAS issue statements about
Black Lives Matter while underfunding the Africa department, removing the BA in African Studies and allowing lecturers to say the N-word in class?’ Habib clarified that he was to answer the question, and then replied: ‘So the issue around that is, I personally, on the n*****, somebody making that allegation, then just bring it to me. I don’t know the case, this is the first I’ve heard of it.’ The director was interrupted by a member of the SU: ‘Adam, that’s actually not acceptable to be saying that in the
meeting.’ A student spoke up: ‘I’m sorry but you cannot say the N-word. That in itself is traumatic.’ Habib responded: ‘Well somebody said the N-word and I was saying that if there is a, somebody said that word, and it is a problem, then bring it to me. This is the first I’ve heard of it. If there is somebody who I’m… who I think you’re Continued on page 3
15 MARCH 2021
Letter from the Editor
SOASWTFees strikers withold tuition fees
What’s Happening with the 2021 Graduation Ceremony?
The SOAS Spirit’s Brexit Roundup
The Coup in Myanmar Explained
Opinion American medicine fails the Black community
‘Free Speech Champion’ not in p20 the interest of student body Year of Facebook only just begun p22
Features OCD: Not a quirk, a nightmare
My Week in Limericks
Let’s Graduate like it’s 1899
Miao: A Short Story
Dear Spirit readers, The final issue of this academic year is here! This is also my last issue leading this year’s team. The Spirit has honestly been the highlight of my time at SOAS. I’ve learned so much from everyone - this is an experience I’ll never forget. It’s been an absolute honour to work with everyone this year. I’m so grateful to all the wonderful people who put in the time and effort to make this issue my absolute favourite edition in all three years of my involvement with the Spirit. I’m so excited to see how the legacy of the Spirit continues to develop each year, and I know I’m leaving it in good hands. 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. We have our usual episode highlighting all the best bits from Issue 16 as well as a bonus ‘Behind the Scenes’ episode where the Spirit team runs through the entire making of the paper from writing to layout to social media. This issue is the longest in the Spirit’s history, and it’s not one to miss. Our front cover story takes a deep dive into the recent controversy surrounding Director Adam Habib’s use of a racial slur in the All Students Meeting.
I May Destroy You Golden Globes Snub
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 The Joy, Heartbreak, and Oversights of It’s a Sin
SOAS news also includes an article squashing the rumours that UCL is buying SOAS, an update on graduation 2021, an explanation of the students who are witholding their payment from SOAS in a fees strike, and much more. This has been a tumultuous year for SOAS to say the least, so I hope you find our round-up of the most recent events useful. Over in National News, Charlotte Paule continues her series of Brexit articles with a round up for this academic year. We have updates on the ongoing investigation into Mohamud Hassan’s death, and Shamima Begum’s contested citizenship. Our very own Fakhriya outlines the recent media controversy surrounding Emma Barnett’s interview with the Muslim Council of Britain’s first female secretary general, Zara Mohammed. In International News we have an article explaining the coup in Myanmar and an article detailing Nigeria’s ban on Bitcoin. We have two topics that are discussed in both International News and Opinion: Karim Khan’s election as the ICC’s new chief prosecutor, and the government’s proposal to assign ‘Free Speech Champions’ in universities. I’m particularly intrigued by is an insightful Opinion piece on the power of Facebook, particularly as a publishing company, following Facebook’s ban of news posts in Australia. In Features you can find a number of creative and unique submissions, along with an account of life in lockdown and a personal piece about the harmful misinformation surrounding OCD. In Culture, you can read reviews of It’s a Sin, Him and Her, and WandaVision. You can also read an analysis of the Golden Globes snub and two comedians’ takes on live comedy during lockdown. Over in Sports and Societies we have an article traking the stock in Manchester United alongside vaccination rates. You can also read about Our Streets Now, a group dedicated to ending public sexual harrassment. Thank you all so much for reading and getting involved this year! If you’d like to join next year’s editorial team, make sure you follow us on social media @soasspirit as applications will open up in July. Happy reading!
Louisa Johnson • 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 • Maxine Betteridge-Moes • Layout Editor • Annie Loduca • Layout Editor • Lyla Amini • Copy Editor • Sajid Abbas • Copy Editor • Adela Begum • Copy Editor •
Sports & Societies Putting Stock in Vaccines
Our Streets Now @ SOAS
Anneka Shah • Online Editor • Erum Nazeer Dahar • Online Editor • Deniz Demirag • Social Media Co-ordinator • Lara Gibbs • Social Media Co-ordinator • Abdul Basit Mohammad• Co-Editor-in-Chief
15 MARCH 2021 https://soasspirit.co.uk/category/news/ News Editors: Frances Howe, Fakhriya M. Suleiman, Josh Mock
Continued from page 1
Timeline of key events (Credit: Frances Howe)
suggesting said this in a way that made… and used the word against somebody else then obviously it violates our policy and it needs to be taken up as an issue, and I’m happy to address this…’ The SU reiterated that they believed this language was unacceptable, to which Habib interrupted, ‘Well you do, I don’t actually. I come from a part of the world where we actually do, say, use the word.’ The same student who explained the use of the slur was traumatic elaborated: ‘I’m sorry, but you’re not a Black man, you cannot use that word. That is not your lived experience. You do not face trauma and the oppression of Black bodies what we go through, 24/7, for the last 500 years. You do not embody our history so therefore you cannot use the word. Many writers, even our own alumni, Sir Walter Rodney, have written as to why people, non-Black POCs and white bodies, should not use the N-word... Habib answered: ‘I’m sorry I offended you. I come from a part of the world where, when somebody uses it [the way] I’m using it, the context matters. And what I was trying to simply say is, if you find it offensive, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I come from South Africa where I’ve said this and it’s not created a problem…’ BSc Economics student, Lornelle Gayle-Harris, attended the All-Students Meeting, and described the incident to The SOAS Spirit on 11 March: ‘It was horrific. As someone who has had that word used against me in racial attacks…I didn’t even know if I wanted to break down a door or start crying.’ Gayle-Harris went on: ‘This is a man who’s a director of a university. This is a man who’s a person of colour himself, who possibly experiences racism in this country. And his immediate response was to get defensive and start raising his voice, and to double down and try to justify what he said. That was not someone who felt remorse.’ Since the incident, Habib’s responses have varied. On 12 March at 08:49, Habib posted a 17-part Twitter thread addressing the incident. In the second tweet of this thread Habib restated the N-word slur in full. This tweet has since been deleted. In the eighth tweet Habib said: ‘So why don’t I think it was problematic to use the word when I did. Well, because context matters and I was arguing for taking punitive action. You cannot impute maligned intention without understanding context. Do I believe that only blacks can verbalize the word. No, I don’t.’ One Twitter user protested, ‘it’s him being an Indian man and calling us “blacks” and saying he doesn’t believe only “blacks” should use the n word.’ The SU emailed a statement of solidarity with the Black community condemning Habib’s use of the slur at around
21:48 on 11 March. This statement was circulated around Instagram by the SOAS Dead Philosophers Society, who also issued a statement of solidarity. Many other SOAS societies issued statements in solidarity including, but not limited to, the Law Society, Islamic Society, Bangla Society and the MENA Society. The MENA Society also posted an analysis of Habib’s final statement titled: ‘Why we don’t accept Adam Habib’s so called “apology.”’ The SU also shared that students seeking welfare support could reach out to Lucia, Black Students Support Coordinator, or the Sabbatical officers. Lucia made a statement which was shared in the SU email: ‘This incident, and many others like this one reaffirm the fractured culture that is present at SOAS, the institutional problems of anti-Blackness that continue to poke their head in this community. There is a lack of acknowledgement of how this affects Black students in terms of their experience, their engagement with their studies, and their progression. This shows that there is still a lot of work to be done within this institution to address institutional structures of racism which continue to cause harm and dismiss the reality of Blackness at SOAS and how this is represented. Be it curriculum, be it culture at SOAS, we cannot ignore what is at hand; the need to refocus the work on decolonising to address and dismantle these structures of oppression.’ In an interview with the SOAS Spirit at 13:00 on 12 March, we asked whether Habib was sorry he offended people, or sorry he said the N-word slur. Habib replied: ‘I am sorry that people feel offended. I really am sorry about that. I think that there’s a distinction between using the word and mentioning the word in the way I did. There is a difference and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. I recognise that others do not make that distinction and believe it doesn’t matter whether you mentioned it or use the term; somebody who’s not Black should not even mention it and should actually use ‘the N-word’ instead of verbalising the word. I recognise that and they feel offended. They feel aggrieved, even at the mention of the word rather than the usage of the term. The point I’m making is their hurt is their real hurt. And so I must accept that. And I apologise because that’s what I mean. It’s the right thing to do because they hurt. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a distinction, and I can explain the distinction. They still feel hurt. And I apologise for the hurt because it was never intended.’ Similarly, in an email titled ‘Statement from Adam Habib on all-student meeting’ at around 17:33 on 12 March, Habib’s response included his distinction between ‘use’ and ‘mention’ of the slur. This is omitted from a statement Habib later posted to his Twitter at 10:02 on 13 March.
During the interview with the Spirit, Habib was asked about his use of the term ‘blacks’ in the plural. Habib responded that this terminology comes from the Black Consciousness tradition in South Africa. He claimed he used the term ‘blacks’ to ‘straddle the divide’ with his South African followers who were engaging with his tweets. The Spirit highlighted the common criticism that Blackness and the terminology associated with it has evolved since Apartheid. Habib commented that there was ‘a legitimacy to the critique’ and that ‘how you approach [the term] has to be carefully crafted.’ The Spirit also highlighted the Twitter responses from South Africans claiming the way Habib had used the term was no longer commonly used. Habib admitted this was a generational issue but that he was ‘aware’ that ‘the experiences in the post-Apartheid era have evolved’ and that he ‘think[s] persons of Indian ancestry have had it far better in the post-Apartheid era in ways and that has to be taken into account.’ In the ‘SOAS Dignity and Respect’ policy reviewed and published in December 2020, it is stated that ‘derogatory name calling, insults and racist remarks’ can be considered ‘harassment.’ This policy applies to ‘all students, staff and lay governors of the School’ and it does not delineate any specific contexts in which a racial slur may be acceptable. In the interview with the Spirit, Habib stated that he ‘didn’t think at the time’ that he was breaking the policy.’ In SOAS’ ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (2016-2020)’ it is stated that there is ‘mandatory equality and diversity training for all new staff.’ Habib said that he had not yet undertaken such training and was scheduled for sessions ‘tomorrow’ [March 13]. On 14 March we received confirmation that this training went ahead. We also received confirmation that the rest of Habib’s mandatory training is scheduled for Term 3, within the first six months of his employment, as is the standard expectation. Gayle-Harris shared her thoughts on the incident overall: ‘It’s so demoralising...If this is happening here, what’s happening at the other universities? What’s happening elsewhere?’ Gayle-Harris concluded by saying she feels ‘let down’ by the institution. On 12 March at 10:16 the SU shared a petition from SOAS’ Black Student body calling for Habib to be fired. Another petition calling for his resignation, not restricted to members of the SOAS community, has circulated on Change. org and has over 4,000 signatures as of 15 March. The SOAS Spirit conducted a poll asking students whether Habib should be removed from his position as Director of SOAS following the incident. Over 200 students responded and 89% voted ‘yes.’
Student Welfare Resources Lucia (Black Students Support Coordinator) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lucia is also dedicating her drop-in hours this week to students who would like to come and discuss this. Black Minds Matter for free mental health services: www.blackmindsmatteruk.com/faq Samaritans: 116 123 or email jo@samaritans. org
15 MARCH 2021
Hundred of Thousands of Pounds in Tuition Fees Being Withheld by Student Strikers
The SOAS campus remains largely empty after Christmas (Credit: Frances Howe)
Lara Gibbs, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical) On 14 February, 104 students began withholding their tuition fees from SOAS. The strikers are part of the SOASWTFees campaign. According to SOASWTFees’ Strike Commitment Forms, filled out by strikers, students are collectively withholding hundreds of thousands of pounds. For Mais, an MA student, it started from a petition with fellow students as they were unhappy with a lot of the conditions, such as self-certification and online services. In speaking with class reps from other courses and the SU, they discovered theirs was not the only petition going around. They then joined a fee strike WhatsApp group. From there, they decided to create a petition and letter that accurately represented their demands and sent it to SOAS Management asking for a meeting, stating they would be withholding fees. This initial letter garnered support from 997 students. Since the letter, they have had two meetings with management. Although Adam Habib, SOAS Director, was not present at the first meeting. They met for their second meeting on 5 March. According to SOASWTFees, they discussed fee compensation, SOAS working conditions and the securitisation of the campus. SOASWTFees proposed a cross-university committee, demanding government bailout of UK universities. However, the strikers say Habib offered to explore what was deemed as more appropriate strategies with strikers, saying the current proposed strategy is counterproductive. In addition, Habib warned strikers of the potential consequences of withholding fees including the possibility of not being able to graduate from their courses. SOASWTFees are doing well-being check-ins for students taking part. They are holding drop in sessions for additional support. Mais explained that they will remain on strike until they feel their demands have been adequately met. The
striking students risk being blocked from the SOAS moodle, thus losing access to lectures and submission points for assignments. Mais feels that the consensus amongst strikers has changed as time has gone on. They explained that initially, some strikers wanted a direct refund or partial rebate as they believed the school had not delivered on their promises as a business. Others argued education should not be run as a business and instead made demands for free education. It appears SOASWTFees see their campaign as part of a wider issue. Mais says they have come to recognise that the compensation they are demanding would come from a government bailout and not SOAS themselves. SOASWTFees are asking SOAS to lead a nationwide cross-university coalition in asking the government for a bailout and condemning the marketisation of the HE sector. ‘If SOAS isn’t the one to start this nationwide campaign, from a university standpoint, then who is?’ says Mais. According to Mais, it has been difficult to organise direct action due to the pandemic. SOASWTFees’ social media campaign has enabled them to connect with other campaigns, such as 9K4WHAT and Forgotten Students. Mais expressed ‘the social media campaign is there to put pressure on management when the time comes for that.’ Another student, Jessica, is in charge of the social media accounts. She expressed that it has become an important part of communicating updates on the campaign and allows for strikers to engage and be reassured. She also says that some students are beginning to feel under pressure as a result of the fee strike. Mais encourages students to stand in solidarity with strikers. They ask students to email management and their local MP to raise awareness and look out for updates on the campaign. In terms of progress, Mais explained that students are
now able to use self-certification on their mitigating circumstances application four times instead of two. In talking to the Spirit however, Adam Habib explained that this was not in response to the strikers. Habib also expressed disappointment towards the fee strike, saying it ‘threatens the institution in ways that are not in the interests of students.’ Habib explained that he is a supporter of free education and that students do deserve support. However, he believes it is unfair to think universities can refund fees. Staff salaries constitute 62% of SOAS’ expenditure of the budget this year. He argues support for student fees is a legitimate demand, but that demand cannot be made at individual universities, but at government level. Habib also argues it is not in the long term interest of students or anybody else that this fee strike continues. Thus, he explains he is opposed to the strike. Furthermore, Habib says he found the way strikers engaged him as ‘discourteous’ and says going forward he will demand a higher level of courtesy. In addition, he argues that the fee strike ‘plays into the hands of people with very conservative agendas.’ He also fears it may create a financial challenge for SOAS and hopes that the strikers will ‘think through what they do,’ saying that progressive outcomes require thought. In relation to Prevent Policy, which strikers have criticised, Habib says that these are government policy questions and not for the university to deal with. He says ‘it is illegitimate to go on a fee strike on something that we are not the architects of ’ and went on to say it is inappropriate for students to ask the university to take a position on such policies. However, Habib expressed that he is very critical of the Prevent Policy. Habib says ‘This is not a political party, it is a university.’ Habib voiced that he will be honest and transparent and
15 MARCH 2021
SOAS makes a start on SGBV, but there’s more work to be done Louisa Johnson, MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries
Content warning: sexual and gender-based violence In November 2020, SOAS released a new ‘Sexual and Gender-Based Violence’ (SGBV) policy, accompanied by two staff and survivor handbooks. This policy works alongside the ‘Preventing and Responding to SGBV’ guidance and other pre-existing institutional policies. Dr. Monika Nangia wrote the policy with guidance from Empowered Campus — an external organisation which advises universities on sexual violence. Dr Nangia had just begun her role as Director of Student and Academic Services in 2018 when she heard about the petition by the student-led campaign, Account For This, regarding SOAS’ insufficient SGBV policy. Because of the restructuring, there was no specific department designated to this issue. As a result, Dr Nangia and Professor Andrea Cornwall decided to spearhead this mission. In December 2019, Dr Nangia convened a meeting with members from the institution, Account For This and the Students’ Union to discuss SGBV with Empowered Campus. Rachel Vogler, a Gender Studies MA student working for Account For This, is cautious of Empowered Campus’ involvement and would prefer universities to commission local rape crisis centres to avoid creating ‘further distance between the student body and the faculty.’ Corinna Del Debbio, a Politics and International Relations student, was previously interviewed by the Spirit regarding her open letter calling for an improved SGBV policy. Del Debbio praises the new policy’s focus on ‘impact over intent’ which helps counter the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ narrative protecting perpetrators. However, she also says the
policy’s ‘survivor-centred’ and ‘trauma-informed’ values are not consistently upheld. She highlights Section 6 of the 'Staff Handbook’ which states that ‘the emotional wellbeing of the complainant/survivor’ is one of the ‘key considerations for what constitutes a serious case.’ As Vogler elaborates: ‘Measuring how much distress the victim is in plays into the myth of the perfect survivor, and this myth detracts our attention from perpetrators and holistic institutional accountability.’ Del Debbio and Vogler request more transparency in the reporting process. This includes addressing the exact timeline, the evidence required, meeting attendees, the names of the staff members facilitating this process at every level and their relevant training. For Vogler, this is the issue with using the university’s general complaints procedure to investigate SGBV cases: ‘SGBV needs to be given the respect and room for nuance that it deserves.’ To help with this, Dr Nangia launched ‘Report and Support’ in 2019. This service accepts anonymous reports and links all relevant policies and support systems. Her team is currently working on updating the portal to include named reports so more action can be taken on SGBV cases. The policies also reference the peer-led, consent education campaign, Enough is Enough. According to Charli Keely, Enough is Enough Administrator and Social Anthropology student, campaign funding has come to an end, with no official confirmation yet on its renewal. Keely describes other setbacks: the Students’ Union launched a campaign Moodle page without consulting members; there was a delay hiring this year’s cohort; and the university’s administrative system was inadequate for workshop bookings. They state that many facilitators suffer ‘burnout’ due to the workload and ‘emotional labour’. Enough is Enough is currently putting
through a UGM motion on how the campaign should run going forward. Del Debbio, who has facilitated Enough is Enough workshops, says the policy’s reliance on the legal differentiation between ‘rape’ and ‘assault by penetration’ opposes the teachings of the campaign, which instead scrutinises hierarchal, gendered definitions. Del Debbio wishes more workshop content was reflected in the policy, given that its importance is emphasised throughout. Dr Nangia says she is very receptive to feedback: ‘I expect more [critique] going forward, which is why I built into the policy an annual review. The Equality and Diversity Committee must regularly receive those updates and keep it fresh.’ Already Dr Nangia is working on releasing an amended version of the policy which is not solely focused on women, and more accurately reflects SOAS’ diverse community. The Students’ Union issued this statement: ‘Enough is Enough is a valued campaign which the SU has supported and worked on for the past 5 years, and will continue to support into the future. Through the work of the SU, the campaigning of Enough is Enough and Account for This, SOAS now has in place an SGBV Policy and has undertaken an SGBV review, identifying and putting in place interventions across the School such as Report & Support, and continually recognising the essential nature of peer-led consent training. There have been significant challenges caused by Covid resulting in the SU as an organisation being severely overstretched in all areas, and we’re sad that this led to delays and challenges for delivering the Enough is Enough programme. Despite this, a lot of progress has been made and we were excited to see how well consent workshops adapted to being online, and remain determined to secure funding for this programme to continue.’
Enough is Enough Returns But Not Without Difficulty Corinna Del Debbio, BA Politics and International Relations
Content warning: sexual and gender-based violence Enough is Enough successfully ran 78 workshops again this year, with the vast majority of SOAS freshers participating. The aim of the campaign is to tackle the vast disparities in how sexual education is taught, both globally and within the UK, in order to ensure there is a commonality of knowledge amongst the SOAS community at the offset of everyone’s time here. Enough is Enough has been an important part of SOAS’ efforts to produce a consent culture in campus for 5 years now. Every year, the campaign runs workshops - which became mandatory in 2017 - for the freshers which cover various topics surrounding consent. The workshops have usually run in person during the first week of Freshers, in September. However, due to Covid-19 the campaign had to adapt to a digital format. From the offset, there were clashes between the campaign and the Students’ Union (SU) as to what format the workshops should take this year, and how to best adapt to online learning. The SU had pushed to develop a Moodle page on the topics covered by the consent workshops, with a tick-box test at the end for everyone to fill out. After pressure from previous facilitators mounted, the SU hired
a coordinator in December. Previously, this post has usually been advertised in May/June of the previous academic year, and assigned during the Summer. The SU’s approach sparked outrage from previous members of the campaign, many of whom had volunteered to help organise how to run the workshops this year in spite of Covid-19. The campaign strongly believes that the interactive element of the workshops is pivotal to their functioning. Students involved in the campaign believe that, as consent is already a topic too often left undiscussed, back-benching the workshops to an online Moodle page would harm the creation of a consent culture at SOAS. Ultimately, the campaign managed to secure the running of workshops online, over Zoom, in the first half of the second term. There were still complications with the SU, primarily due to the budget granted from the School not being enough to ensure a successful facilitation of all of the workshops, the facilitator pay, and the necessary training days involved. The campaign ran with only 16 facilitators this year, which is about half of what previous years have seen. The SU advertised the coordinator posts for the campaign as 8 hours a week, which is about half of the time the campaign coordinators truly needed to ensure a smooth running of the campaign. This resulted in the two coordinators for this year racking up 100 hours each of unpaid labour. One of the SU suggestions to work around the tight budget was paying the facilitators the outdated London Living
Wage, rather than the current one of £10.85 an hour. Primarily, the campaign received encouraging and constructive feedback on the workshops, despite their running online. There were however a few comments, mostly on SOASkmeout, which called out the campaign for the compulsory nature of their workshops, pointing out the potential irony in rendering a workshop about consent mandatory for people to partake. The campaign took this feedback on board, acknowledging that there should be a better ‘opt-out’ system in place for those who do not feel comfortable attending, especially as this is an important element in ensuring the campaign is truly survivor-centred. The workshops have now come to an end for this academic year, and the campaign is now focusing its efforts on ensuring that its funding can be renewed by the School for another 5 years. Enough is Enough has been included in all of the school’s updated SGBV policy work, and remains a large marketing point for the school, however despite all this the renewed funding has not yet been guaranteed. Currently, Enough is Enough is looking for people to get involved in lobbying the School to ensure that the consent workshops - and the campaign at large - remain in existence. The SOAS Spirit reached out to the SU who provided the following statement: ‘The SU have supported and worked with Enough is Enough for the 5 years of
the project, and will continue to do so as we work to extend the project funding and expand what we can do with the project. At all stages we've been working to do as much as we can, and find ways to adapt to our current situation. ‘Sadly, as with all organisations right now, we've been hit hard by the pandemic having to adjust everything we do on limited funding, reduced staffing and increased student needs. It's been great working with the campaign to find creative ways around the problems, and we want to be clear about how much we value this, and do not view this as a 'clash'. We're at the centre of the fight for additional resources to do more to support survivors of SGBV and create a consent culture at SOAS, both our officers and staff are involved in a number of projects, working groups and committees across SOAS to help achieve this. ‘SOAS SU is a committed London Living Wage employer and have a policy on this, at no point would we employ anyone below this level. We have contracts of employment setting out expectations and responsibilities, and have always encouraged all employees to raise concerns about working conditions with managers and via our procedures. This has been no different for this campaign. We're in full agreement that the funding we have for this project is restrictive which is why we've been working hard to secure additional funding that will enable the SU and campaign to grow.’
