Thursday 13th November
your independent student newspaper issue 11 TIPS FOR AN COMMENT: INTERVIEW: SOAS AFFORDABLE THEATRE THE MODI-FICATION DIRECTOR PAUL P16 EXPERIENCE P8-9 P25 OF INDIA WEBLEY
Ghavami in dark over prison sentence “We wish to express our deepest sympathies and solidarity with Ghoncheh and her loved ones, and our support for her brave action in defence of women’s rights and civil liberties.” Tom King, BA Politics Former SOAS student Ghoncheh Ghavami, according to her lawyer, has been sentenced to a year in prison in Iran after being found guilty of “propaganda against the state” for her role in a women’s rights protest, however her family say she is still in the dark about the verdict. The judge’s ruling has yet to be officially released but Alizadeh Tabatabaie, the lawyer representing Ghavami, says he has seen the text. Initially arrested following a protest at a volleyball match at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, Ghavami has been held in the city’s Evin Prison since June and has spent 41 days in solitary confinement. Amnesty International has highlighted her case, saying she is a prisoner of conscience. The women’s rights protest Ghavami attended was opposing a ban on women attending volleyball matches which has been in place since 2012. The judge for her case had stated that a verdict would be issued a week
Students at SOAS protested last month calling for Ghoncheh Ghavami’s release. Image: Anoo Bhuyan
from her court hearing. This hearing was held on October 14th, however, Ghavami is still waiting to find out her fate. Her family say she is being kept in “limbo” and has been on a dry hunger strike and has stopped co-operating with prison authorities since November 1st. Ghavami previously held a hunger strike for a fortnight in protest at the delay of her trial. Despite being held in detention for 137 days, Ghavami has only been able to have contact with her lawyer briefly at her court hearing last month. The trial, held in private
session at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran lasted just an hour and a half, after which she was allowed 20 minutes with her family. Speaking via the Facebook page calling for her release, Ghavami’s mother Susan said “Ghoncheh kept kissing her grandfather who she hasn’t seen for all these 109 days and kept weeping.” Ghavami holds dual British and Iranian nationality and the UK Foreign Office has said, “We have concerns about the grounds for this prosecution, due process during the trial, and Miss Ghavami’s treatment whilst
in custody.” However, the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the fact that Iran does not recognise dual nationality means it is unlikely any British intervention will produce results. Students at SOAS held a protest last month to show solidarity with Ghavami. In a statement released in September, the Students’ Union said, “We wish to express our deepest sympathies and solidarity with Ghoncheh and her loved ones, and our support for her brave action in defence of women’s rights and civil liberties.”
Thursday 13th November 2014
Letter from the editor
Contents News CONTROVERSIAL BINDEL REFUSED PLATFORM BY STUDENT UNION DINWIDDY MANAGEMENT COMPLACENT ON COMPLAINTS
Comment FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT: SMALL SHUFFLES LEAD TO BIG SHIFTS P14
FROM PORTOBELLO TO PECKHAM RYE: A GUIDE TO LONDON’S MARKETS P20
Tom King Editor-in-Chief, The SOAS Spirit
Your SOAS Spirit Team Tom King Editor-in-Chief tom.editor.soas.spirit@gmail. com @tomilo Jonny Morrison News Editor J_Morrison@soas.ac.uk @jonny_morrison
MING, 50 YEARS THAT CHANGED CHINA
We’re now over the halfway point of term one and many of us have essay deadlines looming on the horizon; if we’re not already in the midst of them. Since our last issue, we’ve been overwhelmed with students wanting to join our team and contribute to the paper, and we’ve added Jonny Morrison to our Editorial Board as News Editor. The whole SOAS community has followed the situation of Ghoncheh Ghavami closely over recent months and we are all deeply saddened by reports of a guilty verdict. Now held for 137 days in prison, she is still none the wiser about her sentencing. This month we have an exclusive inter-
view with SOAS Director Paul Webley (Page 8-9), where we’ve put him on the spot on his plans for the future of the School, industrial action, cockroaches at Dinwiddy and much more. In this issue, we also have coverage of the controversy over society events in the last month (pages 5 and 6), the kicking of fossil fuel divestment into the long grass (page 3) and our lecturers beginning a marking boycott to try to stop the decimation of their pensions (Page 4). We also look at the case for an academic boycott of Israel as the Students’ Union considers reaffirming and strengthening its stance on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (Page 15) and we ask whether unpaid internships are worth the hassle (Page 12). On page 29, a student gives us an insight to an unexpected side of Japan and we’ve have a root through your bags to see what your uni essentials are (Page 26). Last month, I used my letter to highlight the length of time correspondents from Al Jazeera have been imprisoned in Egypt. Today, they remain in jail; having spent 321 days behind bars. I hope you enjoy this edition, and, as ever, please send us your thoughts.