15 MARCH 2021
What’s Happening with the 2021 Graduation Ceremony? Nour Abu-Ismail, Korean Studies and Development Studies Despite the changing nature of lockdown in Britain, many universities have been quick to announce that 2021 graduation ceremonies will not be in person. On 27 January, Boris Johnson announced a four-step plan to ease lockdown measures in England. The prime minister described the plan as a 'one-way road to freedom' with all limits on social contact removed by 21 June. University College London (UCL) was the first to declare a virtual ceremony in an email sent out to students confirming that the university 'would not hold any in-person ceremonies until 2022.' Following UCL, King's College London announced plans of postponing in-person graduation until 2022. As of 9 March, SOAS has yet to decide on whether virtual or in-person graduation will be taking place this summer. In a General SOAS Announcement on 9 March the school affirmed that ‘We hope that after 21 June - according to the Government roadmap guidelines - there may be a greater possibility to offer some in-person celebrations, alongside remote access for students who were not in London. We are currently working through the options for what we may be able to deliver so that we are ready to communicate with you once the Government guidelines are clarified.’ The Spirit contacted Hasan Zakria, co-president of Activities & Events, who said students would have access to more
information after a Graduation Steering Group Meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to assess student body suggestions for the 2021 graduation ceremony. These suggestions range from gift hampers of university merchandise to a graduate yearbook. Prior to the 9 March email the only communication with students had been an email from the Students’ Union on 5 February. In an interview with the Spirit, Sophie Ward, a third-year Development Studies student, was disappointed with the lack of communication after receiving the SU's email; 'graduation is supposed to be a commemorative thing. Considering that the government has laid out the lockdown roadmap, there should be communication on whether there is any intention of it happening. But there's just been nothing.' Like Ward, many students feel similar frustrations regarding the lack of information surrounding the graduation ceremony. The SOAS Spirit posted a poll on Instagram asking readers how they felt about attending online graduation. Over 200 students responded. 85% of people felt that there had been poor communication from SOAS. The polls revealed that 90% of respondents were unhappy to participate in online graduation and 95% voted to delay the graduation ceremony if it entailed the possibility of attending it in-person. Ashley Williams, BA English finalist, said she would prefer to attend postponed graduation to a virtual one as she ‘can't think of one person who would be genuinely happy to go to
an online graduation.' When asked if she knew anyone who graduated from SOAS in 2020, Ashley commented that she knew a few people, but almost none of her friends attended the virtual celebration. The Spirit contacted SOAS, who said they are 'fully committed to ensuring students can have the best possible celebration given the circumstances.' The university hopes that 'there may be a greater possibility to look at some form of an in-person graduation alongside online access.' SOAS plans to keep students informed about plans in the coming weeks as they work through possible options.
“The university hopes that ‘there may be a greater possibility to look at some form of an in-person graduation alongside online access.’” University students are among those hit the hardest by Covid-19. Physical access to campuses has been nearly impossible since the United Kingdom first went into lockdown in March of last year. The Covid-19 pandemic forced thousands of students, paying full fees, to attend courses entirely online. Many of those students also face mounting financial pressures of owing rent to residence halls that they have not been able to access.
Rumours untrue: UCL has never made an offer to buy SOAS Frances Howe, LLB A UCL spokesperson has confirmed that as of 3 March 2021 there has never been an offer from UCL to acquire SOAS. In response to the rumours that UCL will merge with SOAS, the spokesperson said, ‘there is no substance to any of these rumours.’ Accordingly, a statement from SOAS as of 3 March 2021 confirmed that ‘there is no proposal for SOAS and UCL to merge, nor is this being
“There is no proposal for SOAS and UCL to merge, nor is this being considered in any future plans.” considered in any future plans.’
The SOAS campus remains independent for now (Credit: UCL/Manchesterhistory.net)
In an interview with the SOAS Spirit published on 30 January 2019, former director of SOAS, Valerie Amos, affirmed that she was aware of the rumours which she believed had been circulating around campus since starting her role as director of the university in 2015. Amos denied having received any formal offer from UCL in the acquisition of SOAS: ‘UCL may like to talk to SOAS, but I am certainly not aware of UCL buying SOAS. I haven’t been offered any money and I don’t think the Board of Trustees have been offered anything.’ UCL and the Institute of Education (IOE) merged in December of 2014 in which the IOE became a Faculty School of UCL known as the UCL Institute of Education. Earlier, in 1999, UCL merged with the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. Rumour circulation is linked to SOAS’ financial instability. In an interview with the SOAS Spirit in November 2020, UNISON branch secretary at SOAS, Sandy Nicoll, alleged that the school had to find £17 million before the start of the 2020/21 academic year in order to stay financially viable. In February when asked about a UCL takeover, Adam Habib responded to SOAS’ financial situation more broadly: ‘... over the past nine 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.’ In April 2020 SOAS sold its leasehold of the Russell Square Terrace buildings,
including the Faber Building, back to the University of London. The rumour that UCL will make an offer to merge with SOAS is a constant on the Facebook page SOASk Me Out. One anonymous commenter wrote in 2020, ‘I kinda hope SOAS is bought by UCL at this point. That is not to say I don’t want SOAS to retain its amazing unique identity and that I am ungrateful for the empowered environment that we have. It's just that the threat of SOAS closing and the fact that certain degrees are being merged to cut costs is so scary to me… it's like SOAS is crumbling…’ An earlier post from 2018 says, ‘Can UCL just buy SOAS already anything is better than this.’ Reaching out via social media platforms, the SOAS Spirit surveyed its readers to assess students’ opinions on the rumour. We asked whether students had heard about the rumour that UCL wants to acquire SOAS and 185 students responded. Out of these students 77% said they had heard the rumour. In response to the question of whether these students believed these rumours to be true, 183 students responded and only a slim majority of our readers (53%) believed the rumours to be false. Along with denying the validity of the rumour, SOAS’ response ended by affirming that ‘SOAS has taken strong and successful action to tackle the financial challenges created by Covid, as we set out in the summer, and we will be taking further positive steps in the future under our new Director, Professor Adam Habib.’
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School of Oriental and African STEM? SOAS introduces AI and humanities module Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication On 17 February, the SOAS press team announced the launch of a new postgraduate module on artificial intelligence (AI). SOAS’ website boasts the multidisciplinary ‘Artificial Intelligence and Human Security’ course will offer students an insight into ‘national and international threats and benefits of AI research, the impact of AI on state-society relations, warfare, citizenship and international relations’ and much more.
“Professor Adib-Moghaddam stresses the need for widespread access to AI literacy to ensure its development does not become a ‘danger to humanity.’” According to Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, the module convenor, this course will ‘engage the future security
of humanity from a philosophical perspective and on the basis of current strides in AI technology.’ In his article for The Conversation, Professor Adib-Moghaddam stresses the need for widespread access to AI literacy to ensure its development does not become a ‘danger to humanity.’ He cited that if not adequately controlled or talked about, instead of a ‘“human ruling ‘master race”, as has been seen with colonialism, eugenics theory and the like, the future may be faced with a ‘ruling machine race.’ He mentioned that indications from recent research papers forecasting AI replacing half of the world’s workforce could spell a ‘fourth industrial revolution.’ He concluded his article by stating that if AI research remains centred around ‘the notion of perfection and maximum productivity, it will be a destructive force that will lead to more wars, famines and social and economic distress especially for the poor.’ The introduction of this module indicates that SOAS may be departing from being a solely humanities institution. When asked by the SOAS Spirit, Professor Adam Habib, the university’s director, reassured us that the penultimate S in SOAS will not be replaced by the word STEM anytime soon. ‘The course itself is not about AI as such, there will be no teaching on software nor programming. The focus of the course is in regards to the ethics and social consequences of
AI.’ Professor Habib went further to explain that ‘SOAS will remain true to its mandate’ of being a humanities institution and that rebranding ‘is not on the cards.’ However, he was hopeful that SOAS will partner with STEM institutions in the future to ‘address the global issues of our time.’ He said, for example, ‘it would be great if SOAS could come together with an institution like UCL. A course that also examines the human dimension behind climate change from an African, Middle Eastern or Asian perspective would be beneficial as such an issue cannot be fully understood from a scientific lens alone.’ Professor Habib also expressed regret over world governments disregarding the importance of humanities for society. ‘It is misguided for politicians to assume just anyone can succinctly approach social scientific questions raised within our society - specialists are needed!’ When asked whether a module exploring the human aspect of AI would be offered to SOAS’ undergraduate students, Professor Habib explained that this was ‘under consideration,’ but there would be a need to ‘tailor the complexity of the course to suit our undergraduate students.’ On the SOAS website, the course is said to be ‘one of the first such classes [to be offered] in the United Kingdom and beyond.’
Dinwidy Strikes Again Anneka Shah, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical) Residents of Dinwiddy House and Paul Robeson House are currently preparing to strike for the second time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. They will withhold their third and final installment of rent. Amounting to around £2000, this would have otherwise been paid to accommodation provider, Sanctuary Students, on 2 April. Students are keen to strike because they have not been able to stay in their university accommodation since Christmas and feel there has been a lack of on-campus learning opportunities. First year Bsc Management student, Ali Imran, has already paid for a year’s contract at Dinwiddy House, but estimates he has only spent 40 days at the halls since the start of the academic year. He was surprised that the university would not be supporting student renters: ‘I always thought [that as] a student, the university would cooperate fully with you.’ He felt that realistically he may not be able to get his rent returned, but hopes that residents could be compensated or offered incentives in other ways such as vouchers. Oscar Ward, the SOAS Students’ Union (SU) Accommodation Officer, was also shocked by the lack of support from the university and said that currently the question on most renters’ minds is ‘SOAS, where are you?’ He further explained that while the
strikers themselves will lead the campaign, the SU will be offering them support and solidarity. In contrast to Imran, Ward felt that vouchers as compensation would be an ‘insult’ to the students. The university were contacted for comment and said: ‘While SOAS does not provide or own any accommodation we fully sympathise with the situation students are currently facing. We have been engaging with our providers where possible to raise students’ concerns and have offered support through student advice and wellbeing. We have also been urging students to read the accommodation providers Covid-19 policy before signing their accommodation contract to understand what measures are in place relating to living arrangements and release policies…' Due to the long administrative processes involved, it is difficult to know how many students will be striking. Imran feels that only those who have not been able to live in the halls will take part, but Ward stated ‘students [at the halls] also have rights’ as they have received subpar accommodation and treatment this year. An anonymous international student, who has continuously stayed at Dinwiddy House since 4 October, said they will not be striking: ‘I can’t help but to feel that Sanctuary [Students] has held its side of the deal. They have delivered me what they promised: a place to stay.’ The resident did, however, sympathise with home students who have not been able to return to
Dinwiddy House, one of the halls where residents will withhold their rent. (credit: Sanctuary Students/Frances Howe)
halls, saying those who are ‘unable to return to London… are still being charged rent. This is unacceptable.’ Ward claimed that Sanctuary Students are not offering an option for students to leave their contracts. Imran feels that the company ‘should have given benefit[s] to the students’ and allowed them not to pay, given the Government advice is to avoid returning to halls. Sanctuary Students have been contacted for comment but have not replied as of the day of publication. The SU has recently declared a housing emergency at SOAS in which they call upon the university to take a ‘loud public stance in support of the rent striking students’ and ‘ensure national governmental policy change regarding release from contract and payment obligations in Covid-19 circumstances.’ Ward
hopes this would offer support to students in private housing, who he understands are in a situation where it is more complicated to withhold rent. He also wants this to bring about long-term changes for students, so they have better chances to find affordable, high-quality housing in the future. Last year, students at Dinwiddy House took part in rent strikes when they were forced to return home during the UK’s first lockdown. This resulted in a legal battle, which is ongoing as of the day of publication. Ward highlighted that this year’s strikers will have more knowledge, are better prepared and should not see the need for legal action. Imran sends a message that despite the uncertain outcome of last year’s campaign ‘students should not lose hope’ when striking this coming April.
15 MARCH 2021
The SOAS Spirit’s Brexit Round-Up Charlotte Paule, MSc Politics of Asia
We are back with our final Brexit update of this academic year, just 2 months after a trade deal was finally reached between the EU and UK. The transition period, during which the UK essentially enjoyed the same conditions as it did when it was part of the EU, formally ended on 31 December 2020. Although we are now in the post-transition period, much is still left up in the air amid the rush of getting the deal signed late last year. Problems within this hurried deal are now beginning to emerge. In order to allow for the European Parliament and each EU member state to formally debate and ratify the deal, a temporary ‘provisional application’ was approved on 1 January. This was done to allow the EU ‘to conduct scrutiny and complete the conclusion process of the Agreements as diligently and smoothly as possible.’ This is a process that was wrapped up by the end of February. However, February saw the EU request for more time to prepare ‘legally valid’ translations of the finalised deal into all 24 of its official languages. Speaking in February, a
spokesman for the British government said, ‘it is disappointing the EU has not completed its internal processes in the agreed timeframe.’ The spokesman went on to say that ‘we have agreed to extend the deadline for the EU to ratify the deal until 30 April.’ On top of this delay, the impact of Brexit on trade is already being felt across industries in the UK. While the British government insisted on businesses facing no tariffs or obstacles in trade with the EU bloc, non-tariff trade barriers are still in place, especially in regards to the ‘rule-of-origin requirement’. This new rule places the burden on British businesses to prove that products being exported into the bloc originate from the UK. Failure to do so will result in being charged extra fees. In January, the UHY Hacker Young group found that 20% of British small to medium sized enterprises stopped exporting goods to the EU completely to avoid the pallarver of new costs and additional paperwork. The immediate aftermath of Brexit has also hit the service sector. Provisions for services are not included in the current trade deal. Analysts forecast that if a deal is not put in place, London, which is at the UK’s service secretary economy, may be set to lose up to
Boris Johnson signs the Brexit trade deal in London on 30th December 2020. The EU has yet to ratify the deal, as it first has to go through the European Parliament and be ratified by the member states. (Andrew Parsons, No. 10 Downing Street)
£9.5bn in economic output a year. The service sector, which encompases everything from law, finance, and fintech to hospitality and creative jobs, is responsible for approximately 80% of the UK’s economic output. For Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, ‘the Government’s Brexit trade deal was the equivalent of a “no deal” Brexit for financial and professional services.’ The situation in Northern Ireland (NI) has also not been bettered, as border checks and controls have begun despite the government’s promise that there would not be a hard border between Ireland and NI. The European Research Group (ERG), led by Tory Brexiteers, have called on Boris Johnson to scrape the Northern Ireland Protocol
altogether. They claim it has had a ‘profound and negative effect’. They are now calling for a triggering of Article 16 against the Protocol, which would allow the UK to unilaterally overrule it if it is found to create serious disruptions in Ireland or NI. The ERG joined the Irish Democratic Unionist Party, who also called for Article 16 to be triggered and for the UK to scrap the Protocol. In her analysis, Sylvie Bermann, former French ambassador to the UK, Brexit will result in a bleaked Britain. She describes Boris Johnson as ‘an unrepentant and inveterate liar’, and considers the disillusionment of British people who hold on to a glorious, yet unrealistic, past as a root cause of Brexit.
Shamima Begum Left in ‘Legal Black Hole’ Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication 26 February saw a severe blow dealt to Shamima Begum’s fight for her British citizenship. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court adjudicated that she will not be allowed entry into Britain to appeal her case. In 2015 as part of what The Times dubbed the ‘Bethnel Green Trio’, Begum, along with Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, left the United Kingdom to join the so-called Islamic State in Syria. In the immediate aftermath, Lord Bernard Hogan-Howe, the former head of London's Metropolitan Police, had said while giving evidence to MPs before the Home Affairs Select Committee ‘if they return home there are no terrorism issues here.’ In stark contrast to Lord Howe, when former Prime Minister David Cameron was asked what would be the fate of the London school girls should they return, Cameron asserted ‘whoever has gone out to join a terrorist organisation is breaking the law and has to face the consequences […] We have to let the law take its course in the proper way.’ Sultana is believed to have perished during a 2016 airstrike in Raqqa. She was 17 years old. A 2019 Sky News
article said knowledge of Abase is unknown. That same year, Begum discovered the Home Office had decided to revoke her of her citizenship. In a displacement camp in Syria, Begum was given a copy of the letter her parents had received. Therein it read that ‘In light of the circumstances […] the notice of the Home Secretary’s decision has been served on file today, and the order removing [her] British citizenship has subsequently been made.’ In response, Begum lamented and pleaded for former Home Secretary Sajid Javid to have ‘sympathy and understanding’. At the time she had just given birth to a son. She went on to say the letter was ‘heartbreaking to read.’ The Home Office justified their decision as, according to them, Begum had not been rendered stateless because she was a dual national of Britain and Bangladesh. Both Begum’s family and the Bangladeshi government denied this claim. Javid had said that he made this decision to ‘protect this country,’ a sentiment echoed by the current Home Secretary Priti Patel. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, Patel stated she would take 'the strongest possible action to protect our national security.’ The Financial Times said this judgement was welcomed by Patel as a ‘victory’ for her and her department. For Maya Foa, director of the human rights group Reprieve, this decision has left Begum in a ‘legal black hole,’
and it is in fact ‘out of step with British values and the interests of justice and security.’ Foa further highlighted that Begum was 15 years old when she left Britain after having been ‘groomed by a trafficking gang into making a terrible, life-altering mistake.’ Others have highlighted this decision as being a ‘double standard’ within the government’s approach to tackling domestic terror. Many took to Twitter to show the discrepancy between Begum’s fate and that of Harry Vaughan. In 2020, 18 year old Vaughan was handed a suspended sentence after being found guilty for ‘encouraging terrorism, disseminating a terrorist publication and possessing documents useful for terrorism.’ This followed an investigation where police found Vaughan was linked to an online neo-Nazi forum and possessed indecent images of underage boys. One Twitter user said this juxtaposition was a ‘massive display of hypocrisy’ on the part of the government. The human rights group Liberty warn that the UK may be setting an ‘extremely dangerous precedent.’ In contrast, America’s stance is that countries are duty bound to repatriate their nationals who went to join Isis. For Rosie Brighouse, a lawyer with Liberty, ‘the right to a fair trial is not something democratic governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone's British citizenship.’
15 MARCH 2021
Officer Served Misconduct Notice Following the Death of Mohamud Hassan
Protests ensued in Wales following Mohamud Hassan’s death. (Hashim Al-Hashmi)
Frances Howe, LLB Content warning: police brutality, racially aggravated assault A police officer has been handed a misconduct notice following the death of 24 year-old Mohamud Hassan in Cardiff on 9 January. Hassan was detained on 8 January by police in his home following suspicions of a breach of the peace. Hassan was subsequently released without charge at 8:30 the following morning. Hassan later passed away that evening. The cause of his death is not yet known. South Wales police referred the case to the complaints watchdog. The watchdog has first issued statements denying allegations that Mr Hassan had died from physical injuries sustained in custody. The unnamed South Wales Police officer has been identified as having accompanied Mr Hassan in a police van to the Cardiff Bay custody centre. The officer is currently under investigation for failing to report concern for Mr Hassan’s wellbeing after body camera footage revealed that Mr Hassan complained of suffering from fits, a migraine, and displayed signs of suffering from pain. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said in a statement released on 15 February that the most serious sanction that can come from a misconduct notice is a written warning. This news came after the Guardian published on 9 February that over 50 police officers had come into contact with Mohamud Hassan before he was released from custody. Suspicions of malpractice had been raised by members of Hassan’s family. Zainab Hassan, Mohamud’s aunt, claims that
he has ‘lots of wounds on his body and lots of bruises… He didn’t have these wounds when he was arrested and when he came out of Cardiff Bay police station, he had them.’ Hassan’s family have called for the release of CCTV foot-
“He didn’t have these wounds when he was arrested and when he came out of Cardiff Bay police station, he had them.” age and for documents obtained by the IOPC, which may lead to more information on Hassan’s death. The IOPC have resisted on the basis that it may be used in future criminal or misconduct proceedings. In a statement released on 9 February, the IOPC affirmed that ‘at an appropriate time, we will ensure that Mr Hassan’s family and legal representatives have an opportunity to view relevant footage.’ Several protests have taken place since Hassan’s death. Bianca Ali, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter Cardiff and Vale was issued a £500 fine for breaching Covid-19 restrictions by hosting a protest attended by over 30 people. South Wales Police Chief, Constable Jeremy Vaughan, issued a statement saying: ‘I know people want to make their voices heard - the prevalence of racial discrimination and disadvantage across all parts of our society is such an important issue that voices should all be heard.’ Vaughan continued, ‘in ordinary times policing will do all it can to facilitate people lawfully exercising their right to be heard. [But] these are not ordinary times.’ A Go Fund Me page was created on 10 January titled
‘help Mohamud Hassan get the justice he deserves’ and has since raised over £51,000. According to the page, Hassan had told family members that he was ‘tasered twice and through images they could see bite marks all over his body.’ Also included in the page’s description are details of Hassan allegedly being ‘brutally kicked in the head and suffer[ing] injuries to his face and knee.’ One donator commented on the page ‘it is heartbreaking to hear one of our Muslim black Somali brother(s) has been physically abused and tortured by those horrible police officers that are heartless to kill an innocent man all because of his skin colour.’ An additional fundraiser for legal costs has raised over £19,000 as of 27 February. Hassan’s death was followed by the death of 29 year-old Moyied Bashir on 17 February after an attempted arrest by Gwent police also in Wales. The IOPC are also investigating Bashir’s death and body camera footage has now been handed over for the independent investigation. Black Lives Matter Gwent issued a statement affirming that Bashir’s death was ‘avoidable and avertable.’ The organisation drew links to a wider systemic issue at hand, stating ‘we cannot let them get away with this again if there has been any foul play.’ Mohumud Hassan’s death comes less than a year after the murder of George Floyd at the hand of Minneapolis Police. George Floyd’s death ignited the largest protests in US history and spurred protests against white supremacy and systemic racially aggravated violence in over 60 other countries across the globe. As of 17 February, the investigation into Mohamud Hassan’s death is ongoing.
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Barnett Berates MCB's New Female Leader Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication
January 2021 saw Zara Mohammed, a 29-year old trainee consultant from Glasgow, elected as the Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) first female secretary general. Talking about this milestone, Mohammed said ‘making history is a tremendous responsibility, but it’s very exciting to be a young female in this role, and I hope it will inspire others.’ On the day of the MCB’s announcement, mayor of London Sadiq Khan took to Twitter to say that this news was ‘terrific.’ The MCB was established in 1997 and boasts being Britain’s ‘largest and most diverse national Muslim umbrella organisation with over 500 members, including mosques, schools, charitable associations and professional networks.’ The MCB 'publishes reports, guidelines and resources to inform the mainstream discourse on British Muslims and to empower [its] member organisations across’ the UK. On 4 February Mohammed joined Emma Barnett on BBC 4’s Women’s Hour for an interview. During the interview Mohammed was repeatedly asked by Barnett ‘how many female imams are there in the UK?’ Barnett went on to ask that since ‘representing women’ was a key part of Mohammed’s new role and given that ‘female priests have been around for some time and we’ve seen the advent of female rabbis’ in the UK, ‘what is the picture for women leading prayer in Britain in Muslim communities?’
Mohammed responded by saying that she did not think it was her role, nor that of the MCB, to ‘adjudicate or examine that [aspect] of spirituality’. She went on to explain that the work the MCB does is more concerned with how they can serve ‘to benefit [Muslim] communities.’ ‘You don’t know? That’s fine if you don’t know. But it’s just quite striking that you can’t answer that question. [Although] I recognise [yours] is not a religious or spiritual role,’ Barnett retorted. According to the Evening Express, this Women’s Hour episode garnered the BBC 564 complaints. The BBC’s complaints report highlighted the recurring theme being perceived ‘bias against Zara Mohammed [and the] Muslim Council of Britain.’ For Gal-Dem Magazine’s Sabah Hussain, Mohammed was ‘subjected to a trough-full of ignorance from [a] presenter who clearly hadn’t adequately researched the topic of women in Islam.’ Hussein went on to say that ‘Barnett pandered to an Imperialist view that Islam should fit within the confines of what the West deems appropriate.’ Middle East Eye’s Fatima Rajina further anchors this episode ‘within a long-standing history by which Orientalists have presumed Islam to be an extension of Christianity and/or Judaism.’ For Rajina, Barnett’s ‘incessant questioning’ harkens to a ‘history of using Judeo-Christian framing as a normative standard against which to judge other faith traditions - a flawed premise.’ However, Douglas Murray of the Jewish Chronicle highlighted that since Blair’s Labour government ‘and all
governments since — [the MCB has] rightly [been] regarded as beyond the pale’ due to its ‘extremists links.’ For Douglas, Mohammed was evasive of questions surrounding female imams in Britain ‘because the answer is a big fat zero.’ He went on to argue that Barnett’s ‘reputation [is actively] being damaged [...] by [a] smear [campaign under the] allencompassing and deeply vague accusation of “Islamophobia.”’ Douglas concluded his ‘The Muslim Council of Britain should back off ’ article by saying that ‘equality means being treated in exactly the same fashion as the rest of us. And that includes having to answer the same difficult questions that anybody else would if they were sitting in the same chair.’ Writing in The Telegraph in 2014, Emma Barnett said that she ‘[grew] up in the Orthodox arm of Judaism’ but described herself as ‘not a particularly observant Jew day-today.’ In her article entitled ‘Can you really be an Orthodox Jew and a feminist?’, Barnett recounted that she had never seen a female rabbi until the age of 21. That same year during a BBC One to One discussion with Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, Barnett said in Judaism ‘women aren’t treated unequally, they just have different roles to men.’ In light of this, and while she did feel that it was ‘hypocritical as a feminist’, she expressed ‘struggling’ with the ‘unusual’ concept of female rabbis - ‘it’s just not traditional’, she said. Speaking to The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood in March about the ordeal, while she was ‘really taken aback’ by the Women’s Hour interview that felt ‘particularly hostile and aggressive’, Zara Mohammed says she has ‘grown tenfold’ because of the experience.
Government Proposed ‘Free Speech Champions’ Met with Student and Staff Backlash
Increased legal measures surrounding freedom of speech may, ironically, result in ‘unfree’ speech, says SOAS lecturer. (Credit: wiredforlego via Flickr)
Deirbhile Ní Bhranáin, MA Media and Development Last month, the UK government announced its proposal to install ‘free speech champions’ in institutes of Higher Education. The measures, which the Education Secretary announced mid-February, aim to strengthen free speech and ‘end the practice of ‘silencing’ on campuses. The legislation proposes to introduce a ‘free speech condition’ to universities and other post-secondary education institutes for them to be able to access public funding. The Office for Students, England’s Higher Education regulator, would be granted legal power to impose financial sanctions for ‘breach’ of the condition. These legal duties also extend to institution management and Student Unions, who would have the power to ensure that lawful free speech is secured for members, academics, and visiting speakers. In addition to these measures, a ‘Free Speech and Academic Freedom Champion’ would be appointed to investigate
potential breaches of the law. In a letter of introduction to the policy document, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson stated that ‘strong, robust action’ should be taken against breaches of free speech. The guidelines for protection of free speech, which universities would be encouraged to follow, are laid out in the policy document released on 16 February. These guidelines will ‘set minimum standards for free speech codes of practice’, and will ‘ensure’ that academic freedoms are upheld to a high standard. The proposal has been met with varying degrees of skepticism both within and outside the government. Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green commented that by proposing these measures, the government is initiating a culture war to distract from its recent failures. Several former education secretaries also shared their thoughts, with some former ministers voicing concerns about how ‘heavy-handed’ the policy seems. Others expressed concern that the government recognised identity politics as a popular issue and were now using it to
wage a ‘culture war,’ with one university chancellor expressing concern that this policy will set ‘the young people’ further against the government. Strong proponents of the proposition include a professor from Oxford University who stated ‘this policy paper by the Department of Education is a very welcomed step towards ensuring that viewpoint diversity is protected in British universities.’ On the other hand, The National Union of Students told the BBC that there is ‘no evidence’ of a freedom of speech crisis on campuses. Further, a spokesperson from the University and College Union, which represents university staff, contextualised the issue, speaking of how a failure to ‘get to grips with the endemic job insecurity and managerialist approaches’ are also a barrier to free speech, as it means that ‘academics are less able to speak truth to power.’ Dr Dina Matar, who lectures at the Centre for Global Media at SOAS, commented that ‘in assigning a free speech champion on campuses with reporting duties to government, the policy provides the opportunity for interference in university governance, [as well as] staff and students' lives. Worse, it might accentuate differences and promote an atmosphere of hostility and fear, a perfect recipe for 'unfree' speech and intimidation to flourish in digital echo chambers and filter bubbles.’ She went on to say that ‘ignoring these possibilities is short-sighted and dangerous.’ Speaking to VICE Magazine, Chloe, a student at UCL asked ‘why is this the priority in our current environment?’ She also said it is ‘so confusing that they’re pushing this now especially since no one’s at university right now. Most of us are either studying from home and we're not able to do events on campus anyway.’ The government will continue to work alongside the education sector to lay out the next steps for legislation.
15 MARCH 2021
Campaign Underway Against TUI Deportations Deirbhile Ní Bhranáin, Media and Development
A campaign led by SOAS Detainee Support (SDS) will be launching at the beginning of April to protest against the increased deportations carried out in the UK and assisted by airline company TUI. TUI is primarily a holiday airline, their recognisable winking logo promising happy days in the sun. According to research conducted by Corporate Watch, TUI has also become the main airline carrying out deportation flights, in collaboration with the UK Home Office’s ‘Hostile Environment’ policy. Hostile Environment is a set of government actions that aim to make life actively difficult for those in the UK that do not have documentation papers. In line with former Prime Minister Theresa May’s 2012 declaration to ‘create... a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants,’ policies have included cutting off access to the NHS, making it increasingly difficult to find rental housing, or even employment. Recent effects of this policy include the death of a Filipino immigrant due to Covid-19, as he was unwilling to go to the doctor due to fear of deportation. Within this policy lies ‘Operation Sillath’, which was established in early summer of 2020 and thought to be a strategic
governmental response to rising numbers of people crossing the Channel to the UK from France. Although deportations have been decreasing in recent years, they still remain at the heart of the UK policy for dealing with illegal immigration. In 2019, over 7,000 people were deported, but this number increases when the 11,000 ‘voluntary’ departures are included, though many report being coerced due to threats or the impacts of the ‘Hostile Environment’ policies. Deportations fell as a result of the Covid19 lockdown, with over 900 people being released from detention centres. However, the last months of 2020 saw a large spike in deportation flights, with TUI carrying out all 9 flights in the month of November. A spokesperson for the campaign commented that ‘as part of Operation Sillath, TUI has assisted the Home Office with deportation of recent arrivals to the UK via channel crossings. These deportations are set to continue.’ The widely publicised deportation flight from the UK to Jamaica on 2 December 2020, targeting many of the Windrush generation whose home has been the UK since childhood, garnered a great deal of public anger. A campaign against the flight included an open letter which called for
Grey Squirrels on the Pill Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication In January 2021 the UK government announced that it would back new efforts to significantly curb the grey squirrel population in Britain. The plan is to distribute feeding boxes in areas with high grey squirrel numbers. In the boxes, grey squirrels will find pots with tasty hazelnut spread spiked with oral contraceptives - unbeknownst to them, of course. The birth control laced feedboxes are bespoke so that only greys can enter them. The boxes will feature ‘heavy door-hoppers’ which would prevent the smaller reds being able to open them - thus minimising the risk of them also ingesting the contraception. The grey versus red civil war amongst the squirrel population began with the introduction of greys in Britain from America in the late 19th century. The larger, American greys not only outcompete the native reds when it comes to food and habitat, but also carry the parapoxvirus. The virus poses no threat to greys, but has proven fatal for reds. Greys have displaced the native red squirrel population across most of the UK. It is estimated that greys have flourished in Britain such that their numbers are estimated at 2.7M and the population is continuing to
grow. Reds, on the other hand, are thought to be fewer than 300,000 and have been relegated to mostly living in North Wales and Scotland. The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) welcomes this new plan. The RFS cite greys as being the cause of £1.1bn worth of damage to Britain’s woodlands annually. Greys are known to strip the bark off of oak and sycamore trees - especially those between 10-50 years old, i.e the younger forest trees. This further threatens Britain’s biodiversity, as oak and sycamore are home to other native mammalian species, as well as insects and birds. The RFS, however, have also called for more robust action against the invasive greys. They argue that in areas where their numbers are especially high, ‘lethal methods of control’, such as shooting, should be employed - a suggestion animal rights activists have dubbed as inhumane. The Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith said that the government is also looking into genetically engineering grey females to make them infertile as a long term solution to lessen grey numbers. This would involve altering the fertility gene of grey females and annually releasing newly engineered squirrels into the wild. Nicky Faber, who did research into this at Edinburgh University explained that overtime ‘it will spread through the population so after a certain number of generations, all grey squirrels will have the engineered gene and this will cause
the flight to be cancelled, and was signed by over 90 Black and Asian public figures. While the flight still went ahead, it sparked national conversation and directed attention towards airlines - including TUI - who are contracted to carry out deportations for the government. The scope for refusing to carry out deportations seems relatively unexplored. Some pilots have refused to fly planes chartered for deportation flights. British Airways has responded to previous criticism regarding their involvement in deportation by stating that the company has no choice but to cooperate with the Home Office. However, Corporate Watch has determined that there is no legal precedent to take any action against an airline company for this reason. Yet, there is a precedent for a pledge against deportations. June 2018, following pressure from campaigners, saw Virgin Airlines agree to cease their involvement with deportation flights. In the wake of increased deportations, the ‘month of action’ beginning at the start of April aims to call attention to the ongoing deportations carried out by TUI and another airline, Privilege Style. The campaign is being led by SDS, and is partly run by SOAS students. Each week of the campaign will focus on a different theme, calling attention to
divergent aspects of this issue, but ultimately encouraging customers to stop buying holidays with TUI until they have pledged to stop participating in deportations from the UK.
“The month of action aims to call attention to ongoing deportations... and encourage customers to stop buying holidays until TUI have pledged to stop deportations from the UK.”
A spokesperson for the campaign said: ‘Our demand of TUI, the tourism giant who has centred their brand on the image of ‘wholesome’ family holidays is this: stop your collaboration with the Home Office, stop tearing communities and families apart.’ Details and live updates from their campaign can be found at @sdetsup via Twitter.
A native red squirrel photographed in a heated confrontation with a grey that had entered its territory. (Credit: John O'Brien/SWNS)
a lot of females to be infertile.’ On the other hand, Professor Luke Alphey of the Pirbright Institute in London highlighted that ‘regulatory approval and public acceptance would obviously be essential before any actual use of such technology – that is a long way off. But [research] indicates that gene drives could be a valuable tool in the conservation toolbox.’ For some Brits, simply eating greys is the answer. They argue grey squirrel meat is ‘the most ethical’ meat to eat as it protects both Britain’s woodlands and the native reds. Ecofriendly restaurant Native made news in 2019 when it decided to add ‘grey squirrel lasagne’ to its menu. Chef Ivan Tisdall-Downes of Native argued that greys are ‘one of the most
sustainable proteins you can cook. It almost tastes exactly the same as rabbit, but not as gamey.’ In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland native red squirrels are officially classified as a ‘near threatened’ species. Red Squirrels Northern England, a red squirrel conservationist group, say the three ways the public can help the fight to protect reds are by ‘submitting sightings; which are crucial to track the fortunes of red squirrels, join your local red squirrel group’ and lastly, going to visit places such as Wensleydale’s Snaizehome Red Squirrel Trail that are dedicated nature reserves established to home Britain’s native reds.
15 MARCH 2021
Public mistrust could undermine Ebola response in Guinea Maxine Betteridge-Moes, MA Media in Development The World Health Organization began administering Ebola vaccines in Guinea just nine days after the latest outbreak was declared in Gouécké in the far southern region on 14 February. The swift rollout of the vaccination campaign came after international calls to action to halt the spread of the deadly disease that ravaged parts of West Africa between 2013 and 2016 and killed approximately 11,300 people. ‘Time is of the essence,’ Mohammed Mukhier, Regional Director for Africa at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) said in a statement. ‘The resurgence of the virus in Guinea comes at the worst possible time when the country is already facing the Covid-19 pandemic … While we are extremely concerned, we are also reassured by the lessons we learned from previous outbreaks and by recent medical advances.’ The development of two Ebola vaccines since the last epidemic will be a key intervention in bringing the resurgence under control. On 23 February, the Guinean government received a shipment of 11,000 vaccine doses from a global stockpile in Geneva, Switzerland. A vaccination campaign began in the N’Zérékoré prefecture, where the first confirmed cases and deaths have been reported. But according to reports from local and international media, widespread misinformation about the disease has resulted in some peoples’ denial of its resurgence, while mistrust of authorities has meant others have resisted taking part in innoculation campaigns. ‘The key issue here is to rebuild the trust between communities and health authorities,’ Al Jazeera correspondent Nicolas Haque
The Ebola vaccine is an important intervention in controlling the outbreak, but many Guineans are untrusting of health authorities (Credit: World Health Organization)
said in a podcast. ‘The last outbreak … left a deep trauma for the people of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.’ Ebola spreads through infected bodily fluids and unsafe burials are a known danger in transmission. Those from the most affected areas remember their loved ones being taken away to medical centres and treated in isolation, never to be seen again. Many were not allowed to bury the deceased with local traditions. But medical anthropologists and researchers have pointed out the importance of understanding and respecting local communities’ concerns in disease response. In a research paper on social resistance to Ebola response in Guinea in 2016, University of Cambridge anthropologist James Fairhead observed that ‘Western common sense’ of disease outbreak and control silenced local
framing, and the intervention of Ebola treatment centres undermined local social practice. ‘With the arrival of Ebola ... political authority was bolstered by the humanitarian biopower associated with [it] and ... came to be perceived as ‘the enemy,’’’ Fairhead wrote. He cited advice to circumvent social isolation that included ‘enabling families to cook for patients, supplying mobile phones to communicate with those in isolation, treating suspicions seriously, and enabling highly respectful burials.’ In order to address community mistrust directly, Health Minister Remy Lamah, who is a native of Gouécké, travelled to his hometown to convince people of the benefits of taking the vaccine. Local government officials and prominent religious leaders have also been publicly vaccinated. In an
interview with Guineenews, the WHO’s representative to Guinea, Georges Ki-Zerbo, said they were working with various NGOs on the ground to support community awareness and response. ‘The idea is to explain what is going on based on the facts and to effectively avoid panic and rumors that can interfere with the quality of the response,’ he said. ‘This supposes that we listen to the communities ... in order to have their support for all the interventions.’ Lessons learned from the previous epidemic, which killed approximately 2,500 Guineans, will be put to the test in the coming weeks. But Lamah told AFP news agency that the country is largely prepared. ‘I think that in six weeks, we can be done with this disease,’ he said.
Can Covax help poorer countries to get access to Covid-19 vaccines? Deniz Demirag, MSc Environment, Politics and Development The World Health Organization (WHO) recently launched a vaccine allocation plan with 156 countries, known as ‘Covax,’ to enable a rapid and fair global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. 64 higher-income countries have already joined the program, ensuring the research, purchase and distribution of the vaccines is divided equally among the participating countries. Governments, manufacturers, organisations and individuals have so far contributed around $1.4bn towards the program to effectively deliver two billion doses of safe vaccines by the end of 2021. Although this initiative has been described as a landmark moment in public health history, it is not without its faults. Despite the planned global immunisation by the end of 2021, experts claim that poorer countries may not be sufficiently
vaccinated until at least 2024. Hopes for an equitable global distribution of vaccines were crushed, as wealthy countries like the UK, US, Israel and the EU not only aim to vaccinate their entire population by the end of 2021, but are also buying more vaccines than they need. This will limit the amount of vaccines available for the remaining 84 countries, who will unfortunately face shortages as a result. In countries with large populations spread over a wide geographical area, such as China and India, providing vaccines to the vulnerable is a huge endeavour. Richer countries already have the means to provide and manufacture vaccine doses effectively. However, experts say that this critical stage in the pandemic requires international collaboration if we hope to transition to a new normal. Epidemiologists say that developed countries will greatly benefit from worldwide immunisation
because there is no guarantee that the virus won’t mutate and infect those who already are vaccinated. Ghana recently became the first country to receive 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine. Concerns about the scheme centre around the speed of the process rather than the cost. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commented: ‘If there are no vaccines to buy, money is irrelevant.’ A proposal introduced by South Africa to waive intellectual property rights so the vaccines can be produced around the world has been resisted by wealthy countries and large pharmaceutical corporations. Mustaqeem De Gama, South Africa’s delegate at the World Trade Organization (WTO) said it would have made a difference in the vaccine rollout if South Africa had the capacity to manufacture their own vaccines. Groups have also called on richer nations to donate some of their stockpiled vaccines to poorer countries.
15 MARCH 2021
The Coup in Myanmar Explained: Who, Why, What Now?
Protesters gather against the military coup on 9 February 2021 in Hpa-An, Kayin State, with red banners to symbolize their support for the NLD (Credit: Ninjastrikers, via Wikimedia Commons)
Charlotte Paule, MSc Politics of Asia In the early hours of 1 February 2021, the Burmese military arrested the civilian leadership of Myanmar and took power. This came after the pro-democracy party National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide in the November elections. The Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s armed forces, had backed the opposition who demanded a rerun of the votes, claiming that widespread fraud took place. The election commission ruled against this claim, and the military launched the coup right as a new session of Parliament was about to open. They have declared a one-year state of emergency in Myanmar, and have said that once the year is over they will open democratic institutions again. The country had been a semi-democracy since 2011, when the military initially opened the system to civilian representation after being in power since 1962. For the past decade, the country has been run with a hybrid system in which civilian and military authorities shared power. On 1
February, the Tatmadaw detained leaders of the NLD and the civilian authority, as well as ministers, writers, opposition politicians and activists. They also banned access to social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and implemented an internet shutdown. Connectivity dropped to 16% of ordinary levels on 6 February. Large-scale protests have been ongoing in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon, its capital Naypyidaw, and other cities across the country. Healthcare workers and civil servants launched a civil disobedience movement on 2 February, as well as a general strike starting 3 February, which quickly spread to other sectors such as education and banking. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the streets demanding a return to democracy and the liberation of NLD leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi, wearing the red colours of the NLD logo and using the three-finger salute from Hunger Games as a show of solidarity. As of 25 February, 748 people have been arrested in relation to the coup. 8 people have died in what should have been peaceful protests, including a 16-year old who was shot in the head during the 20 February
protests. Some businesses, including many bank branches, have remained closed since the strike started, which is straining the already weak Burmese economy and risks endangering the poorer sections of the population. Protesters organized their biggest day of action yet on 22 February, nicknaming the movement the ‘2222 uprising’ in reference to the 8888 uprising, the pro-democracy protests which took place in Myanmar in 1988. Some in the international community, such as the US, the UK, or the EU, have spoken out against this coup and strongly condemned the military’s actions. Other actors, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have expressed concern over the disruption of the coup, but have not condemned it per se, owing to their policy of non-interference in the national affairs of their member states. As of 27 February, the US, the UK and Canada all imposed sanctions on the leaders of the coup, while the EU has said it ‘stands ready to adopt restrictive measures.’ These are unlikely to have real effects however, as the Burmese military has learned to adapt to sanctions imposed on them, and such
actions have lost most of their power. The Burmese military has accused the UN and foreign governments of ‘flagrant interference’ in their internal affairs and have not moved from their positions since taking power. The growing fragility of the economy could endanger them as they may not be able to make good on their promise to keep doing ‘business as usual.’ On top of this, Covid-19 testing has collapsed in Myanmar since the coup, as healthcare workers are on the frontline of the strike and protests against the military junta. The new Health Ministry has said that vaccinations would continue amidst the protests and the country maintained the support of India in this area. This coup is sure to have an impact on domestic and regional political affairs, as observers have little hope that the military will step down before their one-year deadline. Even then, it is likely they will only implement reforms if they can maintain their role in government and quash the NLD. The hopes of full democratisation in Myanmar, which had been emboldened by the victory of the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi in November, seem as remote as they could be.