Kate Auchterlonie Chief Sub-Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Kush Depala Online Editor email@example.com
Carolynn Look Features Editor firstname.lastname@example.org @carolynlook Luke McManus Comment Editor email@example.com Maya Pillai General Secretary firstname.lastname@example.org Duygu Pir Photography Editor email@example.com Lucy Warden Features Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday 13th November 2014
As UN urges divestment, SOAS moves closer to going fossil free SOAS furthers its bid to become the second university in Europe to divest with 1000 students signing the Fossil Free SOAS petition. Clare Birckett, Msc Environment, Politics and Development SOAS management took a crucial step towards withdrawing its shares from fossil fuel companies on Tuesday, after Fossil Free SOAS campaigners handed them a 1000-strong petition calling on the university to divest. The Resources and Planning Committee gave the go-ahead on Tuesday for the creation of a working group that will consult with key players in the university on the implications of divesting. Following the decision made by SOAS in June to freeze all new investments in fossil fuel companies, the establishment of the working group brings SOAS one step nearer to becoming the second university in Europe to divest from fossil fuel companies. Glasgow University announced its decision to go fossil-free last month. Tuesday’s meeting came a week after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a fresh assessment of global warming and a stark warning that global carbon emissions need to be reduced urgently and drastically to avoid further disastrous climate change. Ban Ki Moon, Secretary-General of the UN gave a message specifically to investors, asking, “Please reduce your investments in the coal- and fossil fuel-based economy and [move] to renewable energy.” SOAS’s investments in fossil fuel companies are worth more than £1 million. “A lot of the activities of these fossil fuel companies not only contravene action on climate change but they also contravene SOAS’s own policies on ethics and human rights,” said Rob Abrams from the Fossil Free SOAS campaign. The Resources and Planning Committee in SOAS had been due to make a final decision on divestment on Tuesday, but last month
management postponed the verdict in order to consult further with stakeholders. A similar consultation process was an important step on the way to divestment for Glasgow University. The final verdict on SOAS’s divestment will instead be made in April 2015. Rebecca Newsom from Fossil Free SOAS said: “We’re disappointed about the delay, but having worked constructively with management, it became clear that a working group is necessary in order to achieve the result we all want.” “We’re pleased that the Student Union will be represented in the working group, and we’re pushing hard to ensure a clear timeline remains in place, that the remit of the working group is clearly defined and made public. All the signs so far suggest that SOAS is ultimately committed to making this happen – but we’re going to keep the pressure on between now and next April.” Support for the campaign has ramped up as students, alumni, staff, prospective students and even celebrities have lent their support. Naomi Klein, who released a book last month arguing that capitalism is at fault for causing climate change, recently posed with a sign saying ‘University of London, divest from fossil fuels!’ She then singles out SOAS as one of the universities that could make the move a reality. The display of support comes after Russell Brand was snapped last month with a sign encouraging SOAS to divest and ‘be on the right side of history’. Sign the petition and find out more here: http://fossilfreesoas. wordpress.com/ SOAS Radio is producing a series on SOAS’s path to divestment. The Divestment Digest can be accessed here: https://soundcloud.com/fossilfreesoas/.
Free Education: Students will march on Parliament next week. (Photo: Tom King)
NUS pulls support from free education demo “Whole areas of higher and further education are now off limits to anyone without rich parents”
“A lot of the activities of these fossil fuel companies not only contravene action on climate change but they also contravene SOAS’s own policies on ethics and human rights.”
SOAS’s investments in fossel fuel companies are worth more than £1 million.