15 MARCH 2021
Saudi Arabia codifies its laws Anna Fenton-Jones, BA Middle Eastern Studies Amidst a turbulent period for the House of Saud, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has announced sweeping reforms to the Saudi Arabian legal system. The reforms are designed to modernise the country and ease its transition away from decentralised Sharia towards a comprehensive, codified legislation. In February 2021, four new draft laws were introduced - a Penal Code for Discretionary Sanctions, a Law of Evidence, a Civil Transactions Law, and a Personal Status Law. In contrast to other Arab states, uncodified Sharia law still governs much of how the Saudi judiciary functions. Without standardisation, rulings are decided by individual judges who apply their experience and understanding of the texts of the Hadith and the Quran. Similar cases can result in vastly different outcomes depending on the personal inferences of judges. The Prince, often referred to as MBS, has cited this capacity for legal incongruity as his reason to introduce new laws. ‘The absence of applicable legislation has led to discrepancies in decisions and a lack of clarity in the principles governing facts and practices,’ he said. ‘In addition, the absence of a clear legal
framework for private and business sectors has led to ambiguity with respect to obligations. This was painful for many individuals and families, especially women. It also permitted some people to evade their responsibilities. This will not take place again.’ The late King Abdullah took significant steps towards remaking the judicial order in Saudi Arabia in the decade following the millennium. He created a Supreme Court to absorb the religious Supreme Judicial Council and consolidated various quasijudicial bodies spread across the Kingdom. Saudi legal scholar Frank E. Vogal described them as ‘not a shot but a barrage across the bow of his partners in rule, the conservative religious establishment.’ Considerable pushback by religious leaders and judiciary meant that little had been done to change Saudi law until MBS became the de facto leader. Some argue that to modernise Saudi legislation is to actually make it more European, as was the case with many other Islamic countries in the 20th century. Others suggest that the act of codifying Sharia might be profane in itself. Nathan J Brown, political science professor at George Washington University, suggests this is most obvious in the legal language of the kingdom. ‘The Saudis studiously avoid words used elsewhere in the Arab world for law, qanun, since it suggests that human words rather
than divine ones lay at the basis of the legal order.’ ‘Nizam’, system, is used to refer to the decrees issued by the Royal Family instead. ‘Making law is a critical attribute of sovereignty,’ Brown continues. ‘And that is precisely the concern in Saudi Arabia, a polity that takes divine sovereignty quite seriously. Law is to be made in accordance with God’s will.’ The Personal Status Law is being touted by Saudis as an important step towards improving the rights of women, building on the reforms made to the kingdom’s guardianship laws in 2019 that, amongst other changes, gave women the right to drive. Human Rights Watch have criticised this implication, suggesting that ‘without significant input from women’s rights advocates, the discrimiation in practice may simply be codified into law.’ They also draw attention to the remaining guardianship laws which require women to gain permission from their male guardians to marry and still allow men to file cases against their female relatives for ‘disobedience’. ‘Mohammed bin Salman is desperate to improve the world’s view of the country,’ said Saudi anthropologist Madawi Al-Rasheed. While MBS seems determined to push through the reforms that his predecessors couldn’t achieve, he has also reacted ruthlessly to any dissent.
Two prominent women’s rights activists, Nassima al-Sadah and Samar Badawi, remain behind bars after being arrested in 2018 in protests that led up to the change in guardianship laws. Activist Loujain al-Hathloul, recently released after 1,001 days in jail, said she was subjected to torture and sexually abused while imprisoned. The kingdom is seeking to attract investors as it diversifies its economy and transitions away from oil. MBS’s Vision 2030 project aims to make it one of the world’s largest investors in public and private equity. These legal reforms are ‘[..] an important step on the path towards global best practices that give businesses the confidence to invest,’ said Tarek Fadlallah, Middle East CEO at Nomura Asset Management. Several business leaders declined to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference, dubbed ‘Davos in the Desert’, in Riyadh in 2018 after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. All returned for the event in January 2021, despite the release a month later of the long awaited report into Khashoggi’s death by US intelligence agencies concluding that MBS had personally ordered the killing.
Karim Khan: The controversial choice for Chief prosecutor Nour Abu-Ismail, BA Korean Studies and Development On 16 June 2021, Karim Ahmad Khan will begin his nine-year term as the newly elected Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Electing the third Chief Prosecutor of the ICC was both lengthy and discordant as member-states could not agree on a candidate. The deciding factor came down to a secret ballot, held for the first time since the court's establishment, between four candidates. According to the Guardian, Khan beat candidates after obtaining votes from 72 nations, ten more than needed to win. The ICC functions as the only permanent international court to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of committing crimes against humanity that are of global concern. Unlike the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which seeks to reconcile disputes amongst UN member states and provide legal advice, the ICC exists to convict those who have not been held accountable for violating international law. Although the court is supposed to supersede national jurisdictions, its conviction rate is astonishingly low. Throughout its existence as an autonomous body, the ICC has only convicted four significant people,
one of whom was later acquitted. Khan, who will succeed Fatou Bensouda, will take on the task of increasing the ICC's number of convictions during his tenure. His experience in international law has strengthened his candidacy. Notable politicians, such as British foreign secretary Dominic Raab, posted a tweet stating his support. Raab described Khan as 'pivotal in ensuring we hold those responsible for the most heinous crimes to account.' According to the Economist and Africa Report, over 22 African-led human rights groups opposed Khan's candidacy. The controversy surrounding the newly elected prosecutor is primarily due to leading the defense council of William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta. Both men were accused of coordinating political violence, likely to be ethnically motivated, over the 2007 Kenyan post-election brutality, resulting in the deaths of at least 1000 people. However, the court absolved their charges because of 'intolerable political meddling,' claimed by an unnamed ICC judge. That same judge further asserted that there was definitive evidence of 'witness meddling' following the murder of a key witness in 2014. This issue has remained one of the criminal court's most contentious cases to this day. Although Khan is entitled to defend any client, the fashion in which the
trial unfolded left an unfavourable impression on the public. There are many controversies, especially those suggesting impartiality, surrounding Khan's win. He did not initially appear as a nominee on the selection committee's shortlist. Nonetheless, the Kenyan government was successful in insisting on re-assessing the selection process and Khan's name subsequently appeared on the revised shortlist. Moreover, Mauritius prevented Khan from being chosen by a consensus vote. The objection was based on his British nationality, as the UK has refused to acknowledge ICC rulings deciding the Chagos islands belonging to Mauritius. Jagdish Koonjul, the Mauritian ambassador, criticised the country 'to claim a right to run international bodies like the ICC' due to their lack of compliance with international law. Despite these controversies, Khan has consequential decisions to make which will determine whether he will continue pursuing investigations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Gaza conflict and Afghanistan's United States war crime allegations. There are questions concerning his policies and whether he will be as bold as Bensouda, who continuously improved and revised the court's practices and strategies to pursue investigations regardless of politics.
Karim Khan, pictured in 2017, is the newly elected Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (Credit: icty photos)
For many, the ICC's appointment of a non-white Muslim could represent a necessary change. However, this begs the question as to whether this change is coming at the expense of justice. The institution requires someone with impeccable credibility to enable and power its working body. Khan's credibility is dependent on the convictions he could secure whether he will be able to garner greater international recognition and gather more member states. Should Khan be successful in doing so, it may improve the ICC's credibility and jurisdiction.
15 MARCH 2021
Erdogan Cracks Down on Protests Against University Rector Adhya Moona, MA Global Media and Communications On 1 January, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed Melih Bulu as the new rector of Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazici University. Since then, students and faculty members have led peaceful protests against Bulu’s appointment, an academic who is a close ally of the government. The decision to appoint Bulu was condemned as ‘undemocratic’ by university students and academic staff, and widely interpreted as the government’s attempt to gain control over the institution and undercut academic autonomy and freedom. After a failed coup attempt in 2016, a state of emergency decree gave power to the President of the country to directly appoint university rectors without any deliberations with the faculty members of the universities. The Turkish Police has used brute force against the escalating protests. Since early January, over 600 demonstrators have been detained in more than 30 Turkish cities. According to Human Rights Watch, Turkish authorities have placed hundreds of student protesters under possible criminal investigation. LGBT students have been proactive in the demonstrations. They fear Bulu will repress LGBT organising and jeopardise the safe areas created by LGBT students on campus. A trans woman studying at the university said, ‘There are minority groups who are more affected [by the appointment] than the majority, for instance, LGBTQIs [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex
Bogazici University (Credit: Turkmessage via Wikimedia Commons)
people], especially trans women and men. At a time when trans women like me have very limited safe space, such an appointment seems like an attempt to strip us of this space. We just want to exist.’ On 29 January, Turkish authorities commenced a targeted clampdown on LGBT students and demonstrators after a few students created an artwork depicting the Kaaba, Islam’s most holy site, juxtaposed with LGBT flags and a mythological creature that is half-snake and half- woman on the Bogazici campus. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Twitter ‘4 LGBT deviants who committed the disrespect to the Kaaba-i Muazzama were detained at Bogazici University.’ Furthermore, Bulu has closed down the student led LGBT club at the University. President Erdogan has accused the protesters of being
‘terrorists’ and ‘LGBT youth’ working against Turkey’s ‘national and spiritual values.’ According to Amnesty International, some LGBTI+ students have been threatened with rape and subjected to derogatory comments. Although homosexuality is legal in Turkey, hostility towards the LGBTI+ community has surfaced in the recent years. In the subsequent weeks after the protest, according to the BBC, Erdogan said in a video broadcast to members of his party, ‘We will carry our young people to the future, not as the LGBT youth, but as the youth that existed in our nation’s glorious past.’ At a time when the President of Turkey promised democratic reforms and amending relations with the US, his disparaging language and homophobic insults have tarnished the leader’s international image and drawn condemnation from US President Joe
Biden’s administration. The United Nations, European Union and the US have denounced Turkey’s handling of the protests. The UN and EU have insisted on freeing the demonstrators who have been detained. Moreover, the United Nations Human Rights Council said, ‘We call for prompt release of students and protesters arrested for participating in peaceful demonstrations, and urge the police to stop using excessive force. We condemn homophobic & transphobic comments by officials, inciting hatred & discrimination against LGBT people.’ In response to the international criticism received on its way of managing the protests, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying, ‘It is no one’s limit to attempt to interfere with Turkey’s internal affairs.’
peer-to-peer (P-2-P) Bitcoin market in the world and the largest in Africa. Analysts have anchored Bitcoin’s success in the federal republic with the rise of crypto-based startups amid the devaluation of the Naira during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Techpoint Africa, Nigeria traded $32.3M worth of Bitcoin in October 2020 alone. For the CBN, this strike against the nation’s cryptocurrency industry was done to curb ‘illegal transactions such as money laundering and drug trafficking.’ The CBN argued that cryptocurrency facilitated criminal activity in Nigeria given the ‘anonymous nature of [its] users and patrons.’ During a briefing with a joint Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, ICT and Cybercrime, and Capital Market, the CBN’s governor justified this move. Governor Godwin Emefiele had said on 23 February that the Central Bank had acted in the ‘best interest of Nigerian depositors and the country's financial system.’
While the International Monetary Fund’s representative for Nigeria, Ari Aisen, agreed with the CBN’s directive citing that ‘some central banks, not only in Nigeria [share] the concerns about […] the [kind of] activities these crypto currencies’ are involved in, this move has served to fuel greater distrust and anger from Nigerians towards the federal government. Bitcoin, for example, has been instrumental for the anti-police brutality EndSARS movement. In 2020 it emerged that those associated with the movement had their bank accounts frozen, causing many to turn to what CoinDesk referred to as ‘unconfiscatible [cryptocurrency] bank account[s]’ to circumnavigate the watchful eye of the federal government’s clamp down. CoinDesk’s Hannah Akuiyibo argued that use of VCs by the EndSARS movement may have influenced the CBN’s decision to outlaw cryptocurrency, with pressure to do so coming from the central government. Yele Bademosi, CEO of Bundle Africa, sees this decision as a ‘losing battle’ for the
CBN. Bademosi highlights that Nigerians are very cryptocurrency savvy, especially young Nigerians who would prefer to ‘download a crypto wallet and have quick access to financial services, compared to having to go to a bank.’ He went on to say that amid a ‘broken governance and finance system’ in Nigeria, it is important for young Nigerans to be able to be in a position where they are not ‘dependent’ thereof. Despite the CBN’s directive, the crypto industry still remains very active. An anonymous Bitcoin user told CoinDesk that ‘there’s no stopping crypto, [it’s] the future and we won’t let some old fools take our future from us.’ Analysts suggest that Nigerians will most likely turn to P-2-P platforms to continue trading. Nigeria’s vice president, Oluyemi Osinbajo, sees the CBN’s decision as hindering Nigeria’s ‘efficiency and progress.’ While he understood the concerns surrounding the misuse of VCs in Nigeria, he instead argued for the ‘regulation, not prohibition’ of cryptocurrencies.
Nigeria says bye-bye to Bitcoin Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication On 5 February 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued a communiqué stating that ‘dealing in cryptocurrencies or facilitating payments for cryptocurrency is prohibited.’ In line with this directive, the CBN ordered the immediate closure of all accounts operating cryptocurrency exchanges. The CBN said this latest directive was a reiteration of their January 2017 circular. In 2017 they stated that in light of the emergence of virtual currencies (VCs) in Nigeria, which are ‘susceptible to abuse by criminals, especially in money laundering and financing terrorism,’ financial institutions should not ‘use, hold, and/or transact in anyway in VCs.’ The circular also went on to say that Bitcoin, Dogecoin and other VCs are not considered as legal tender by the CBN. This directive comes as Nigeria was identified as having the second largest
15 MARCH 2021
Loujain is Liberated Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication After spending 1001 days in prison, the prominent Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul was released on 10 February 2021. In May 2018 Al-Hathloul was arrested along with other prominent Saudi activists, such as Iman al-Nafjan, Aziza alYousef and Aisha Almane. According to the Saudi Press Agency, they were arrested on suspicion of ‘contact with foreign entities to support their activities, recruiting some persons in charge of sensitive government positions, and providing financial support to hostile elements outside the country.’ Further, a state security spokesman charged the activists with ‘destabilis[ing] the kingdom and breach[ing] its social structure.’ Al-Hathloul’s detention came just a month before the Kingdom lifted its ban on women holding driver’s licenses and driving on 24 June 2018. Al-Hathloul, however, held a license from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and would film herself defying the former ban while returning to the Kingdom from the UAE. This defiance saw her arrested and imprisoned for 73 days in 2015. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) denied that her 2018 detention stemmed from her campaigns against the driving ban, but instead for her drive to ‘undermine the royal family.’ In a Dazed article, her sister Lina recounted the day she was detained in 2018. She described their parents being ‘scared’ when state security had besieged their Riyadh home, and added that Loujain ‘wasn’t even dressed’ properly when officers took her. Her detention was met with both national and international criticism. For Alaa Al-Siddiq, head of Al-Qst, a Saudi advocacy and human rights watch organisation, Loujain’s ordeal represented a ‘travesty’ for the kingdom. And for Amnesty International, ‘Loujain [was] not a criminal - she is a human rights defender who is being punished simply for daring to advocate for change.’ Amnesty campaigned for Al-Hathloul’s release from prison, as well as for charges against her to be dropped.
“Although she has now been released, campaigns for justice for Loujain are still very much ongoing.” Although she has now been released, campaigns for justice for Loujain are still very much ongoing. As part of her release, she and members of her family have been issued a travel ban barring them from leaving the KSA for five years. According to Yahoo News, Al-Hathloul’s parents have been barred from travel since 2018, without recourse to ‘legally challenge this restriction.’ Alia, Loujain’s sister, told AFP ‘we don't know how to remove this ban.’ Campaigners have dubbed this as a form of ‘state coercion,’ leaving many Saudi families vulnerable. Abdullah Alaoudh, a research director at Democracy
Al-Hathloul took to Twitter to announce her return home after three years imprisonment. (Credit: @LoujainHathloul via Twitter)
for the Arab World Now, has had 19 members of his family banned from travel since 2017. Alaoudh told Yahoo News that ‘these bans - issued without any due process or legal proceeding [...] are a tool for intimidation and pressure.’ According to Al Jazeera, Lina Al-Hathloul said that ‘what we want now is real justice.’ In a 2016 interview with The Economist, Loujain
hoped that her nation would soon see meaningful change, especially with youthful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) at the heart of Saudi leadership. However, she went on to say that while MBS is ‘energetic and wants change,’ his government is not necessarily an accurate representation of the nation as a whole. Thus for AlHathloul, MBS’ focus should be ‘on what we [as Saudis] want.’
15 MARCH 2021 http://soasspirit.co.uk/category/opinion/ Opinion editor: Anna Fenton-Jones
Betrayed by the model minority myth
Asian Americans redressing the model minority myth. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Aaron Chen, BA Law and Chinese The model minority myth is the stereotype that ESEA (East and Southeast Asian) diaspora are, amongst other attributes, the hardest working, most successfully assimilated and least threatening minority group. Yet given the rise of anti-ESEA hate crimes occurring all over the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has proven that it serves to silence our voices and invalidate our experiences of discrimination because we are ‘not really’ an ethnic minority. ‘Because of the model minority myth that pits Asians as the successful minority group that other minority groups should aspire to be like, when crimes against Asians are committed, it may not gain public attention,’ says Janice Gassam Asare in Forbes. As Lunar New Year festivities draw to a close, ESEA communities around the world will be reflecting on the difficulties that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought. Amidst the stresses and anxieties of living in uncertain times, ESEA communities have had to experience a pluralism of pandemics - one of which being a pandemic of racism. This time last year, my classmates and I were preparing to host the SOAS Lunar New Year party. I had made a huge order of Cantonese baked delicacies from a Chinatown bakery and was equally as excited for the food (carefully selected by yours truly) as I was for the performances. However, the day before our big night, I received a call from a very distressed lady speaking a blurred mixture of English, Cantonese and Mandarin. As confused as I was, I
soon realised it was the manager of the Chinatown bakery asking to confirm whether I still wanted to proceed with my order. At that point only ten Covid-19 cases had been reported in the UK, but that week she had received countless cancellations and a huge decline in sales. Today, the bakery is closed indefinitely. Just recently, the US had seen a string of attacks targeting elderly Asian-Americans. One of which was an assault on an 84 year old Thai immigrant who was slammed to the ground by his attacker in San Francisco and later died as a result of the injuries. Just days later, a 91 year old Chinese man was violently pushed from behind to the ground, causing severe injuries. While it would be difficult to prove that they were motivated by race, there exists an undeniable link in statistics reported by Stop AAPI Hate. Formed in response to the rise in race-related violence during the pandemic, they’ve reported 2800 counts of hate crimes directed towards AsianAmericans in 2020. Back in the UK, we have also seen our own outbreak of anti-ESEA hate crimes. Between January and June 2020, Metropolitan Police had recorded 457 counts of hate crimes targeting ESEA people. In February 2020, Singaporean-Chinese student Jonathan Mok was violently attacked on Oxford Street whilst being told, ‘I don’t want your coronavirus in my country.’ Most recently, Filipino-born NHS nurse Aldarico Jr. Velasco was called a ‘f****** Chinese c***’ by a patient during his shift in an East Midlands hospital. At the heart of this is the racialisation of Covid-19. This
virus has been personified and given the face of an ESEA person, quite literally, by the UK media. It took a petition started by British-born Chinese podcaster Viv Yau to hold the UK government and media outlets accountable for depicting ESEA in Covid related media. She raises the important point that although ‘Chinese people make up around 0.7% of the population in the UK… the rate at which Chinese or other East/Southeast Asian people are depicted in coronavirus related stories is disproportionate.’ As of 27 February, the petition had been signed almost 20,000 times. Before I conclude, I want to bring it back to where I started – at a struggling business in London’s Chinatown. On 21 February, Kova Patisserie Chinatown took to social media to reveal that their store front had been purposefully vandalised. ‘It wasn’t a random attack, the suspect came fully prepared and splashed the shopfront with black paint,’ they shared on their Instagram account. The UK government is yet to release a statement condemning the rise of anti-ESEA racism and we continue to live without support and some sense of inclusion. As BritishChinese MP Sarah Owen suggests, ‘include our community in the conversation - give us a seat at the table.’ Given the uncomfortable facts and my own experiences as a British-born Chinese man, it’s clear to me that the model minority myth is a lie. While there is a common misconception that it acts as a form of protection, in reality, it is more a tool of oppression and is silencing our cries for help. My people are dying, and it’s being justified.
15 MARCH 2021
Texas’ seven-day ice age shows the disparate politics of climate change Camila Consolmagno & Frederick Thelen, LLB & BA International Relations Recently, the state of Texas suffered through a historical event already being termed the ‘2021 Texas Power Crisis.’ This, however, fails to convey the scale of the crisis. Energy in Texas is managed on a state level as it has a power grid independent from the rest of the US. Triggered by two different February winter storms, the crisis led to state-wide power cuts when the energy grid was threatened with complete collapse due to greater demand than could be supplied. The consequential colossal surge in wholesale electricity left at least 70 dead and many unanswered questions. As a result of the freezing conditions, many wind turbines, coal piles and natural gas wells froze. Gas pipelines also became blocked. Coupled with a rise in demand, this led to a heat and electricity shortage as controlled blackouts were instituted to save the overall energy grid from a complete meltdown. Facing a 10,000% increase in the price of wholesale electricity, millions of Texans were forced to cut their own power. For those that could afford it, bills surged to $400-500 daily. For many, that meant an erasure of their life savings. As a consequence of Covid-19, Texans were already facing unprecedented financial difficulties. This unforeseen tragedy has only exacerbated them. The most vulnerable were left out in the cold - the elderly, the poor and the homeless were the most at risk. This quickly led to the state providing ‘emergency warming centers’ to help
residents find shelter, though many struggled meeting Covid-19 safety standards amid the emergency. In Houston, more than 500 people crowded into a single shelter. Many other centers, however, had to be shut due to unaidable power loss. As with many crises, the devastation served to amplify pre-existing inequalities. Amongst the dead was an 11-year-old boy who died attempting to keep his 3-year-old brother warm. Critical infrastructure was exempt from the long-term blackouts, meaning that residents in denser, more affluent areas with hospitals did not have to scramble for heat or electricity. Importantly, the ‘Texas Freeze’ exposed the unpreparedness and willful ignorance of decision-makers in the face of exponentially increasing climate risks. Does this come as a surprise? Scientists have been warning for decades that these disasters would occur with the strength and frequency we are now experiencing if nothing was done. Far too many governments have been complacent, negligent and denialist. Texas itself is an example of this. After a winter storm of similar severity occurred in 2011 and caused widespread blackouts, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas allegedly ignored a report compiled by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that called for the state to prepare the energy grid for instances of extreme cold weather. The fatal consequences of climate change-induced weather were not just apparent but avoidable. Arguably, no place is a more fitting symbol of climate denialism and its futility in the face of evermore extreme weather events than Texas. It is the seed of the US oil industry, which for so long funded research
Bank of America amid Dallas snow, 2021. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
denying their businesses’ impact on the climate and discrediting science all while actively lobbying against renewable energies in Austin, Washington D.C. and beyond. It is thus unsurprising that numerous lawmakers - among them Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who saw fit to abandon the emergency his constituents faced in the freezing cold for warmer, more luxurious pastures abroad - used the disaster to back the fossil fuel industry by blaming the event on the failure of renewable energy sources in the extreme cold. This untrue claim is an attempt to protect the Texas oil industry, the local government’s most prominent backers. The Centre for Responsive Politics reported that Senator
Cruz received $1,388,417 in political donations from the Oil & Gas industry from 2015 to 2020 alone. The fallout and unfolding battle over renewable energy and fossil fuels highlights the need for responsible, science-driven governance that prioritises the wellbeing of the people it serves in the face of mounting challenges and growing inequality. Amidst the current talk of proofing society against future pandemics, policy-makers would do well to heed the examples of Texas, California and others, and adjust governance to take seriously, prevent and mitigate the unequal consequences of climate changeinduced weather patterns. Lives depend on it.
The tragic history of American medicine failing the Black community Zahra Jawad, BA Politics and Economics Content warning: surgical procedures and medical negligence If 2021 has shown us anything, it is the incredible capacity for clinical innovations at the heart of modern medicine. Several Covid-19 vaccines, developed with cutting-edge technology, have been approved and widely manufactured in just a matter of months. Our ability to quickly address and remedy illness and disease has exponentially grown in the last century. While many are quick to celebrate these achievements, their significance is often heightened by our ignorance; a dark history lies behind the frameworks of Western medicine. Like American policing, institutionalised racism still lingers within modern medicine. Even after slavery was abolished in America in 1865, the barbarism that haunted Black citizens remained prevalent. Medical schools and research centers were known to rely on theft of Black bodies to use as anatomical material, a practice that continued into the early 20th century. The veneration of America’s ‘father’ of modern-day gynecology shows us the extent to which we are prepared to ignore the racist history of medicine. J. Marion Sims, an American physician, revolutionised modern day gynaecology and is credited with developing the surgical procedure to fix Vesicovaginal Fistula (VVF) – a tear occurring between the
uterus and bladder. Sims’ achievements came at the cost of many - he was known to have partaken in a wide range of gruesome procedures involving Black women. During the 1830s, Sims perfected the surgery for VVF after carrying out the procedure on enslaved women, such as Anarcha Westcott who is infamously depicted in the painter Robert Thom’s ‘Great Moments in Medicine’ series, without their consent. A paper published by the Journal of Medical Ethics found that Sims didn’t use anaesthesia when carrying out the operation, often resulting in the women dying of shock if they hadn’t already succumbed to internal bleeding. This was practiced by many doctors alike and led to a dangerous ideology within medicine that persists today - that the white man feels pain differently from his Black counterpart. Charles Hamilton Smiths’ The Natural History of the Human first codified this idea, stating that ‘the darker American races can tolerate pain unbearable to that of the white man.’ A study conducted by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) found that a staggering 40% of first and second year medical students believed that Black people’s skin was thicker than White people’s. Myths continue to circulate that Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive long after Sims’ practice came to be seen as barbaric. Serena Williams’ shocking story of the birth of her daughter is an appalling example of the persistence of these myths. Williams, who had a history of blood clots, began to
deteriorate shortly after undergoing an emergency Caesarean section. She pleaded with doctors to give her a CT scan and administer IV heparin, but her nurse assumed Williams’ pain medication was making her delusional. When she finally convinced her Doctors to send her for a CT scan, it revealed several blood clots had settled in her lungs. Williams says she was lucky; for many Black women, this stigma around their pain proves fatal. Black women are the primary victims of the racial prejudices that exist within medicine. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black mothers in the US die at 3 to 4 times the rate of white mothers during childbirth. Mass immigration to America in the 1930s contributed to the birth of the eugenics movement which aimed to curb the proliferation of non-White births. During this time, the Supreme Court upheld forced sterilisation laws for African Americans and other ethnic minorities in 32 states. A horrific 20,000 men and women belonging to minorities underwent the sterilisation procedure without their knowledge and it was only during the mid-Twentieth Century that the practice came to be seen as a barbaric product of pseudo-science. Institutionalised racism in medicine still persists and despite growing awareness and the rise of anti-racism movements in the last two decades, skepticism and fear still linger in the traumatised Black community and other minority groups.
15 MARCH 2021
Beach-ness as usual? Rebuilding the Thai tourism industry on inequality
Preeyawat Mahachai was employed in the tourism industry for 18 years. The pandemic has forced him to return home to sell homemade sweets. (Credit: Mahachai)
Sophie Zwick, BA Politics and International Relations As vaccine rollouts begin in earnest all over the world, Thai authorities and hotel chains have called for quarantine exemptions for vaccinated travellers. However, the devastating consequences of the shuttered tourist industry have been most painfully felt among its most vulnerable workers and a return to business as usual cannot occur. While lockdown has forced us to stay indoors reminiscing about our last big trip abroad, tourism-dependent economies such as Thailand have been hit hard by the international border closures. In Thailand, the Covid-19 virus appears to have been widely controlled as the government has reported a total of 13,000 cases and just 71 deaths up to January 2021. However, the economic consequences of travel restrictions and lockdowns have significantly impacted the livelihoods of over 100 million workers in the industry. Thailand's tourism industry accounts for 21% of its national GDP, as estimated by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The Financial Times has reported 1 in 3 Thai businesses closed due to the pandemic. In light of this, Thailand implemented a long stay visa scheme last October which included a mandatory 2 week quarantine upon arrival. This did not yield the anticipated influx of foreign tourists, who normally make up 70% of the industry revenue. As William Heinecke, chairman of Thailand’s largest listed hotel and hospitality group, stated: ‘There are tremendous numbers of people who won’t come to Thailand, or won’t come to any country that has a quarantine, because it takes too much time.’
Thai hotel operators are now calling for an exemption from the quarantine measures for vaccinated tourists with the hope that this will result in the revival of the industry. However, these measures ignore the deepening inequalities the pandemic has caused and offer no protection to the many vulnerable workers who rely on tourism. ‘I am done with the hotel industry, I worked there for 18 years and now I have nothing,’ says 33 year old Preeyawat Mahachai. Tourism is the second largest industry in Thailand, and employs 9% of Thailand's workforce. Neighbouring tourist destinations such as Cambodia and Vietnam employ similarly high percentages of their populations, 6.7% and 6.9%. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) predicts an increase in working poverty in the region. Mahachai worked as an Executive Manager of Housekeeping at a Phuket resort when tourists stopped booking trips. He explains, ‘When Covid came the General Manager held a meeting in every department. We brainstormed solutions and they decided to cut the manpower by half.’ In charge of 40 employees, Mahachai was instructed to fire ten team members, ‘I didn’t choose to cut them but I fired myself, my salary amounted to the salary of 10 of my staff.’ ‘It is not fair, every person has their responsibility, I am single, I don’t have children or a partner. I worked for 18 years, I have money in the bank. If I leave my team can still work, I don’t want to see them lose their jobs.’
“My life is like a car with no gasoline to put in, everything stopped for me.”
The resort managed three more months after the restructuring before letting go of a further 150 employees. Meanwhile Mahachai lived off his savings. Without employment and income he explains: ‘My life is like a car with no gasoline to put in, everything stopped for me.’ Informal employees, often young, female and uneducated workers, have suffered the worst effects of the crisis. In Southeast Asia, 3 in 4 people in the tourism industry are employed on an informal level. The ILO is rightly calling for better protection, labour standards and social protection systems in the industry. Mahachai supports these proposals; his life is now unrecognisable to the one he was living a year ago. Having spent years working his way up from Florist to Manager in his resort, the young man is now back with his family in northeastern Thailand. ‘Because of Covid I was able to come back and we no have big money, but we big happy,’ he says as he shows me images of homemade sweets he now sells with his mother. In a recent report by the UN World Tourism Organisation, just 41% of experts estimate a return to pre-pandemic foreign travel by 2024. The assessment names consumer confidence as key to a revival of the industry. Hotels, governments and Western travellers may be able to wait patiently for the return of restriction-free travel to sunny vacations, but how much longer can the vulnerable employees of the industry continue to carry the burden of a recovering tourist trade? Mahachai tells me that he has no interest in going back: ‘I want to find another career, something I have never done before. Something challenging, to go to another country to learn about another country.’
15 MARCH 2021
New university ‘free speech champion’ is not in the interests of the student body Zaynab Mufti, BA International Relations and History We Brits are known for our pride in our values and freedoms. No matter the stake and no matter whose neck is stepped on, all is fair as long as our freedoms are upheld - right? It seems our government thinks so too. In an attempt to strengthen free speech in England, the government has announced a new ‘free speech and academic champion’ in universities under the Office for Students (OfS). The role expands the existing regulations for universities on free speech and now gives the OfS greater influence over students’ unions. The ‘Champions’ will be able to fine students’ unions that they deem to be denying freedom of speech as they understand it. Examples of this could include de-platforming bigoted speakers and preventing public discussions of intolerant beliefs. Effectively, the Conservatives have created the legal means to suppress any campus protests - free speech, right?
“The Conservative’s have created the legal means to suppress any campus protests - free speech right?” Education Secretary Gavin Willamson claims that it will counter ‘unacceptable silencing and censoring’ on university campuses. It is clear that the majority of the general public will welcome this move as a 2019 YouGov poll revealed that 52% of British adults agree that this is a significant problem.
This perceived threat comes as part of a larger culture war engineered by the right - the so-called ‘war on woke.’ This has manifested itself in the government's response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Home Secretary Priti Patel labelled the 2020 BLM protests as ‘dreadful’ and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick suggested drafting a new law to stop ‘woke worthies’ bringing down statues. It is clear that the government does not favour positions that draw attention to Britain’s questionable imperial past. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden even went so far as to criticise the increasing acknowledgement of Britain's colonial history in order to ‘defend our culture and history’ from the ‘activists constantly trying to do Britain down.’ So, this move to silence critics and ‘protect’ freedom of speech is not surprising. It begs the question, however, is freedom really being threatened on campuses? In 2018, the Joint Committee on Human Rights investigated free speech on university campuses and concluded that there is no threat nor is there ‘wholesale censorship of debate.’ Despite the strong media narrative that de-platforming is widespread, the OfS themselves revealed that only 53 out of 62,094 requests for external speakers were declined by university bodies during 2017-18. It is apparent then that the free speech crisis declared in mainstream media is a fabricated right-wing offensive. In fact, to suggest that the Conservatives are champions of this freedom is laughable. It is the same right-wing that silences students with the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy and dominates the British press. If freedom of speech is the primary concern, the government would be supporting their critics like they do their loyalists. Instead, the government is preoccupied with trying to protect their idealistic version of free speech.
How, then, will students be affected, and what is at stake? Autonomy of the student body is at risk. Regulation of intra-university events and debates should be conducted from within, rather than imposed from above. In handing power to the OfS, not only is a fundamental freedom to protest being taken away, but a contradiction in terms is being declared. The OfS has been given an unprecedented amount of authority to control what can and can not be said in our campuses. To supervise free speech is to remove the freedom inherent within it. What was once in our hands as students is now in the hands of the government. So yes - ‘free speech’ is being protected, but only if it fits the government's agenda. The threat to our independence and freedom should not be understated, especially considering Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s history of penning savage articles targeting Muslims, Black people and other marginalised communities in his previous career as a journalist. Undoubtedly, this provides a further license to his loyalists to continue slandering people of colour, migrants, the poor and minorities. Ultimately, this debate is only a distraction from the dire education failures of this government throughout the pandemic. Instead of providing solutions for students still paying thousands for accommodation they can not live in, this government has decided to champion and prioritise the rights of bigots on empty campuses all under a guise of caring about our education and our universities. If the government truly cared, they would be prioritising hardship funds, the return of maintenance grants and the fair treatment of staff instead of an attack on our independence and freedom.
bifurcation between the country and its representative is difficult if not impossible. This indistinguishability between man and state strikes at the heart of a problem that has plagued international justice since at least the Nuremberg trials. I’m referring to the moral authority of one nation to judge another.
The pariah of colonialism also looms large over the various African cases that are currently in the purview of this court. The ICC has often been criticised for its apparent special focus on Africa (not without cause given that, out of 30 cases and 13 investigations, only 3 are non-African). It has defended itself by pointing out that several Africans hold prominent positions in its hierarchy, one of whom Karim Khan has replaced. This will undoubtedly reignite accusations of not only the moral soundness of the court’s efforts but also raise uncomfortable questions about the new prosecutor’s commitment to prosecuting war crimes given his previous track record. It is a prerequisite that politics be separated from any meaningful pursuit of justice to ensure credibility and, along with it, enforceability. It is due to this reason that the first two prosecutors were elected unanimously, but this tradition was broken by the deep political wrangling that delivered Karim Khan to his new post. It was only after intense lobbying by the UK and Kenya that he received a marginal majority of votes in a secret ballot, another first for the ICC. It is this blatant politicisation of the role that threatens the very fabric of international justice and severely hampers the potency of the ICC. All of this even before the new prosecutor has started his work. The question begs itself, is the appointment of Karim Khan truly in the best interest of justice?
The New Troubling Visage of Lady Justice Abdul Basit, BA International Relations and Economics Universal accountability or faceless justice has long constituted the utopian daydreams of philosophers and international theorists alike. Plato talked about it and so did More. The closest we have come to realise such an aspiration is undoubtedly the founding of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, the menace of statism is once again threatening to rot this effort from the inside out and the appointment of Karim Khan serves as a linchpin of this wider phenomenon. The ICC elucidates its mission as ending the impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes that concern the international community. Its appointments, therefore, must also be made in a manner that sustains that ethos. However, to what extent the court will be served in fulfilling its mission by its latest choice of chief prosecutor is debatable. Karim Khan is a career international criminal lawyer who, on the face of it, appears to be entirely qualified for his new job. Yet his track record of being the defence counsel of men like Charles Taylor, Said Gaddafi, Abdallah Banda and Bahar Garda casts a long shadow on his humanitarian credentials. Although some might hail the appointment of a nonwhite individual to this role, it must be remembered that he is also British. In an organisation that is constituted by nation-states that vote to elect the chief prosecutor, the
“Is it really just for a British barrister to prosecute injustices in regions of the world that suffer from conflict and instability as a direct result of colonialism?” Is it really just for a British barrister to prosecute injustices in regions of the world that suffer from conflict and instability as a direct result of colonialism? The war crimes committed in Afghanistan and the Israel-Palestine conflict are both on this prosecutor’s agenda, yet the common denominator in both these conflicts is British policy that helped exacerbate violence and spread chaos. It is also uncouth for a British barrister to occupy this position given Britain’s continued refusal to comply with ICC’s ruling on the Chagos Islands.
15 MARCH 2021
Are We Witnessing a ‘Clash of Civilisations’ in India? Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication In 1996 The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order was published. Therein, Samuel P. Huntington foresaw collective religious identity and culture as being the locus of future conflict to come. According to Huntington, ‘Western Civilisation’ would encompass Western Europe, North America and Oceania. It would be characterised by ‘Western Christian’ religion and culture, in contrast to the ‘Muslim world of the Greater Middle East.’ The latter would encompass Northern West Africa, Albania and Bangladesh - amongst others. Huntington also discussed what he called ‘Cleft Countries,’ nations torn, or ‘cleft,’ between two different ‘civilisations.’ In Huntington’s estimation, such countries are bound to split due to irreconcilable cultural and religious differences. In India, a nation of nearly 1.4 billion people, approximately 80% of the population adheres to the Hindu faith. Huntington thus labelled India as comprising part of the ‘Hindu Civilisation.’ Yet 14.2% of the population, or roughly 172 million people, in India identify as Muslim - one of the largest Muslim minority communities in the world. Under Article 14 of India’s constitution, protection of all Indian peoples from discrimination and equality before the law is enshrined. Arguably, this has been threatened by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), premiered by Narendra Modi. Modi’s India has seen the rise of ‘Hindutva,’ described by Shashi Tharoor MP as akin to ‘the team identity of British football hooligans [...] “Hindutva” acolytes [espouse] that a territory does not make a nation, a people make a nation - and the people of the Indian nation are Hindu.’
“‘Hindutva’ acolytes [espouse] that a territory does not make a nation, a people make nation - and the people of the Indian nation are Hindu.” Under the BJP, India has undergone a ‘saffronisation’ of its curriculum and an Act of Parliament was passed giving recourse to only non-Muslim refugees seeking Indian citizenship. So, are we seeing an inevitable clash, or possibly a cleft of civilisations being played out in India? Or is the story more complex? ‘Saffronisation’ refers to the BJP policies that promote its ‘Hindutva’ rhetoric. Under ‘Hindutva’, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism
Aatish Taseer’s 2019 article for Time dubbed Prime Minister Modi as ‘India’s divider in chief.’ (Credit: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)
and Jainism are seen as ‘Indian religions,’ while Islam and Christianity are shunned as ‘outsider religions.’ In light of this, the ‘saffronisation’ of education in India has seen a cleanse of Islamic and Christian influences from the national curriculum. In 2016 Ram Shankar Katheria MP said that this was ‘beneficial’ for India. In reality, it is a great tragedy. Rewriting the nation’s history books such that Hindu experience and contributions are highlighted while that of Muslims and Christians are disregarded is exclusionary to a large cross-section of Indian society. Modi’s government is also the first to use religion as a criterion for citizenship in India. The 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) offers a pathway for refugees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians who arrived in India before December 2014 to apply for citizenship. The BJP says Muslims are not eligible as they are ‘not a persecuted minority’ in the aforementioned countries. The CAA is intrinsically linked to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that was piloted in Assam. The NRC is an attempt to
enumerate those who are bonafide citizens and who are immigrants. The NRC places the onus on the individual to provide documentation to prove they are Indian citizens. The CAA and NRC combined rendered many Muslims in Assam vulnerable to statelessness in instances where they did not have the documents to prove their citizenship, nor had recourse to apply for citizenship under the CAA. While the aforementioned may appear to validate Huntington’s theory, India’s unique socio-religious landscape throws a spanner in the works. According to Indian researcher Harsh Mander ‘the Hindu faith is the only major religion which legitimises inequality [with the] caste [system].’ Dalits, or ‘untouchables’ rank the lowest in the Hindu hierarchy and, according to Meena Kandasamy, are India’s ‘most oppressed community.’ Dalits are relegated to the lowly tasks, such as manually cleaning the sewers of India - often without the necessary apparatus nor protective gear. To escape this extreme prejudice, many Dalits have converted to Islam or Christianity. Yet, in another twist, to curb Dalits’ rights, the Prohibition of Unlawful Religious
Conversion Ordinance law in the BJP’s stronghold of Uttar Pradesh means conversion cannot take place unless approved by a state official. Human rights activists have drawn attention to this law as a means by which the BJP seeks to ‘keep Dalits in their place.’ Revisiting Huntington’s 1996 thesis, the case of India spotlights the reductionist nature of his estimation, such that it was not able to account for ‘intra-civilisational’ conflict that we see between the lower caste Dalits and the wider Hindu population. I am not necessarily convinced that what we are seeing here is a clash of civilisations. Modi has created an atmosphere where acting upon prejudices has been legitimised. Modi has capitalised on anti-Muslim and lower caste sentiments under the guise of governance. Converting such anger and peeling away societal civility in this fashion is dangerous. This sanctioning of hatred may reverse the great strides towards progress India was initially built on.
15 MARCH 2021
The year of Facebook has only just begun Eliza Bacon, MA Global Media and Communications 2021 really has been the year of Facebook; the year of reckoning with the role it plays in our lives, and what little we can do about it. Why ‘year’ when we’re only in the early months of 2021? Because I predict this fire is only just heating up. The latest feather in the tech company’s controversial cap is the Australian government. The stalemate brought to the fore many growing problems in news gathering today. How does the power of BigTech influence the relationship between journalism and democracy? What does it tell us about multinational corporations versus the nation-state? Whose side to take, Murdoch or Zuckerberg? Most importantly, the news shut-down proved the unsustainability of Facebook operating as both a private company and an essential service. First, what happened? Social media has been draining traditional news media of its advertising revenue for years. Exacerbated by the pandemic, last year saw hundreds of Australian newspapers closed. Meanwhile, tech companies have been doing better than ever. The Australian government drafted legislation to temper this imbalance, targeting Facebook and Google in particular. Tech companies must negotiate rates with news providers for publishing their news and a government-appointed arbitrator will set the rates if commercial negotiations fail. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher proposed that the new legislation ‘will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content
they generate, helping to sustain publicinterest journalism in Australia.’ Google has appeased the media companies by entering into a significant partnership with NewsCorp. But Facebook and Google are different beasts; one is a search engine that allows users to search for news gatherers, and the other is a social media site that doesn’t so much publish news as it enables users to do so. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, has argued that to start paying news providers for linking to their content is to disrupt the fundamental mechanisms of the internet. He makes a good point, though his pluralistic ideal is threatened by the dominance of Facebook. Perhaps more importantly in an increasingly hybrid media environment, choosing which sites count as ‘news providers’ is a very tricky business. Atlassian, an Australian software company, argues that ‘Legislation
creating government-favoured categories of web sites will only disrupt neutrality on the Internet.’ So, Facebook refused the conditions. Instead, they blocked posts by Australian publishers from being seen all over the world and blocked all users in Australia from seeing any news content. To add insult to injury, faulty algorithms extended the ban to some key government information and nonprofit pages during its initial rollout. Accusations of censorship and outcry at threatening to withhold access to key information in the midst of a pandemic were understandably seen. Facebook was entirely within their rights to suspend these services. If they don’t want to pay for news links they should not have to. But, for a significant number of people, Facebook has become the information nexus. It’s time to start grappling with what this means.