Concerns over protest safety lead the National Union to drop supTom King, BA Politics The National Union of Students (NUS) has withdrawn its backing for the free education demonstration planned for November 19th citing concerns over safety, but organisers say the protest will go ahead regardless. Last week NUS’ full-time elected officers said that “with huge reluctance and regret” they have announced “NUS is not in a position to support this demonstration”. The move overturned the decision taken at NUS’ National Council meeting on September 16th, which put the Union’s weight behind organising the protest. NUS has said “The plans that are in place do not give us confidence that the demonstration will be accessible to all students – in particular disabled students.” They have also stated that risk assessments have not been adequately prepared. In a statement, they say “We do not believe there is sufficient time between now and the demonstration for these risks to be mitigated.” The demonstration planned for next Wednesday has been organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and other groups. In a statement, they said “we have successfully agreed a safe and accessible route...the National Union of Students National Executive Council supports this free education demo and we hope that the NUS President
withdraws their statement which is a total misrepresentation of the situation”. Responding to the news, Co-President Welfare and Campaigns Georgie Robertson said, “NUS not supporting #freeeducation demo even though we voted to support free education at conference and on NEC [National Executive Council]. Where’s the democracy?” Thousands of students are expected to take to the streets next week in the biggest mobilisation in several years. Coach-loads are expected to arrive from campuses across the country to converge on Malet Street, near SOAS, before marching to Parliament. Students will begin assembling on Wednesday at midday with a bloc from SOAS gathering on the steps. Beth Redmond, from NCAFC, said “Four years on from the election of the Coalition, it is clear that fees have failed. Whole areas of higher and further education are now off limits to anyone without rich parents, and education workers are being squeezed, sacked and outsourced. We are calling this demonstration to take the fight to the government and to demand a public education system that serves society and is free and accessible to everyone.” NUS adopted a policy of calling for the abolition of tuition fees and campaigning for free education for the first time in a decade at their spring conference. However, many members of the leadership still oppose the policy instead favouring a ‘graduate tax’ which would see a higher rate of tax for those with a degree replacing tuition fees and loans.
Thursday 13th November 2014
New training tackles harassment at SOAS following ‘rugby-club gate’ Measures to combat sexism and harassment sees the introduction of mandatory training for SOAS staff and students. Clare Birckett, Msc Environment, Politics and Development Sexism and lad culture is being addressed head on at SOAS, with the introduction of mandatory training on equality, diversity and anti-harassment for Union Executive staff, and society and sports team presidents. Training was given the official go-ahead at SOAS’s Union General Meeting (UGM) last month, days after LSE’s rugby club was disbanded for distributing misogynistic and homophobic material at the university’s freshers’ fayre. Leaflets handed to first year students referred to women as “trollops” “mingers” and “slags”. President of the SOAS rugby club Tom Eyre said: “I don’t think that SOAS’s rugby team has a similar problem of sexism but of course training’s a good idea with the recent incident at LSE. We don’t ask new members to do initiation rituals, and that has attracted players from other universities who feel that SOAS is a more inclusive environment.” Ella Achola, the Union’s Black Officer, welcomed the new training programme, saying: “I think we sometimes get caught up in the SOAS bubble where we think everything is fine and everyone is super careful and aware about what they say. But that isn’t the case and there are still instances of harassment, abuse and discrimination amongst and between staff and students.” Society presidents and union executive staff will all have to undergo annual training on equality,
diversity and harassment, and bar staff will be trained to help revellers enjoy nights out without the fear of harassment or being made to feel uncomfortable. “Harassment is something many students face regularly on and off campus so the training will transcend the borders of campus,” said Shadia Edwards-Dashti, Women’s officer of the LGBT society. “However, training should extend further than the confines of union officers and committee members via open workshops to all students.” The new SOAS Community Accountability Group which is being set up by the Women’s Officers could respond to that need. The group aims to challenge structures of oppression and normalised violence, and has already met twice this term. The Women’s Officers have also developed an anonymous way to report harassment on the SOAS Union website, and together with the Feminist Society at SOAS, are working with the I Heart Consent campaign. The NUS recently revealed that one in four university students experience sexual violence, and a Drinkaware survey showed that a third of young women admitted they receive inappropriate or unwanted physical attention on a drunken night out. SOAS isn’t the only higher education institution to address this problem. Oxford and Cambridge have introduced mandatory sex education for first year students,