The reality of Big Tech’s opaque power was felt in January when Twitter and other social media platforms banned Donald Trump’s account in the wake of the Capitol Storming. More recently, they have banned the accounts of the Myanmar military based on their human rights abuses. What about Modi’s new legislation that aims to force tech companies to take down posts the Indian government deems contentious? The Indian Farmers’ Protests are just one example of the lifelines social media sites provide for dissent. We can’t always trust nation-states to produce legislation that regulates tech in the interests of free and fair democracy, but we can’t trust Facebook to judge this distinction either. Eventually, Zuckerberg returned to the negotiating table and restored news in return for some concessions. It is yet to be seen whether the amended law’s proper installation will support good quality journalism; it will likely benefit Murdoch’s NewsCorp more than anyone else. Lizzie O’Shea of Digital Rights Watch has written that the changes will see both social media and news media empowered towards a data-extractive business model that yields great profit at great public cost. Depressing. Either way, we should be deeply concerned by Facebook’s monopoly over our information ecosystem. It enables them to strip individuals and communities of communicative power in an instant. Whether used for ‘good’ or for ‘leverage’, it’s all power. Power that is not held to account. With more and more countries oiling up for the fight, it’s going to be one to watch.
Facebook login page. (Credit: Acidpix, Flickr)
The fight for racial equality in Latin America Rehman Khokhar, BA Chinese and Korean A recent report by the BBC found that in the first half of 2020 more people were killed as a result of police violence in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro than in all of the United States put together. 75% of those killed were Black, many of them just teenagers. Systemic racism and police brutality are problems deeply rooted across Latin America. But when was the last time you heard about a BLM protest in Bogotá, Havana or Mexico City? Why is there such a lack of awareness surrounding racial inequality in Latin America? Last summer our TV screens and social media feeds were filled with images of mass demonstrations and protests, and links to petitions and donation pages. From Boston to Bristol, statues came down and millions came out under the slogan of Black Lives Matter to challenge the structural racism and violence that has been targeting Black people for centuries. Whilst it was by no means the first time people had taken to the streets in response to police brutality against a Black person, the situation created in 2020 and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and ineptitude of right-wing governments meant that a movement birthed in the US soon spread
across the world. One of the key aims of anti-racist movements such as BLM is to educate and raise awareness of the issues related to racism. A simple search online can illustrate the disparity in information - if one were to search for news articles on Black rights movements in the UK or the US, page upon page of up-to-date pieces will appear. However, the exact same search in the Dominican Republic or Panama would return far fewer results. Perhaps the most shocking factor is that this is by no means an accident. Since the 19th century, many countries in Latin America have promoted the ideology of mestizaje, that is, the idea that the people of Latin America are racially mixed and as such racism is not a problem in their part of the world. Brazil, for example, has prided itself on achieving a so-called ‘racial democracy’ - a utopia that has transcended racial boundaries where people of all backgrounds live in perfect harmony. This, of course, could not be further from the truth. The truth is that Latin America is home to the world’s largest Black diaspora. Brazil alone has a Black population second only to Nigeria. Of the estimated 12 million African men, women and children who were enslaved and victims of the transatlantic slave trade, the vast majority were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean. Furthermore, some
countries in Latin America were among the last to abolish the practice of slavery. Brazil, for instance, did so only in 1888. Following this, many countries adopted a policy of blanqueamiento or ‘whitening’ in order to ‘dilute’ the Black population. The policy included funding and subsidising immigration from European countries and birthed the idea of ‘mejorar la raza’ – the notion of seeking to ‘improve the race’ through mixing to achieve the goal of whiteness. The government of Cuba, for example, invested over $1 million recruiting Europeans to migrate to the island to counter the large Black population, whom they viewed as a threat. The father of Fidel Castro, a Spaniard, also arrived in Cuba during this period. The fight for racial equality rages on in Latin America, and we outside of the continent owe it to them to be aware of their struggle, to amplify their voices and to do what we can to help. Social media can connect us to this fight much more effectively than traditional media. The work of Black Latin American activists like Dash Harris (@diasporadash and @ afrolatinotravel), Alan Pelaez Lopez (@migrantscribble) and Ain't I Latina? (@aintilatina) continues to shine a spotlight on the plight of Black Latin Americans long after the Western news cycle has moved on.
15 MARCH 2021 http://soasspirit.co.uk/category/features/ FEATURES EDITOR: Ella Dorn
My experience coping during lockdown Nafisa Kiani, MSc Global Public Policy Working hard or hardly working? For me, a typical lockdown week involves working for the House of Commons education and engagement team and studying remotely at the same time. I have been reading a research proposal from a student and outlining its strengths and weaknesses. I have also been facilitating team meetings with staff members I work with, checking up on their health and wellbeing and finding out how working practices can be improved. I have encouraged them to fill in a survey feedback form outlining how managers can improve their work approaches. I have also delivered coaching sessions to check
that their career objectives are being met and if they need further training.
especially since I have been shielding and not going outside since March 2020 - nearly a year!
Mentor madness I have started mentoring a young intern within the workplace, offering guidance to assist her in reaching her career goals and aspirations. When you are starting a new role it is ideal to have a supportive figure to resolve queries and to point you in the right direction.
Sharing is self-caring I would encourage SOAS students to sign up to the British Red Cross ‘Phone a Friend’ scheme where you can converse with another SOAS student once a week and offer advice and guidance to support each other during the pandemic. I think this is important as some students can feel isolated, and mental health can be adversely impacted if the right levels of support are not offered at the right time. So, self-care is essential.
Episode IV: A New Cope I have also been meditating, praying and reading the Qur’an, exercising and reaching out to friends. It is important to take a holistic approach to cope during unprecedented times,
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Not A Quirk, A Nightmare Ashika George, BA History of Art Content warning: mental illness When the term ‘OCD’ is used, the image conjured is of a type-A individual who loves cleanliness, tidiness and organising. We see this representation on social media and other media outlets, with the phrase ‘I’m so OCD’ ingrained in common vocabulary. My first encounter with the term obsessive-compulsive disorder was on Disney Channel, where the characters in a series described it as wanting every object to be organised in a particular fashion. While OCD can manifest as these sorts of obsessions and compulsions, the reality is that the disorder is far more complex than what has been portrayed and understood in contemporary society. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is defined by the NHS as ‘a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.’ Obsessive thoughts are unpleasant and unwanted, and they can cause a great deal of distress, which then leads to repetitive compulsive behavior. For example, I have obsessions regarding contamination/infection: anxious over developing an illness or even death if I touch door handles or raw food, I wash my hands repeatedly until I feel as if I am 100% clean.
“It is harmful how people continue to perpetuate OCD as a personality trait or a topic of humor. If you suffered from this disorder even for a day, you would quickly realise that it's not a quirk, but a horrific nightmare.” Compulsions may allow relief but it is only temporary and can become exhausting and detrimental to one’s health. It is debilitating. Of course, there is a range that affects each individual differently when delving deeper into the symptoms that encompass the disorder. Unfortunately, the
OCD is harmfully misrepresented (Credit: Pixabay)
representation of OCD solely as cleaning, tidying and organisation means that symptoms are misunderstood as a harmless set of quirky traits rather than signs of a severe disorder. It is harmful how people continue to perpetuate OCD as a personality trait or a topic of humor. If you suffered from this disorder even for a day, you would quickly realise that it is not a quirk, but a horrific nightmare. The disorder includes further darker obsessions that are not well-known to the general public, such as harm/violence, paedophilia, sexual themes and scrupulosity, to name a few. These are frequently classified under ‘Pure OCD’, defined by the Made of Millions organisation as ‘a type of OCD in which a sufferer engages in hidden compulsions.’ I also experience lesser known obsessions of hurting loved ones: I feel terrified I will act it out and mentally repeat certain words or numbers, check memories and/or avoid people until the thoughts feel eradicated. Since some of these themes are considered taboo, sensitive or can easily be misunderstood as people genuinely wanting these thoughts, many do not know that they have OCD or
feel that they cannot disclose their thoughts to loved ones or to mental health professionals. These themes or symptoms also vary between each individual with Pure OCD, and are very much valid. Starting to understand how extremely difficult these obsessions can be through mental health discussions is a major step in de-stigmatisation. I can tell you that since I was a child, I had been struggling with intrusive thoughts, but thought it was just my brain being strange. I was not officially diagnosed until October 2019. Educating ourselves on the scope of this disorder can greatly ensure that people don’t take years to be diagnosed and receive treatment. It is critical that we begin to understand OCD’s true nature and impact and discontinue the usage of OCD as a term to describe misconceived symptoms and as funny traits. I sincerely hope that more people become aware of the reality of obsessive-compulsive disorder, begin to treat sufferers with care and raise further awareness of this misunderstood condition.
My Week in Limericks Ella Dorn, BA Chinese and Linguistics The limerick, compact but sprightly, is my favourite verse form. I have previously written them in dead languages and submitted others to various anonymous Facebook pages; I even had to be stopped from writing my UCAS personal statement in limerick format. This week, I’ve contributed to the field by writing a limerick diary. Follow me as I try to do some work, somehow get Zoom interviewed by a major publication, pull off a spur-of-the-moment all-nighter, learn a new language, and try to do a bit more work - all in Ireland’s best-loved meter.
Monday In every girl’s life comes the time: ‘Heavens, how now shall I rhyme?’ I’ve no skill for haiku, So this week I’ll make do Fair limerick, come and be mine! Tuesday I worked pretty hard, in defence, (Go hard or go home, my pretense). Wrote some new chengyu, For class, a long review, Of a book making no ounce of sense. Wednesday Today’s been a bit of a show,
(I can’t sleep right now, I’m aglow!) It’s so hard to exhume, When in this Zoom room, Has been Bogart (perhaps) or Monroe! Thursday On Thursday I sit here in class, All of my bones feel like glass. Why’s it so painful? Complaints? I’ve a brainful, All-nighters are merely a farce. Friday The all-nighter, in fact, was a smash. Well-rested, and stressed? Not a dash! My sleep pattern’s sorted!
Let’s Graduate Like it’s 1899
It was not until 1878 that women were allowed to study at university level in the United Kingdom. (Credit: University of London Archives)
Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication I was amongst those who graduated from university in 2020. After three (very quick years) I had finally completed my Bachelor’s degree in Study of Religions. As part of those who made it out the other end successfully, degree in hand, even amidst all the Covid pallaver,
I happily celebrated my achievement in a socially distant manner at home with a well deserved celebratory pizza. My delight when I received my graduate’s certificate in the mail soon turned to shock horror. I noticed, even though it said in large red letters on the envelope ‘PLEASE DO NOT BEND’, that somewhere during transit it had in fact been bent. But it was nothing compared to the conversations I had seen circulating around SOASian Facebook. A graduate student of Near and Middle Eastern Studies
15 MARCH 2021
Why had I cavorted, With moonlit reading of trash? Saturday Here I sit learning Korean, Better than any plebeian. At long last it’s clearer, That half the words here are Sinitic (not Indo-European). Sunday Today I must finish my work, Log on, no time to divert To….music with bongos! Japanese gameshows! The oeuvre of one Douglas Sirk!
posted a picture of their certificate. According to the certificate, their award was issued ‘30 December 1899.’ I’m sure it was just a typo mishap. But still, graduating in the 19th century - I wonder what that would have looked like… The year is 1899. As SOAS was not yet to be established until 1916 (or should I say SOS - back then, it was only the School of Oriental Studies), I most likely would have been a student of UCL. Only 21 years prior, in 1878, was UCL made the first British university allowed to award degrees to women. I like to think I would have received a Gilchrist Scholarship. In 1879 trustees of John Borthwick Gilchrist’s Educational Trust began giving UCL ‘annually sums, varying in amount, for the purposes of the Gilchrist Studentships and Scholarships.’ Following women being allowed to study at university level in Britain, the trust began to offer scholarship to women pursuing higher education. Scholarships of £40 (somewhere around the region of £900 today) were offered per year of study. If I had the chance to study a different degree in the year 1899, I would choose a language. French literature, for example, enjoyed much success in the 19th century. René ‘Sully’ Prudhomme’s collection of poems in ‘Stances et Poèmes’ gained critical acclaim. Therein, he penned under the title Pensée Perdue (lost thought): ‘Elle est si douce, la pensée, Qu'il faut, pour en sentir l'attrait, D'une vision commencée S'éveiller tout à coup distrait.’ Prudhomme was saying that thinking, dreaming awake, letting your thoughts wander, is such a nice thing to do that one tends to get carried away and not even realise it. Only when one awakes from such a state do they then realise how nice it is to let one’s mind run free. And now, back to the future. The year is 2021. I’m currently studying a Master’s in Global Media and Postnational Communication - remotely, during the era of Covid (what joy). Alas, I had no graduation ceremony for my Bachelor’s degree due to covid restrictions, nor was I able to recount for you all the ceremony for my Bachelor’s in French from 1899. The time machine I rented stopped working just before the ceremony was about to start (what luck, am I right?). Still, here’s hoping for better days ahead in 2021. And keep an eye out - who knows what year 2021 students will be graduating, according to SOAS.
15 MARCH 2021
Kai Jie Cai, MA, Post-colonial studies Domino and Stuart had sat together since the day they started school. They chose the same teachers, subjects, tables and chairs. They had developed a deep friendship. They never got bored with each other. Nevertheless, there was an examination that would decide whether they could continue to sit together throughout college. They sat at those same tables waiting for their email to inform them of their examination results. Stuart had not slept well for two days. He gradually noticed that not being able to sit with Domino in the same classroom would be a big loss in his life. He was afraid things would change between him and her. ‘How do you feel about this examination, Domino?’ he asked suddenly. Domino had pale blue eyes. They were similar to the French actress Simone Simon. She looked at Stuart, then said, ‘I don't really know. It was an easy examination. It did not cause me too much stress. Generally speaking, I think exams are a joke, in particular this one. The institution just wants to make a profit in the end.’ She spoke intelligently. Stuart said, ‘Yeah, I do not care about this examination either, but I still don’t know why I was stressed about it. I have not slept well since yesterday.’ ‘Same. Probably because of the weather - the heat and humidity stopped us from sleeping well.’ She was lying. It was not the heat. She thought she might not be able to sit with her childhood friend anymore. ‘I had a strange dream recently. Do you remember what you dreamed last night?’, he asked. Domino said, ‘I saw you in my dream yesterday. I was at your flat. You lived with three other flatmates. One of the flatmates was a huge fat boy. We chatted with him. The discussion was about shrimps. Then, the fat boy unexpectedly burst out laughing. He was very funny, and we laughed with him. He thought we were laughing about the shrimps, but we were actually laughing at him because he was so fat and cumbersome. After a while, this fat boy gradually transformed into a fat cat while continuously laughing with us. He became a brown Persian cat. The sound of laughter changed from the human voice ‘ha ha ha’ to the cat voice ‘Miao! Miao! Miao!’ I thought it was an interesting phenomenon, but you got freaked out. You immediately clutched my hand and escaped the flat. We saw your other two flatmates also had become
cats. One of them was eating tuna fish and shrimps. We left your apartment and saw a Lamborghini sports car. It was mine cause you did not know how to drive, kiddo.’ Domino laughed sarcastically. ‘We jumped into my car and then I said “Let’s have a good time.” The AI replied “Yes, Madam.” I instinctively pressed the gas pedal with my right foot. My car produced a masculine sound. I loved it. I could not remember where we were going. There was a group of police cars trying to stop us. Inside of the police cars, the drivers were not human beings. They were cats. They wore police uniforms while driving the police car. Through the microphone they yelled ‘Miao! Miao! Miao!’ We could not understand what they were saying. It was creepy, Stuart. You said, “Keep going! Keep going!” I calmly said, “I know. I know.” One of the police cars crashed into my Lamborghini. I shouted.’ Stuart listened to Domino attentively. He said: ‘You know I am a calm person; why was I not like myself in this dream?’ ‘Anyway, you should let me finish my explanation, just listen to me,’ she said eagerly. ‘I continued to drive the car at full speed. Unexpectedly, the car ran out of gas right in the middle of the highway. We had to park it beside the highway. It was night time. We had driven the whole day trying to escape from the cat-police. Unfortunately, we did not successfully escape, and the police car still followed us. We ran into the woods. You ran faster than me in my dream by the way. We kept running and running until the police sirens faded away. The ‘police-cat’ still ran after us. Surprisingly, as we ran, our bodies flew into the sky. The flying experience was amazing, and I do not know how to use language to describe what the feeling was. There was a full moon. We saw there was a rabbit shadow on the moon. We could hear the lousy cat noise from the ground. Then, I looked at the ground far below. It was an island. The island was the shape of shrimp.’ Domino stopped. Stuart then said, ‘Continue?’ ‘This was the end. My alarm woke me up.’ Meanwhile, both of them received an email from the principal. She wanted to see them in the office. They got off from their chairs. Then, they went there. Domino opened the wooden door to enter the office. Then they saw a giant persian fat cat person sitting in the chair. It said: ‘Miao.’
Melody William Tod, BA English A gentle, soothing, siren song? Shattered memory, hidden deep, Hazy horizons of Hedges’ hoarse, The anxieties of the day collapse, All is a calm, cooling current. Cliches crumble as my soul dances In sibilance, silence suppressed By your phantasmagoric form. The wave of harmony descends And I alone am waited upon, to answer, To bring forth a weighed and measured Riposte, without obfusc meaning. Your voice is my very vice and visage. A mesmerising, mermadic melody Magnetising me.
A moonlit seascape. (Credit: Conrad Ziebland, Unsplash) A ginger cat. (Credit: Michael Sum, Unsplash)
15 MARCH 2021
http://soasspirit.co.uk/category/culture/ Culture Editor: Elizabeth Edwards
The Joy, Heartbreak, and Oversights of It’s a Sin
The main characters of It’s a Sin (right to left): Ash, Colin, Roscoe, Jill and Ritchie (Credit: Ben Blackall, HBO Max).
Louisa Johnson, MA Global Creative and Cultural Industries It’s a Sin, Russell T Davies’ Channel 4 hit is a heartbreaking tale of the global HIV and AIDS epidemic and its devastating effects on gay urban life from 1981 to 1991. Originally rejected by BBC One, ITV, and even Channel 4 on its first proposal, this five-episode series has since broken viewing records, accumulating 6.5 million views within the first couple of weeks of its launch, becoming All 4’s third biggest series to date and its most binge-watched new series ever. The show centres around Ritchie (Olly Alexander), a closeted young man who moves to London from the Isle of Wight and becomes an actor; Roscoe (Omari Douglas) who has relocated to London to escape his Nigerian family’s religion-induced homophobia; and Colin (Callum Scott Howells) a shy Welshman who works in a luxury menswear shop in the city. The story begins with following Ritchie on his
gay sexual awakening. As his own connections grow, so does our focal network of characters. We meet Jill (Lydia West), soon-to-be Ritchie’s best friend, Ash (Nathaniel Curtis), Ritchie’s on-again, off-again sexual partner, and Gregory (David Carlyle), a Scottish bus conductor who befriends the young crowd. While it starts as just a menacing dark cloud hovering in the distance, the threat of AIDS slowly creeps into their lives, eventually building to a storm which brings their wild lifestyle of partying and carefree casual sex to a halt. The illness is first dismissed as a conspiracy, and is framed as a solely American issue. However, as more queer characters quietly “go home” and disappear from the city, it becomes apparent that AIDS is having a far more widespread, sinister effect than initially understood. The brilliant writing, acting, and storyline make It’s a Sin a masterful tear-jerker. However, as much as it depicts the overwhelming tragedy of the AIDS crisis and the culture of
WandaVision: Marvel Magic Ruth Sellin MA Gender Studies and Law
On 15 January 2021, Marvel Studios released WandaVision on Disney+, kicking off a new phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is the first in a series of highly anticipated new shows revolving around fan-favourite characters from the MCU. The premise of the show is that the two eponymous heroes, Wanda Maximoff and The Vision, find themselves living an idyllic suburban life in the town of Westview, New Jersey, when life suddenly starts unravelling around them. Fans were introduced to the characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015, however, after the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), they
were not expecting to see much more from the couple. Subsequently, there was some surprise when Marvel Studios announced that one of their new shows would revolve around the pair. Not much was known of the plot of this series before it’s release, leading to an influx of increasingly elaborate theories from viewers after the release of each episode. Fans have also been delighted by the many easter eggs and references to the original comics, something the MCU has been known to take very seriously, often hiding their easter eggs so well only the closest observer can spot them. Stylistically, WandaVision employs tropes from classic television sitcoms, such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Love Lucy, as each episode reflects a different decade of
shame and repression in which it flourished, It’s a Sin also encapsulates the beautiful and unapologetic euphoria of queer youth. Despite being a definite triumph overall, It’s a Sin is not without flaws. For example, some have criticised the show for gradually losing its ensemble approach to centre on its white protagonist, Ritchie. This narrative sidelining of queer characters of colour is unfortunately consistent with the societal marginalisation of BIPOC voices in LGBTQI+ spaces. Equally frustrating is Davies’ handling of his Black female character, Jill. Jill is somewhat devoid of any real personhood — her existence is reduced to being the nurse and carer for the infected men around her. She is also imbued with superhuman powers of patience, which become unrealistic in the face of persistent prejudice from Ritchie’s family. Many have also complained about Ritchie’s commitment to Thatcherite politics which seems at odds with his sexual identity. However, Ritchie’s Toryism, as well as his racially ignorant comments to Ash, construct an unfortunately realistic portrayal of some white queer men in the community. Though these moments should have been explored or challenged by the other characters in greater depth, their inclusion act as a necessary reminder that queerness does not guarantee an informed, liberal outlook. Finally, one glaring flaw is the absence of female AIDS victims. For Juno Roche on iNews, this is a large oversight given that around the world over half of the people living with HIV are women. Perhaps this gap feeds into yet another omission in the narrative: the lack of bisexual representation. Although the stories that are included were well-written, there was certainly room to widen the show’s perspective by including more sexual and gender fluidity within the narrative. Overall, It’s a Sin is an absolute must-see. The balance of joy and heartbreak allows for a gripping tale which accurately captures the experiences of young gay men during the HIV and AIDS epidemic. In the midst of a new pandemic, perhaps these stories can imbue cisgender, straight audiences with a renewed sense of empathy for the LGBTQI+ community’s tragic history with contagious viruses.
television. This gives the cast ample opportunity to display the full range of their acting capabilities, switching flawlessly from the 1950s into the modern era, and has helped earn high praise for Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany for their outstanding performances of the titular characters. The relationship between the characters is beautifully portrayed, the strong chemistry between the two actors making their romance impossible not to believe. Jumping between past and present decades every episode inevitably means that the costumes for each character have to be updated quite regularly. WandaVision’s costume designer, Mayes C. Rubeo, rose fantastically well to the challenge of designing a look for each character that stays true to them across the different time periods of the
show. The theme song is also updated each episode, a task undertaken by the composerlyricist team behind the music of the Frozen franchise, Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez. Each theme song is reminiscent of the genre it is representing and, together with the opening credits, convincingly sets the scene for each episode. Each part of WandaVision works together to create an intelligent show that draws on the very best parts of popular sitcoms from past decades for inspiration. With the perfect balance of humour and heartbreak, fans are already looking forward to the next installment of the franchise. The bar is set very high.