and following the incident at LSE, the Rugby Football Union decided to strengthen its commitment to inclusion and diversity within its university rugby clubs. However, it is unclear how the adopted measures at SOAS will or can address online harassment. When a student complained to the administrator of an unofficial Facebook page about misogynistic content posted on the page in October, he told her to “take your big problems elsewhere, this is not a platform for you to whinge.” The female student had asked the administrator of “SOAS Freshers 2014-2015” to ban posts such as an advert for a frat party that included a photograph of a nearly naked woman. SOAS Union has attempted countless times to remove the page, but Facebook will not allow their request, raising the question of how harassment and intimidation can be avoided online with the proliferation of social media platforms. “Some of the comments on Overheard at SOAS or SOAS Rants Facebook pages could be classified as harassment,” said Ella Achola. “But what is hidden and becomes tricky is for example abuse via email which I’ve heard happens...This can also happen via phone and probably countless other mediums.” You can report a case of abuse or harassment using the anonymous form at this page: http:// soasunion.org/report/
Academics begin marking boycott Marta Pacini, BA Development Studies and Politics University and College Union (UCU), the main trade union representing academics, has voted to undertake a national boycott of student assessment and examinations activity, which started on Thursday the 6th of November. This industrial action is being taken in reaction to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), which poses changes to academic staff pensions. Such changes, according to UCU, would entail a loss of thousands of pounds every year; unfavourable pensions compared to academics with differing pension schemes, and potential problems in recruiting and retaining the best staff. The ballot closed on Monday the 20th of October with 77.8% voting in favour of strike action and 86.7% voting in favour of action short of a strike. The turnout was 44.5%, which has been described by the UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, as the highest in the trade union’s history. Contract terms for academics are not set by individual institutions but by umbrella group Universities UK (UUK). Universities in the UK including Oxford and Warwick have taken a stance against UUK by criticising the proposed changes to USS. Moreover, UCU has proposed an alternative pension scheme, which it claims is financially sustainable. This marking boycott comes as the next step in a sustained fight for better working conditions, which saw various forms of industrial action being taken by both permanent and fractional staff during the course of the last academic year.
Thursday 13th November 2014
An Eventful Black History Month
Meals by donation means that healthy food is accessible to everyone.
Event organised by SOAS societies for Black History Month takes a turn for the controversial as speakers voice their opinions. Melissa Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish This Black History Month has seen a number of innovative events in a collaborative movement across SOAS to commemorate and celebrate the rich culture, diverse influence and sometimes painful history of the African continent and its diaspora. Amongst these has been an evening of spoken word, talks on Black academic participation, intersectionality in the feminist movement, and the place of men and women of colour in British society. Events run by the MSA and the Ahlul Bayt Society looked towards the role of Black Africans in Islamic history. Advertised on Facebook as a “thought-provoking evening… where we will be rethinking Islamic history with an aim to inform, inspire, and progress,” Islam through a Black Lens (organised by the Ahlul Bayt Society in collaboration with the African-Caribbean Society) invited a diverse panel of Muslims of African descent to discuss both the role of Africans in Islamic society and the role of Islam in the anti-racism and anti-apartheid struggle. Ibrahim Sincere, a young Somali-Indian spoken word artist, delivered an impassioned piece on the presence of the ghost of slavery in modern society, entitled ‘By Any Means Necessary’. Sheikh Ahmed Haneef delivered a lecture on the role of Islam in the black struggle for justice, elaborating on his own experiences as a Trinidadian migrant to Canada in the 1970s and those of prominent black power leaders such as Malcolm X as converts to Islam. More controversially, Muhammad Sulaiyman delivered a lecture entitled ‘Hadith, Lies and White Supremacy: The True Black Colour of Original Arabs and Islamic Personalities.’ Making use of numerous hadith, (traditions or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) with his own interpretation, Sulaiyman asked his packed audience, “Did the Prophet look more like Charlton Heston or Denzel Washington?” Reinforcing the central theme of his speech – that the ‘original Arabs’, and thus the Prophet and his family, were Black – Sulaiyman used images of the Prophet with dark skin to prove his point. The audience, majority Muslim, was visually and audibly discomforted by the use of depictions of the Prophet, a centuries-long controversy in Islam (depicting the Prophet Muhammad is variously seen as idolatrous and blasphemous). The controversy of the evening continued into the question and answer session, with the fervent speakers Sulaiyman and Sheikh Haneef taking audience questions as a platform for impassioned rhetoric on matters such as the role of weaves and skin-lightening practises in the African diaspora and hijab. Sheikh Haneef revealed to the audience his support for Hezbollah and expressed a view - perhaps inspired by his time studying and lecturing at the Mustafa International University in Qom, Iran – that the greatest modern Muslim was the Ayatollah Khomeini. So unexpected were these views that the host of the event had to reiterate that the opinions expressed were not their own, nor did were they necessarily shared by SOAS.
Successful Start for SOAS Student’s Community Cafe MA student Lise Thiollier sets up Cafe Morningside, a space for good food, local community and a healthy dose of creativity. Clare Birckett, Msc Environment, Politics and Development A SOAS student and her friend have set up a community cafe aiming to put food sustainability, community and healthy eating on the menu in a housing estate in Hackney. Cafe Morningside opens every Thursday and Friday in a community centre on Morningside Estate. Meals are provided ‘with no price-tag’, with customers paying by donation instead. “We wanted to create a place where people from the area can interact and enjoy themselves over some good, healthy food without spending a bomb,” said Lise Thiollier, an MA student in Food Anthropology at SOAS who set up the cafe in August with friend Francesca Camporeale. The two brought the idea to Hackney after being involved in a similar venture in Brighton called The Sourcepan Collective. Most of the ingredients used at Cafe Morningside are food surplus donated by local businesses, and most of the chefs at the cafe are employed through Mazimas, a charity that helps migrant
women build their skills and increase their employability. At the moment the chefs are from Brazil, Ethiopia and Senegal. “Chefs have to work with whatever ingredients are donated, so the menu du jour is always changing,” said Thollier. Past menus have included vegetable tagine, onion soup, and feta and lemon fritters, and the suggested donation is £4 for a main meal and a dessert. The cafe also serves breakfast from 9am, with a choice of egg and beans on toast, or toast with jam. So far the cafe has proved popular, and the duo has extended the opening hours, closing at 4pm now instead of 1.30pm. Originally vegetarian, the cafe is also beginning to serve meat dishes, to respond to customer demand. The two are already looking to the future: “At first it was a struggle engaging people with healthy food,” said Lise. “But we’d like to start hosting cooking classes and yoga classes soon, and make the cafe into a real ‘healthy hub’.” To visit the cafe, volunteer or donate, contact Lise or Fran at email@example.com or go to http://cafemorningside.wordpress.com/.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Photo Credit: Paul Wolfgang Webster (3henimage.co.uk)
Controversial Bindel Refused Platform by Student Union SOAS’s Student Union Executive Committee votes not to allow journalist and writer Julie Bindel to speak at an event organised by the Muslim Students Association (MSA). Kush Depala, BA South Asian Studies and Study of Religion The decision to ban Bindel’s talk was made on Monday 20th October, as part of the Executive Board meeting. After much debate, only two members of the board voted to allowing Bindel to attend the event, with five in opposition and seven abstentions. A statement was released by Georgie Robertson, who voted against Bindel’s attendance, on behalf of the Executive Committee, explaining the verdict. She stated that the decision was made “based on the fact that Julie Bindel has made numerous and repeated discriminatory comments towards trans people, bisexuals, sex workers, Muslims, and people who identify as Queer, which advocates further prejudice towards, and marginalisation of, these historically discriminated against groups.” Bindel has argued that sexual orientation is a choice, and her January 2004 article entitled “Gender Benders, Beware” ridiculed trans identities, causing the LGBTQ community to write more than 200 letters of complaint to The Guardian, who published the column. Bindel has since apologised for the tone of the piece, but this has done
little to alleviate the friction between herself and some of the LGBTQ community. Robertson also pointed out that “Julie Bindel is also included in the No Platform policy of the National Union of Students (NUS).” The No Platform policy was originally created in order to prevent the dissemination of fascism in UK universities, and currently includes groups such as the British National Party, the English Defence League, and Al-Muhajiroun. Bindel was added to the list in 2011, when the NUS LGBT campaign refused platform to her as they considered Bindel to be transphobic. “Although some students who identify into these groups have expressed a wish to have the opportunity to challenge Bindel,” the Union statement added, “others have told members of our Executive that they would feel unsafe in SOAS if Julie Bindel was to come and speak here.” As part of the Student Union’s Safe Spaces policy, the SOAS Student Union has a right to prevent “discriminatory behaviour, bullying and harassment of students and SOAS SU staff, whether by other students, SOAS staff, contractors, temporary worker or visitors of the Students’ Union or School.” The Safe Spaces amendment to the Stu-
dent Union Dignity Policy was enacted as part of the UGM on 10th October 2014, only ten days before the decision of the Executive Committee was reached. In this instance, the policy was used to prevent Julie Bindel from appearing on a panel at an event organised by the MSA (a society which is part of the SOAS Student Union), which was to be held on campus. Afia Ahmed Chaudhry, president of the MSA, commented: “Just to clarify, the MSA were approached to host the event where the speakers had already been confirmed. In regards to speakers, whilst we understand students’ concerns with Bindel, we do believe that it is of pivotal importance to challenge views that we do not agree with in an academic setting in order to further intellectual progression. In the past Bindel has made some outrageous comments, both transphobic and Islamophobic, agreed. However, shutting her voice and silencing academic debate will simply halt our understanding of opposing and alternative views/ideas. The MSA accept and respect the SU’s decision on this matter, as it is clear that their main interest lies with the safety of students.”