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Him and Her, then and now: Sarah Solemani on her role in the comedy that refused to laugh at people on benefits Joe Greaney, MA Music in Development Rishi Sunak has made a big decision. Following public pressure and predicting a backlash from his own MPs, the Chancellor has reluctantly decided to keep the £20 uplift to Universal Credit until September. Although the uplift is set to end abruptly in the Autumn, this extension will insulate countless low-income families against the devastating financial impact of the Covid-19 crisis. It is remarkable that Sunak, an instinctively hawkish and wholly Thatcherite politician, would even hesitate to cut the UK’s welfare budget at a time of record high Government spending given the opportunity. Not so long ago the Conservative Party freely attacked the undeserving poor. The coalition government specialised in stirring up moral outrage against easy targets. Discussing the welfare system in 2012, David Cameron said he wanted to ‘strike a better balance between those who work and do the right thing, and those who have understood how to work the system.’ The British media joined the pile on, with curtaintwitching headlines about teenage pregnancies, and Channel 4’s documentary series Benefits Street, which allowed viewers to gape freely at welfare claimants in central Birmingham. It was during the coalition government that the BBC Three comedy Him and Her was broadcast. Running between 2010 and 2013, the show was written by Stefan Golaszewski, telling the story of Becky (Sarah Solemani) and Steve (Russell Tovey), an unemployed couple in their mid-twenties living in Walthamstow. Their primary goals involve eating, drinking, sleeping, and having sex. The pair are brought together by their common belief that getting a job will result in, as Steve puts it, having to ‘spend my entire life getting paid basically nothing to do something boring and get treated like s***.’ Unlike other comedies, Him and Her did not laugh at Becky and Steve’s lifestyle. Rather, it celebrated what is essentially a classic story of a loved-up couple. Becky and Steve are frequently visited in their flat by family and friends who live more conventional lives of gainful employment. Visitors from the outside are invariably sour and judgemental, yet they
never shut them out: Becky and Steve are good people. Sarah Solemani appears on my screen, fresh from a school run. I ask how she now looks back on Him and Her, over seven years after the show’s last episode aired. The show has an enduring popularity, which pleases Solemani. She is proud to be asked by fans if the show will return for a lockdown special, and considers this a testament to its quality. Viewers are invited into Steve and Becky’s flat - Solemani describes it as a ‘protective bubble’ - where they can rise above the harsh judgement of the outside world. After several long months of lockdown, the couple’s ongoing confinement in their flat is now familiar to many, while their zen-like tranquility in this environment is desirable. Solemani surmises ‘even though [Steve and Becky] had nothing, it was weirdly aspirational because you just wanted to be like them’. She suggests the show’s power lies in capturing ‘the intimacy of life that is our universal language’. Solemani, now living in Los Angeles, appreciates how the show’s minimalist plot lines allowed viewers to closely observe the intimacy of Becky and Steve’s relationship: Entire episodes of Him and Her hang on the mundane, from the breaking of a shatterproof ruler to the visit of an ex-girlfriend dropping off a CD. She contrasts this with Hollywood’s tendency towards largesse and elaborate storylines. She recalls how, at pilot stage, Him and Her was provisionally titled ‘Young, Unemployed and Lazy’, a name she strongly felt did not reflect the ‘essence’ of the show. Solemani considers how, when she was cast as Becky, she was herself unemployed and claiming benefits. Brought up in a council house by her grandmother from an early age following the passing of her mother, she does not seek a ‘badge of honour’ from her background, but does not ‘forget that legacy’. Her long standing support for the Labour Party and now also for the Black Lives Matter movement, draws on a rich understanding of class consciousness informed by her mother’s Marxism, which also compels her campaigning for the decriminalisation of prostitution and sex workers’ rights. She mentions how, concurrently to the coalition Government and Him and Her, a new debate was developing around class, embodied in Owen Jones’ Chavs: Demonisation of the Working Class. In 2012, Solemani adapted Chavs into
Russell Tovey (left) and Sarah Solemani (right) as Steve and Becky (Credit: Perry Curties)
a warmly-received series of short plays, starring Eastenders actor Natalie Cassidy, at the Lyric Hammersmith. She remembers the development of this counter-narrative as something it was ‘exciting to be part of ’. However, I gather that for Solemani Him and Her was not necessarily about class. Becky and Steve, unlike many working class characters in comedy, were not defined by their situation, but presented to viewers in intimate detail: recognisably human and fully realised. On the occasions when she was recognised in public as Becky, she tells me how it felt as though she and the audience were intimately connected, as if ‘we had all been in bed together’. For me, Him and Her showed that good storytelling can bring many strange bedfellows under the duvet.
‘What’s Left is Right’, or the dying hope of the Palestinian youth Nadia Rabbaa, MSc Violence, Conflict & Development Konrad Suder Chatterjee’s alien art form touches on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a too rarely spoken about way as it questions the lines between resistance and suicide. Despite its pervasive saviorism, there is bravery in opening the door of a conversation around children’s agency over their own death. ‘What’s Left is Right’ will leave the viewer with a lasting feeling of purposeful uneasiness. Shot in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic and portrayed as an online video conversation, the play is a mise en abyme of our new normal. The digitised conversation between a mother, Leyla, and her imprisoned teenage son, Kareem, resonates deeply, with the exception that few of us can relate to life in a war-torn country. Chatterjee’s sensitivity picks up on something only an outsider would notice: the complex yet contradictory mix of despair and desensitisation that decades-long conflicts inflict on a population. The play is a tale of a drift; of a tired hope being passed on to an already worn-out generation. Not seeing the end of the occupation, Kareem perceives the transmission of the fight for liberation as a burden. Reclaiming his agency, the 16 year
old Palestinian wants to die - with or without the help of his mother. ‘Going home?! I don’t feel at home at all. I feel like I'm migrating between two prisons: the one here, indoors, in detention, and the one there, outdoors, in the village. I’m tired, mum, I’m tired...’ he pleads. Refusing the hyper glorified injunction of resistance, Kareem’s only freedom left is departure. The necropolitics of the State has reached its extreme when the only way to reclaim sovereignty over one’s body is by choosing one’s own death. Chatterjee’s depiction of Israel as a carceral state, borrowed from a Foucauldian analysis of prison, is ubuesque in its depiction. Assisted suicide, or euthanasia, is illegal in Israel as it is in most of the countries form the region. Similarly, under no circumstances would a Palestinian prisoner be allowed access to a computer and internet. These elements of fiction might make Kareem’s story easier to comprehend for a foreign audience, but its white male gaze depletes it of its authenticity. A female Arab writer would probably have displayed a different sensitivity to the importance of cultural representation, as well as portrayed less stereotypical gender roles. Layla’s character reinforces the essentialization of women as loving and caring beings, while her expectations of her son to carry on the resistance reinforces the idea that men ought to be strong and fearless. Queering the characters
by portraying a conversation between a father and his daughter, inspired by the real-life persona of Ahed Tamimi for instance, would have brought a more subtle understanding of the relationship between gender and violence. The unquestionable worth of 'What’s Left is Right’ however lies in its exploration of the complexity of childhood during warfare. Children are ‘the promise of a better future’ Layla says in the play. The figures presented by Chatterjee are dreadful: 10,000 Palestinian children have been detained by Israel in the past 20 years. They have experienced physical and verbal violence, humiliation, intimidation, and have been hand tied, blindfolded, detained from their homes in the middle of the night, not properly informed of their rights, and interrogated without the presence of a family member. What future does that leave Palestine with? One could say that ‘What’s Left is Right’ isn’t merely a play. At the crossroads of art and activism, this first volume – the play is set as a trilogy - embodies a Malrausian stance in its imaginative form of political commitment. Despite a certain amateurism, the play’s objective, to highlight an intolerable situation - the imprisonment of Palestinian children - is a success. As war blurs categories between perpetrators and victims, ‘What’s Left is Right’ is resounding on the limits of resilience.
15 MARCH 2021
SOAS Alumni talks Curating, Cultural Heritage, and the Feinberg Collection Fiona Collins, MA Japanese Studies Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection explores the lineages and legacy of artists active in the Tokugawa period of Japan, and is the largest exhibition ever organized by the Harvard Art Museums. Originally scheduled from 14 February 14 2020 through 18 July 2021, it was temporarily closed to the public last March due to concerns surrounding Covid-19. Information about the exhibition, however, was quickly made available online through Vimeo and Google Arts and Culture: essays, catalogue entries, images recorded tours with curators create not only an ‘online exhibition’, but a comprehensive digital archive. Japanese art historian, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Curator of Asian Art, and SOAS alumni Rachel Saunders agreed to speak with me about her time at SOAS, and how it impacted the way she approached subsequent work and research. We also discuss her curatorial vision for Painting Edo, which she co-curated with Yukio Lippit, and the efforts taken to facilitate online engagement between the public and the Feinberg collection during lockdown. Could you tell me a little about what drew you to the MA History of Art and Archaeology program at SOAS? I did my BA at Oxford in Japanese Studies; The program was five years and covered history, art, language, culture, etc. As the only student in the department interested in studying the visual arts of Japan, I was lucky enough to spend a year working with Oliver Impey, a curator at the Ashmolean museum (since passed away). He encouraged me to pursue MA programs in art history, and SOAS was a natural choice because of its focus on the arts of Asia and the intensity of its curriculum. Another draw was the opportunity of working with Professor Timon Screech, who has enormous intellectual curiosity, and has always challenged and made important contributions to the field of Japanese art history. You have shared that your path to studying and curating Japanese art was not always linear. Are there any avenues you are glad you explored or skills you learned between graduating SOAS and starting your PhD at Harvard? I’m thankful for the time I took in between! After my MA, I worked in an academic publishing firm with materials related
to East Asia. I am glad that I got to see academia from the outside - working with academics but not as an academic. Further on in my career, it really made me conscious of the question ‘who cares’ and ‘why does this matter?’ when developing or proposing new projects. My responsibilities in the job also prepared me for the collaborative nature of curating, since I had to work with dozens of people every day, all with different needs. Are there any aspects of the Painting Edo that you feel have challenged (or made significant contributions to) common conceptions about the canon of Japanese art history? The Feinberg collection is very comprehensive and exceptionally high quality; this made it possible for us to do things in the Painting Edo exhibition that may have not been possible otherwise. One of our main objectives was to reexamine the more habituated categories of Edo painting, many of which were established in the 20th century, while keeping in mind that terms like ‘Rinpa’ or ‘Literati’ are important to tidy up larger concepts within the discussion of Japanese art. What we ultimately tried to do was return to terms that were used in the Edo period itself.
“The Feinberg collection is very comprehensive and exceptionally high quality; This made it possible for us to do things in the Painting Edo exhibition that may have not been possible otherwise.” For instance, we use the word ‘eccentricity’ (Jp. ki) to describe a group of artists now conventionally known as ‘eccentrics’ (Jp. kijin) because the latter was a word that emerged in the 1950’s and needed to be reevaluated. How soon after Harvard Art Museums closed to the public did you start the process of sharing Painting Edo’s content via online platforms like Google Arts & Culture and Vimeo? Did you have any particular strategies for communicating the exhibition’s narrative? We were able to pivot pretty quickly. Luckily, there was a lot of effort that went
Cranes by Suzuki Kiitsu, c. 1820-25. (Credit: Harvard Art Museum)
into photographing everything before the lockdown. Although these materials documented the exhibition well, once we started putting them online we also decided to engage people with videos, since they added variety and immediacy when engaging with the collection. In a way, this new format presented exciting possibilities. For example, we collaborated with the Harvard Arboretum to create opportunities to see live plants alongside paintings from the collection that portrayed them. Under normal circumstances, there are 5 miles between the Arboretum and the Museum, so Zoom invited the looking into the same space. I had a very interesting conversation with a botanist who looked at a painting and immediately identified it as a species of Black pine native to Japan based on how (what I had read as) ‘moss dots’ were painted! It
turned out not to be moss at all, but a key feature in the biological makeup of the Black Pine (Pinus thunbergii). I knew that particular artist painted in painstaking detail in polychrome, but did not realize that he applied the same eye in a gestural ink painting! Is there anything you would like people to know about the exhibition? We invited Timon Screech, my dissertation advisor from SOAS, to give the opening lecture for the exhibition. He spoke for about an hour and everyone was one the edge of their seats - it was a great SOAS moment! It was a special moment to bring in the person who started it all for me. If anyone is interested, the lecture was recorded and online.
15 MARCH 2021
I May Destroy You Golden Globes Snub Lara Gibbs, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical) Despite having written, acted in, produced, and co-directed the groundbreaking show, I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel has been snubbed in the Golden Globe nominations this year, while series such as Emily in Paris received multiple nominations. This has highlighted ongoing questions of diversity and recognition in the entertainment industry. Coel’s compelling and provocative show follows the story of protagonist, Arabella, in the aftermath of her sexual assault, exploring themes of grief, trauma, and consent. While entertainment value has been attributed to Emily in Paris, it in no way matches Coel’s brilliant, profound, and complex writing. Having been snubbed in every category, many are outraged and rightly so. Actress Pearl Mackie called out the Golden Globes
nominations, describing the snub in a tweet as ‘the wildest thing that has happened in 2021 and 2020 combined.’ Fashion photographer Tyler Mitchell described the snub as ‘criminal’. Even a writer on Emily In Paris, Deborah Copaken, spoke out saying ‘that I May Destroy You did not get one Golden Globe nod is not only wrong, it’s what is wrong with everything.’ As well as the unsurprising outrage over the I May Destroy You snub, the public has expressed similar disapproval for the Golden Globes panel’s oversight of Issa Rae’s Insecure in favour of Emily In Paris. Furthermore, Emily in Paris has been accused of buying its nominations. According to the LA Times, over 30 voting journalists who visited the set were treated to fivestar $1,400 a night hotel rooms. The Golden Globe nominations are decided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a voting body of 87 members, none of whom are Black, leading to heavy criticism for their
lack of diversity. In response, the HFPA are to implement an ‘action plan’ to recruit Black members. The Academy Awards are not innocent either. For too long, Black talent has been overlooked in the film and television industries. But why does acknowledgement matter? David Oyelowo put it aptly when he said: ‘acknowledgement changes the trajectory of your life, your career, and the culture of the world we live.’ Neither director Ava DuVernay, nor lead Oyelowo received Oscar nominations for ‘Selma’ back in 2015, which was also the year April Reign coined #OscarsSoWhite. At the time, Academy membership was 92% white. Though numbers have since improved, last year Reign expressed disappointment that many talented filmmakers went without acknowledgement by the Academy’s nominations. In Arcanum Magazine, Tyia Burnett writes that ‘the lack of award show nominations, critical acclaim, and continued support
Black and POC creators are not given prevents them from creating more work and landing production deals.’ This highlights how much power bodies such as the HFPA have and the importance of recognising Black and POC creators. So how much weight should we give to the Golden Globes, if they fail to recognise talent? Former Editor-in-chief of HuffPost Lydia Polgreen suggests that the I May Destroy You snub ‘is proof that the Golden Globes deserve zero attention and have zero connection to the actual culture.’ However, given the power they undeniably possess, it is clear that we must hold the HFPA accountable and push for voting bodies to be representative. Awards nominations must recognise and acknowledge Black and POC creators. We cannot tolerate creators like Michaela Coel going unrecognised.
Live, Laugh, Lockdown: Can Live Comedy Survive Without Live Audiences? Maliha Shoaib, BA English and World Philosophies A year into the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear that the entertainment industry and the arts have taken a real hit. No more cinemas, no more exhibitions, no more premiers, no more gigs. While many have managed to adapt to our new remote lifestyles using online platforms, those that thrive off of the energy of a live audience have been impacted the most. In particular, live comedy shows are a thing of the past. Aside from interpreting the audience’s personal engagement to develop parts of their set, many comedians also find the silence and delayed reactions of a Zoom set alienating. We spoke to two young comedians about their experiences with remote comedy and how - or if - the comedy scene has managed to adapt. 22-year-old newcomer Henry Whaley (@WhaleyHenry on Twitter) was just getting started with stand up comedy when the pandemic kicked off. ‘When lockdown hit and people set up Zoom nights I couldn't see how it would work.’ Henry stressed that there’s an element of connection that is lost online. ‘When you're on stage, you have control of the whole room for that time - you can play with the relationship with the audience, and with the particularities of the space. On Zoom, all of that control is taken away and you are sitting in your room talking to yourself, not knowing if they are laughing at you or your internet connection.’ Detroit-based, 21-year-old comedian Diana Graham had similar views about Zoom comedy shows. ‘I miss the impermanence of live comedy. I can’t try a joke 6 times before getting it right, virtually. With zoom shows you get a delayed reaction if any, and that’s hard to build off of.’ She added, ‘I can’t tell a super personal story without worrying about anyone I know hearing it. Not only have you lost the energy and confirmation of a crowd, you’ve lost the allowance of time and attention to get them on your side and laughing with you.’ Diana, who has been doing comedy for about two years now, doesn’t think they’re cut out for Zoom comedy. ‘I think joke telling to a screen requires a completely different skill set, and I’m not sure that I have it,’ they said. ‘There’s a reason popular comedy YouTubers/content creators aren’t good
Henry Whaley was just getting started as a stand up comedian when the pandemic hit (Credit: Henry Whaley)
Diana Graham is known as ‘the little sister of Detroit comedy’ (Credit: Diana Graham)
stand ups, and vice versa.’ After gaining over 150,000 followers on TikTok (@ dianaggraham), Diana has had to deal with a number of hate comments. ‘In person, nobody comes up to you to tell you to your face that they simply didn’t laugh at one particular joke of yours. On the Internet, they can play it over and over again and pick it apart until they hate you,’ they added. While lockdown has clearly had detrimental effects on most stand up comedians, Henry explained that there have been a number of comedians who are committed to putting on Zoom gigs, particularly for newcomers. While he’s decided to stick it out until the pandemic is over, he highlighted a few of his favourite comedians who have managed to adapt. ‘Tim Key hosted a live show where he wandered around his flat, made a Yorkshire pudding, read some poems, and got in the bath. It was shambolic but it felt like something
that could only be achieved in response to the moment. Joz Norris turned his cancelled live show into a film, all set in his flat, which worked really well and probably gained a lot through the visual emphasis he was able to put on it through editing. John Luke-Roberts recorded an album on vinyl as part of a Crowdfunder campaign, harking back to classic comedy records which didn't have an audience.’ He thinks the reason these gigs have been successful was because ‘they accepted and uniquely responded to the loss of a live audience and didn't try to compromise.’ Right now we’re all nostalgic about the humanness of laughter and connection, but it’s encouraging to see a number of comedians adapting to the times. Perhaps stand-up as we know it isn’t possible through the screen - for that we’ll have to wait another few months. Until then, we’ll continue to miss the sticky floors, that one person in the back with a weird laugh, and dodging the front row.
15 MARCH 2021
Sports & Societies
Sport & Societies Editor: Artemis Sianni-Wedderburn
The British Red Cross Society on lockdown, mental health and self-care
My self-care accessories to get through lockdown (Credit: Nayantara Lamba)
Nayantara Lamba, BA History and World Philosophies The past year has brought instability to many of our lives, and has led to a growing number of conversations concerning mental health. Self-care is a term that has been thrown around and is used constantly - we are always being asked to take care of ourselves. However, I found that most methods that I used to rely on for self-care were also things that we are no longer allowed to do. We, at the SOAS British Red Cross (BRC), have compiled a list of ten ways that we practise self-care during lockdown to give others who are struggling to break down
what self-care is a place to start, whether that be for lockdown or afterwards. 1. Taking time away from screens We spend hours on our screens attending classes, doing our readings and assignments or socialising with friends and family. It is so important to take a break from that, for your eyes and for your mental health. Taking a few minutes away from your screen, even just to get a glass of water for yourself, throughout the day can help immensely. 2. Getting out of the house at least once a day While we are in lockdown, going out for a walk is ideal to ensure you are not completely isolating yourself from the outside world or depriving yourself of fresh air.
Taking pictures can help to ground yourself in the moment, allowing you to cherish your environment. Walks are also great ways to romanticise your life and be your own main character, energy we should all aim to channel! 3. Keeping in touch with friends and family It is really easy to get overwhelmed with the screen time or notifications that pop up everywhere. We all need a break from social media from time to time, but ensure that you are not closing yourself off to socialisation in general. Make sure to reach out to friends or family to prevent feeling isolated or lonely. 4. Meditation Meditation is a wellbeing practice that can
help you centre yourself. You can use tutorials or apps like Headspace if you struggle with meditation or are a beginner! 5. Taking a full day off Try spending a day where you walk away from your work physically and mentally. This could give you space to re-energise and let you return to your work with a fresh perspective and newfound energy. 6. Finding new hobbies or investing time in old ones Some examples of hobbies we at the BRC have picked up are: cycling, growing herbs and playing chess. This is a great way to do something off your screen that might make you feel better at the same time. Hobbies are also a great way to make new friends or new spheres of socialising. 7. Exercising Finding motivation might be difficult right now, so be sure not to overload yourself with expectations of suddenly doing highintensity interval training (HIIT) routines every day. Going for a walk or following YouTube tutorials is a great place to start exercising more often and perhaps integrating it into your weekly routine. 8. Learning new ways of personal care Whether this is by way of buying a body scrub, taking a bath or learning new skincare and makeup techniques, invest time in yourself. While self-care is intangible, physically taking care of your body is always a great place to start. 9. Cleaning parts of the house that have been neglected This could be doing the dishes, taking out the trash or rearranging your desk. Still, the idea behind this is that you can finish a task completely by cleaning a section of the house that you normally might not. It might make you feel better to be in a neater environment. 10. Keeping a consistent routine An integral part of avoiding any feelings of aimlessness is by structuring your day around healthy habits. Simple things such as eating and sleeping at regular intervals can make these practices so much more effective and make you feel in control of your time. These tips may give you some ideas for things you could incorporate into your routine to take care of yourself. These are, of course, not substitutes for professional support if you are struggling with your mental health. We run projects such as ‘Phone a Friend’ to schedule calls with trained professionals or our Kindness packages program. Follow us @brcsoas on Instagram for more information and keep up to date with our projects and events!
Sports & Societies
15 MARCH 2021
Open Season on the Open Frances Howe, LLB
The Australian open is predicted to face total financial losses close to 100 million Australian dollars, according to director Craig Tilley. This is due to the tournament taking place this year amid Covid-19 restrictions in Melbourne. The annual tournament was interrupted by a statewide five-day lockdown that began on the evening of 12 February. The lockdown was introduced by Victorian State Premier, Daniel Andrews, in an attempt to curb the spread of the UK Variant of Covid-19 in Australia. Andrews affirmed that the sports events would continue without spectators. Spectators were allowed into the venue on the 12 February on the condition that they were home before 11:59pm that night in accordance with the start of the lockdown. The lockdown ended on 17 February at 11:59pm.
According to the Australian Open organisers, full refunds were available to those who held tickets within the fiveday lockdown period. The tournament was made available broadcast-only from 13 February. Seven-time Australian Open winner, Serena Williams, responded to the announcement by stating ‘it’s rough, it’s going to be a rough few days for I think everyone.’ She also stated, ‘It’s been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here. It’s been really cool. But at the end of the day we have to do what’s best.’ The tournament had already capped its spectator limits at 30,000 fans per day in order to facilitate social distancing measures. Spectators did not have to wear masks when seated whilst the stadium roof was open but did when it was closed. Competitors were forced to quarantine for 14 days inside hotels before the tournament began. Anastasia Potapova took to her twitter to post a video from within the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne which featured hitting tennis balls against the hotel window. Pablo Cuevas also posted a video on his Instagram story in which he used a hotel mattress as a target for his tennis practice in quarantine. These quarantine measures have invited public scrutiny over the ethics of detaining competitors before serious competition. A letter written by Novak Djokovic to Australia Open officials on behalf of 72 other players demanding better quarantine conditions was leaked to the press. Another detrimental impact of the event closures was felt by those working at the Australian Open. The SOAS Spirit reached out to Joe (last name withheld for privacy) who is an employee of a third party event company at the Australian Open. According to Joe, he lost a significant amount of work due to the ban on spectators which was not compensated for.
‘When the events were shut down because of the snap lockdown, the client really didn’t have any clue how to handle it, and basically cancelled what was supposed to be the first day back. I ended up working for 4 out of what was a promised 14 days and turned down a lot of other work in order to do this one.’
"When the events were shut down because of the snap lockdown, the client really didn’t have any clue how to handle it." Despite this, Joe said he didn’t feel like the decision to host the tournament was the wrong one: ‘I think it wasn’t a bad decision to go ahead with the tournaments this year considering it did provide a lot of work and the case numbers at the time of the open being confirmed were at 0 daily. The AO managed the pandemic quite excellently and the contact tracing and checking in that was adopted by the AO and also by my employer was serious.’ However, Joe did recognise the disparity in approach by the Victorian State Government to sports events as opposed to other industries such as the arts: ‘It was an offensive remark, in my opinion, that during the snap lockdown the matches still went ahead because the tennis players “can’t work from home” but all arts practices and other workplaces were forcibly shut.’ The Australian Open ended on 21 February with Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic walking away as champions.
Putting Stock in Vaccines
Graph One: Key English Covid Dates vs MANU Stock Price (Credit: Artemis Sianni-Wedderburn)
Artemis Sianni-Wedderburn, BA Politics and Arabic Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on lives, health and the economy. This is reflected through the stock of English football team Manchester United (MANU on the New York Stock Exchange) and the positive correlation between key Covid dates (lockdowns, death toll milestones and vaccine approval) on the stock price. These two variables and their interaction can be used to track consumer confidence in England, and allow for a succinct prediction of the country’s economic future. Consumer confidence - how much a person is willing to invest and spend - makes up 50-75% of England’s GDP, which is on par with many other countries globally; this means that a drop in confidence is catastrophic for the market. In this case, the jobs that are produced by the Manchester United football team, and revenue from sales. It is an accurate measure for predicting the future of the market, allowing for targeted financial planning which is key to
Graph Two: % of English Population with First Dose vs MANU Stock Price (Credit: Artemis Sianni-Wedderburn)
avoiding an economic recession after the pandemic. MANU was chosen as the stock in this article due to its prevalent outdoor and active nature as opposed to Esports, which have an exclusive online presence. With the primary revenue being generated from ticket and merchandise sales and a dividend based investor profile, the MANU stock and its price on the NYSE reflects the reality of lockdown - no matches, rallies or celebrations after a game. The price will therefore allow for a true prediction on the impact of vaccinations nationwide. The first date on Graph One (30.1.20) marks the first Covid-19 related death in England (blue) - pinpointing the highest stock price for the next 14 months. The first two orange bars, dates that the country entered lockdown, mark the biggest drop in stock price suggesting early on the catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on the population’s willingness to spend. The share devalued 28% in 2020 alone, reflected in the fact that the club did not manage to sign high-profile players Jodon Sancho and Gareth Bale due to exorbitant transfer
costs. Games that were cancelled or postponed further impacted this, especially given the aforementioned revenue model. The third lockdown (6.1.21) does not generate such a dramatic blow, perhaps because a tolerance had been developed, and alongside it a vaccine. The final bar on the graph (22.2.21, green) marks the highest point since the first Covid19 related death; this is the date that Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the plan for the UK to exit lockdown by 21 June. A concrete exit plan based on increased vaccination (the UK in the lead globally in terms of the percentage of the population it has vaccinated) gives hope that the end is in sight. The development of vaccines and the subsequent boost in share price foreshadow the positive correlation between the two. This can explain the high share value when the third lockdown was announced (6.1.21), as the approval of the Pfizer and AstroZeneca vaccines a few days before inspired investment. The death toll milestone of 100,000 does not have the expected impact when compared to the previous 20,000 and 50,000 milestones - a phenomenon that can be explained once more by the development of a vaccine after the November lockdown. Graph Two shows an upwards trend of the MANU stock against the percentage of the English population that had received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine (AstroZeneca, Moderna or Pfizer). Since the first dose to the first person in the UK was administered, the stock price increased, leading to the highest value on 22.2.21. This is because the distribution of the vaccine allows for playing to resume - outdoors - impacting ticket sales alongside merchandise. We can predict, based on this, that fans will feel a renewed zest for their team after a long hiatus. Consumer confidence increases apace with vaccination, meaning higher investment in general - and not just for the
Sports & Societies
15 MARCH 2021
Pass Go(dolphin) and Drop £34M
Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communication
On 16 February the BBC broke the news with its update on Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum. Two years ago a video from the FreeLatifa YouTube channel was published. In the video, Sheikha Latifa described her plans to flee the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She said it was a matter of life and death given ‘all her father cares about is his reputation. He will kill people to protect his own reputation’. Latifa’s father is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum - ruler of the Emirate of Dubai. In the latest blow to Sheikh Al Maktoum’s pristine image, BBC Panorama released new footage showing a pale and distraught Princess Latifa talking about her ordeal of being held ‘hostage’ in a ‘villa converted into a jail’. She also said that she was unsure whether she would ‘survive this’ but she ‘just wants to be free’. Following these revelations, the United Nations (UN) human rights office demanded ‘proof of life’ from the UAE. Elizabeth Throssell, a spokeswoman for the UN rights office said that in light of the ‘disturbing video evidence that emerged […] We requested more information and clarification about Sheikha Latifa's current situation.’ Thereafter, on behalf of Latifa’s family the UAE Embassy in London issued a statement. It said that the latest BBC report was ‘certainly not reflective of the actual position.
Her family has confirmed that Her Highness is being cared for at home, supported by her family and medical professionals.’ Sheikh Al Maktoum commented that he had to act in his daughter’s ‘best interest.’ The BBC describes him as being ‘synonymous’ with all things equestrian. But what does this scandal mean for the sport of horse riding and what would happen should he face criminal charges? The Sheikh is the founder of Godolphin - ‘the world’s largest horse racing stable.’ Godolphin ‘owns some of the finest, worldclass Thoroughbred breeding and training facilities with locations in the United Kingdom, France, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.’ Newmarket - 65 miles north of London is where Godolphin and the Sheikh’s Dalham Hall breeding operation are based in the UK. According to the BBC, ‘many jobs are thought to depend on Sheikh Mohammed's investment, especially in Newmarket.’ In 2017, the horse racing and breeding industry was found to have grown the Newmarket economy by £34M. Following the 2017 report on the economic impact of the equestrian industry on Newmarket, William Gittus, Chairman of the Newmarket Horsemen’s Group, had said the findings ‘underline the importance of protecting the industry, not just what we have at present but also the need to allow for potential further growth and expansion of the town’s largest economic contributor.’ The British Horse Racing Authority (which runs the UK industry), The Jockey Club - known for hosting such events as The Derby and The Cheltenham Festival, and
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, founder of Godolphin, pictured with his son Sheikh Hamdan bin Al Maktoum. (Credit: via Godolphin)
Godolphin have been noticeably quiet since the BBC’s revelation. As part of the BHA’s guidelines for ownership of a race horse, they state that license to do so may be relinquished where an individual has been convicted of a criminal offence either in the UK or a foreign jurisdiction. ‘Particular consideration’, the guidelines say, ‘will be given to offences […] relating to violence and health and safety.’ When asked whether the government would consider freezing assets or imposing a travel ban upon Sheikh Al Maktoum, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had said ‘convincibly, if there’s evidence […] and facts’, Princess Latifa’s case could constitute torture.
He went on, however, to explain ‘strict legal thresholds [mean…] we can[not] willy-nilly just slap sanctions on individuals.’ The BBC paints a bleak picture of Britain's ability and willingness to distance itself from the Sheikh. In an article, they cited that due to the pandemic the UK’s horse racing industry could potentially lose more than £60m, and that severing ties with the Sheikh would be a minefield - the Emirates airline has a huge stake in British football. As the spotlight becomes more and more glaring, the horse racing industry will soon be forced to answer questions surrounding their now controversially close ties with the Emirati Sheikh.
The Dominoes of Sports and Sanity Hasna Choudhury, BSc Economics
On Monday 22 February, Boris Johnson announced his plans to gradually ease lockdown restrictions in England. Cases have steadily declined as millions of vaccines have been administered to the most vulnerable groups. In his speech, the Prime Minister confirmed his expectations of up to 10,000 spectators being allowed inside stadiums by 17 May – just in time for the final Premier League weekend. Physical exercise is frequently promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle and its benefits are well established. Amidst the pandemic however, policymakers across the globe had several difficult decisions to make, restrictions on physical activity chief among them. The evidence linking physical activity with enhanced mental wellbeing is extensive, proving effective against depression and anxiety in children and adults alike. According to the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK, mental health problems account for the largest source of disability in the country – some 23%. However, endorphins – the feel-good chemicals released during exercise – do not discriminate. Studies show participating in regular physical activity can also help to boost self-esteem and increase quality of sleep.
Research exploring the perceived benefits of watching football has found it to be positively linked with stress relief and supporting good parent-child relationships. Among fellow supporters, it fosters a sense of comradery, with both players and fans often heard speaking in first-person pronouns in reference to their teams. Cast your mind back to the summer of 2018: amidst scorching temperatures, millions of Brits packed into pubs and parks to watch England’s football club compete for the World Cup. Following a Cup drought spanning over half a century, Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad revived hopes in sporting spirits. Long after full-time whistles were blown, electric chants of ‘It’s coming home’ could be heard buzzing out of public squares and into private gardens. England made it so far as the semi-finals, eventually coming fourth after a crushing 2-1 defeat to Croatia. However, the despair that followed the knockout unified the nation. Even those who did not consider themselves football fanatics religiously tuned in on match days, believing England’s dreams of winning the Cup was well within grasp. Few sporting events have united the country since. Last year, fans were left frustrated after Premier League games were suspended mid-season due to the coronavirus outbreak. The 2020 Olympics and Euro 2020 were similarly
postponed. But fans were not the only ones missing out. Unbeknownst to what was to come, the Amazon Prime Video documentary All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspurs chronicled the 2019-20 season, showcasing behind-thescenes footage of the North London club. As events unfolded, Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, was seen to be visibly concerned about the impact of empty stadiums on team performance and the club’s financial accounts. Since then, major sporting events across the globe have largely continued to take place behind closed doors, and its impact has been felt both financially and on a personal level. The latest government guidelines have undoubtedly gratified fans and sportsmen alike. Britain is already set to host the semi-final and finals of the Euro 2020 at the iconic Wembley stadium. Though the prospect of a 90,000-capacity crowd remains unlikely, this is otherwise good news for the economy and its people. With the UK leading its European counterparts in the rollout of vaccines, there is a real possibility of the tournament being hosted on British soil altogether. As plans continue to unfold, this is likely the first of many live sporting events to look forward to in the year to come. And for the British people, it may be coming home indeed – in more ways than one.
Sports & Societies
15 MARCH 2021
Sourcing Knowledge from Experience: The Dead Philosophers’ Society
A DPS session on Wednesday 24 February
Sohane Mousseid Yahya, BA Politics and World Philosophies Philosophy is dying. This is the conclusion that any philosophy student at SOAS would give, backed up by the fact that the philosophy department has continuously rebuilt the curriculum in an attempt to salvage Philosophy at SOAS for as long as those 2021 final year students have been here.
Unfortunately, we are plagued by a program that doesn’t deal with many cult classics. Logic - reduced to a 15 credit module - is one of many subjects that feels uncompetitive when compared to the sea of London philosophy scholars. Philosophy at SOAS seems to be reduced to religion. The pandemic should have been the final nail in the coffin, confirming that the attempt to look at philosophy from a ‘World Philosophies’ perspective was frugal, wasteful and quite
simply irrelevant. However, it seems that Philosophy at SOAS is redressing itself. This is seen through the multiple guest lectures organised by the department, regular virtual socials amongst all degree stages, but also the weekly sessions and social media campaigns of the rebirthed Dead Philosophers’ Society (DPS). From 13 September onwards, DPS began reinventing what Philosophy at SOAS would look like with the creation of #DeadPhilSundays. These short videos - lasting between four to eight minutes - explored philosophical themes in the context of weekly news. The videos are simple, effective and interesting. They ask what we can do with this particular concept of philosophy, combining practicality with information. Our society’s constant push on social media has translated positively to the weekly session attendance. With students joining from different disciplines and year groups, the society has managed to create a tight knit atmosphere of solidarity and intellectually stimulating conversations centered around the pursuit of justice and equality. Moreover, DPS does not hesitate to invite non-SOASians into their spaces, opening the sessions up to University of London students. We have joined the Philosopher of London In Solidarity group, furthering our attempt to ensure that Philosophy at SOAS remains visible and collaborative. When asked why he thinks the society has
become so tenacious during the pandemic, vice-president Michael Meakin responded ‘We knew we needed to adapt but we also knew philosophy could help with the pandemic’s isolation, so we created a virtual social environment for academic chatter.’ DPS has helped students interested in philosophy fight the loneliness of the pandemic. DPS member Lucy expresses that ‘the social component of having a little community tied by our mutual interest in philosophy has been absolutely wonderful.’ The society also hopes to help counter the isolation that the field experiences as a whole due to all the red tape, gatekeeping and lack of collaboration. Our society attempts to rekindle literature and philosophy, touching on anthropology and linguistics and engaging in a variety of cultures and ways of producing knowledge. Much like an archaic language, when philosophy stops evolving and changing it will join other disciplines as a field that could not adapt to modern times. DPS’ move to embrace the online world, social media and accessible engagement is a remedy to this death and a sign of hope for philosophy. If Philosophy at SOAS continues to work alongside DPS, the field might not just avoid a predictable death, but SOAS may become home to a renewed Philosophy - one with a long, prosperous life ahead.
Our Streets Now @ SOAS Meggie Ambrose-Dempster, BA World Philosophies
Our Streets Now is a grassroots, student-led, nation-wide campaign striving to end Public Sexual Harassment (PSH) through legislative and cultural change. With a new Higher Education ambassador scheme launched on 22 February, Our Streets Now is now being represented in 17 Higher Education institutions across the UK with more than 30 Ambassadors. Called the #StudentsNotObjects movement, we are fighting to end PSH inside and outside of these Higher Education institutions. Our Streets Now have released data collected in their 2020 report ‘They Saw My Fear and Laughed: Tackling Public Sexual Harassment in Education’. The report, based on an in-depth qualitative survey with over 100 students, found that: 84% of students had experienced PSH 49% of students have been harassed travelling to or around university 24% of students have been harassed on campus 72% of students did not know or were unsure about where to report or seek support services for Public Sexual Ha rassment (PSH) at their institutions
“72% of students didn’t know or were unsure about where to report or seek support services for Public Sexual Harassment (PSH) at their institutions” The #StudentsNotObjects campaign is calling for: 1.Compulsory consent workshops and ongoing training for staff and students on the topic of PSH. 2.Well-funded, institution-wide awareness campaigns on the topic of PSH. 3.Working with local authorities and transport providers to reduce PSH locally. 4.Appointment of a full-time sexual assault and harassment advisor. So, how does Our Streets Now fit into SOAS? SOAS is a great institution with important policies and campaigns already in place, but we believe things can always be improved. The consent workshops run by Enough is Enough cover a wide range of ways to deal with harassment and the
topic of consent. They are already well established and on their way to making real change - which we think is fantastic! We hope to work with Enough is Enough to properly introduce the topic of PSH and ensure that students are also aware that they do not have to combat this form of abuse alone. This is where one of the biggest goals of the campaign at SOAS comes in: requesting a full-time sexual assault and harassment advisor, provided and funded by the institution. This is a basic right that students deserve that should be provided by the institution as proof that they understand the importance of protecting their students. There are numerous ways you can support Our Streets Now at SOAS. Spreading the word is one of the most important parts of the early stages of the campaign. You can follow us on Instagram @ourstreetsnow_soas to keep up to date. Most importantly, you can also become an ambassador! We are trying to build a strong team at SOAS. You can sign up via the Instagram, email Meggie at 647533 if you want more information, or can visit our website: www.ourstreetsnow. org/higher-education Lastly, you can also check out the virtual exhibition made by Eliza Hatch @cheerupluv for #16DaysOfActivism and the mini-series consisting of five podcasts created by Hayley Rose Dean @discuss_podcast talking about the different components of the Higher Education Ambassador Scheme.
Sports & Societies
15 MARCH 2021
Our Top SOAS Society Picks!
SOAS Marrow Brings Hope for the Morrow Kat Brown, MA Chinese Studies
SOAS Iranian Society
SOAS has long been a site of academic and cultural discourse for Iranians in London. SOAS’ Iranian Society has been active since October 2010, and is staying active during the pandemic! It’s a student led committee that acts as an open, friendly platform for all things Iranrelated. Our society is committed to bringing together those who share an interest in Iran and Iranian culture in an informal and casual network. The SOAS Iranian Society is devoted to preserving, celebrating and engaging with Iranian culture through discourses and discussions of related academia, art, culture, tradition and history. Global circumstances have changed and we’ve had to adapt as well. Last year, we held casual socials, film screenings, support groups, games nights, book launches, career’s fares and panel discussions, as well as a collaboration with SOAS Radio for a Late Licence event. The lockdown restrictions have made it more difficult to organise and hold events for students but our digital platforms have been very constructive in allowing us to connect with society members as well as other collectives and organisations beyond SOAS’ campus. We’ve been able to host virtual programmes with notable speakers like Jane Lewishon and Dr Roshanak Bornaki, and feature up and coming artists and musicians from Iran and the wider diaspora. In February, we collaborated with the SOAS Afghan and Desi society to host an amazing line up and we’re excited to be organising something special for Norouz. For more information visit our socials (@soasiransociety) or the SOAS SU website.
SOAS WaterAid Society SOAS WaterAid is a student-run society at SOAS stemming from WaterAid, a UK charity that aims to transform lives by improving access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene in the world’s poorest communities. As a student division we aim to reproduce the work of our mother organisation by fundraising and raising awareness about access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation. Our most recent event this year was a panel event entitled ‘Getting Into the Charity Sector’ which - despite the virtual event fatigue - ended up being successful with over 180 signups to the event and approximately 100 people who attended the event. Despite this rather successful event, as a society we believe that there has definitely been many struggles with trying to create engaging events during this pandemic; original events that have not been replicated by other societies being especially hard to plan. That being said we are open to new suggestions so if you have an idea please give us a shout at email@example.com or on our social media @soaswateraid !
The SOAS Marrow Society works with the Anthony Nolan charity helping people with blood cancer to raise awareness about stem cell registration, as well as encouraging them to donate. We at SOAS Marrow are part of Anthony Nolan’s Marrow student network which encompasses over 50 universities across the UK. At Marrow, we spend our time helping dispel the myths of bone marrow donation and convincing people to join the register of potential donors at our sign up sessions. Donating bone marrow is not the 'painful operation' you may think it is as nowadays 90% of bone marrow donation occurs via a method which is similar to giving blood. Here at SOAS, we give people the chance to join the register of lifesavers by coming along to a sign up session and providing a saliva sample - nothing more. After
this, you will only be asked to donate your bone marrow if your DNA matches that of someone (anywhere in the world) who is suffering from a form of blood cancer. Joining the register and being asked to donate bone marrow is a unique opportunity to save someone's life by curing their blood cancer. Be sure to keep an eye out for when our 'sign up sessions' are being held this year! Additionally, we run training sessions for people interested in joining Marrow as a counsellor. Volunteering with us is a great way to meet new people, as well as being a form of work experience that is rewarding and action-based. In addition to being a brilliant cause, I feel a strong personal commitment to this charity, as bone cancer is something that I have personal experience with. As we are just starting out our Marrow journey at SOAS, we are always looking for volunteers - feel free to drop us a line @soasmarrow, and follow us for updates!
Naghsh-o-Neshat: Our immersive art evening with Iranian artist Sahar Ghorishi (Credit: SOAS Iranian Society)
SOAS Afghan Society
The SOAS Afghan Society is a cultural society that seeks to express the plethora of Afghan culture and affairs through the hosting of events. Given the current climate of pandemic, we are still trying to come to terms with hosting events online as we enjoyed a number of inperson group activities at SOAS last year. It has been quite a rollercoaster - but we have used it to our advantage! We are now able to host events with an audience from around the world as well as speakers from abroad, including Afghanistan! Zoom has made hosting events such as our recent ones, ‘Press Freedom in Afghanistan’ and ‘Hazara people of Afghanistan’, much easier as we can connect with speakers who are knowledgeable in these fields outside the London area. In February, we participated in Afghan Charity Week (ACW) for the second time - a student led initiative to raise money for disabled children in Afghanistan. SOAS Afghan Society alone raised £1,214 with the ultimate total with the whole of ACW being £31,114.91. This was an amazing experience for us and are ever so thankful to all the SOAS students who supported us! We enjoyed hosting an auction night in collaboration with the SOAS Painting Society, and our ‘Central and South Asian Cultural Night’ in collaboration with the Iranian and Desi Society to fundraise for ACW was a big hit as well. We are looking forward to hosting more events over the year - follow us @soasafghansociety to stay updated!
Sports & Societies
15 MARCH 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
: @soasspirit WWW.SOASSPIRIT.CO.UK
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