Lecture Series to Inspire Students at SOAS
Marta Pacini, BA Development Studies and Politics SOAS Students’ Union has launched its own lecture series in an attempt to bring together academics’ extensive knowledge of current affairs and students’ drive to make change. The first event in the series, entitled ‘Beyond Religion: ISIS and the Crisis in the Middle East’ and organised in conjunction with SOAS’ London Middle East Institute and SOAS’ Centre for Gender Studies, featured Syrian writer and human rights activist Ghias Aljundi and SOAS’ own Charles Tripp, Professor of Politics, and Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies. Held on the 26th of September in the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, it proved so popular that the queue to get in stretched all the way to the steps of the main building. The event was recorded and the video made available on the SOAS SU website. The second event in the series also proved popular, this time being a ticketed event, evidently a necessary organisational step given the success of the previous lecture – which sold out in advance. Entitled ‘Contesting Power: Israel/Palestine after the last war’ and organised in association with the SOAS Palestine Society, it also featured a mixed panel of artist-activists and academics: SOAS’ Nimer Sultany, Professor of Law, Israeli filmmaker Eyal Sivan and Palestinian poet and human rights activist Rafeef Ziadah,
Thursday 13th November 2014
Dinwiddy Management complacent on complaints
Housing activists host conference off Russell Square
Mouse and cockroach infestations, and faulty showers have led to growing numbers of complaints
Clare Birckett, Msc Environment, Politics and Development
Jonny Morrison, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical) Complaints of substandard conditions at the student accommodation of Dinwiddy House have multiplied since September when residents moved in. The halls, operated by Sanctuary Students (a subsidiary of Sanctuary Housing Association) on behalf of SOAS, are infested with cockroaches and mice, and some students do not have a working shower. There are cockroaches in almost every interconnected block at Dinwiddy, and some flats have serious infestations in both their kitchens and bedrooms. Dinwiddy residents are increasingly concerned at the lack of adequate action from Sanctuary Students which was informed of the infestation before the summer holidays. From photographic evidence, the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) confirmed to the SOAS Spirit that the insects are German cockroaches, which pose a serious health risk to the inhabitants of Dinwiddy. Lawrence Bernard, from the BPCA, said: “All species of cockroach eat any sort of food and are most active after dark [when they emerge] from their inaccessible harbourages to forage, contaminating food and food utensils, or food preparation surfaces as they go.” They are known to carry over 40 types of pathogen, including strains of E coli, salmonella and staphylococcus, which can cause diseases such as dysentery, diarrhoea, pneumonia, cholera, polio, septicaemia, urinary tract infections a n d wound infections. There h a v e been rumours of plans to spray Dinwidin dy order to
kill the insects, but it is unclear whether this has happened yet. There have also been reports of mice, both in the courtyard and inside kitchens. At night, the mice appear and run amok over the bags of rubbish left in the designated areas outside each block. As there are no bins, the mice can devour any scraps of food that fall from the bags. All of the tenants pay £147.28 per week to live in the 10 sq metre en suite single rooms. However, some rooms do not have a working shower. One resident said that she has to alternate between washing with a pint glass over her sink, and using her friends’ showers or those at SOAS’s Russell Square Campus. At the time of writing, she was still waiting for the maintenance team. According to Sanctuary Housing Association’s 2013/14 accounts, £1.1m is being spent on the refurbishment of Dinwiddy and Paul Robeson House, SOAS’s postgraduate halls. However, only some of the blocks have been refurbished so far, with students in substandard accommodation paying the same price as those in refurbished blocks. The Accreditation Network UK’s National Code, a voluntary set of minimum housing standards that Sanctuary Students has signed up to, states that any complaint must be addressed within four weeks. However, the Residents’ Council, a group set up by the SOAS Student Union Accommodation Officer to represent the residents of Dinwiddy and Paul Robeson House, submitted an official complaint five weeks ago and has not received a reply. Furthermore, a cockroach infestation is a Category 1 hazard under the Housing Act 2004 on which local authorities are obliged to act. Islington Council has provided the halls with glue traps in order to gather further evidence. The SOAS management has requested an urgent meeting with Sanctuary Students and the Residents’ Council. However, Sanctuary Students have not yet responded to this request.
“They are known to carry over 40 types of pathogen, including strains of E coli, salmonella and staphylococcus”
“One resident said that she has to alternate between washing with a pint glass over her sink, and using her friends’ showers or those at SOAS’s Russell Square Campus.”
The Cities for People, Not for Profit! conference, organised by the Radical Housing Network, was held just off Russell Square on 16-17 October. The event was timed to fall a day after Mipim – an elite property developer conference which protesters from the housing network successfully managed to temporarily close down. “Mipim represents everything that’s wrong with housing,” said Lewis Bassett, a Development Studies Masters student at SOAS and one of the organisers of the counter-conference. “Hard up councils go there from across the UK to sell public land to private investors that have no interest in who will live in their properties, or whether their housing is affordable and good quality. They just care about profit.” Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and campaigners from the Focus E15 campaign were amongst the counter-conference attendees. Sessions ranged from a talk on understanding the financialisation of housing, to practical sessions on how to block evictions. Such pertinent issues took on a particular resonance in the conference venue located at the heart of Bloomsbury, where the average threebed property is estimated to cost over £1.1m. The second day of the conference culminated in a stunt at which attendees distributed over 20,000 copies of the spoof newspaper the London Standard Evening. The paper highlighted the difficulties faced by London’s communities in accessing affordable housing, and the failure of those in power to address the situation. The leading article featured a fake quote by Boris Johnson saying: “It’s time to put social housing back on the market.” “We had 50 people at our meeting following the conference – that just goes to show that there’s a real emergence of a new social movement coming out of this,” said Bassett. “Mobilising around the housing crisis presents an opportunity to deal with the economic and political crises we’re facing today.”
Thursday 13th November 2014
‘SOAS is unusual. It’s a very unique institution’ Paul Webley, Director of SOAS, speaks to our Editor Tom King about the changes and challenges that face the School This summer marked eight years since Paul Webley took over the directorship of SOAS; a period that has seen considerable change to the School, and the university sector as a whole. “The transformation to what is essentially a marketised higher education system is really quite stark... the level of competition that produces is huge,” he tells me. When he arrived, Professor Webley says, “SOAS was indeed regularly making, not big losses, but losses every year, and the first thing I was told by Governing Body was ‘we’re projecting a loss next year, could you please turn it round’.” He did and the School is now, for the most part, running annual surpluses, which Webley says has allowed for investment in upgrading facilities. But he says the most surprising thing was that SOAS lacked a sense of purpose. “SOAS didn’t seem to know what it was doing. I was really surprised. SOAS is unusual. Its a very unique institution; small and specialist. It must know what its doing. But it didn’t.” Webley set to work producing a vision for what SOAS is all about and says that people now have a clearer idea of the School’s purpose. Before joining the School, Webley had spent 26 years at the University of Exeter rising to Head of the School of Psychology and, finally, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor. He originally studied for his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at LSE and his research explored the contribution that psychology can make to economics; he is a member of the Journal of Economic Psychology’s Editorial Board. Looking to the future, Webley identifies a number of challenges for SOAS in an increasingly competitive higher education sector. “We’re in a system now which is very volatile and highly competitive,” he says, with a risk that other universities are trying to move into SOAS’ niche. “For years, what we did, we did distinctly and no-one else did, but what you’ve seen in recent years is other universi-
ties both within and outside London introducing Chinese degrees, setting up India institutes like King’s and LSE setting up a Middle East institute.” Does this mean SOAS will have to compete by shifting focus from language courses like Hausa, which are expensive to provide, to ‘cheaper’ degrees? “We see ourselves as an area-based university,” he says, “which has to be informed by languages. That’s what makes us distinctive...if we stopped doing those things, we’d stop being SOAS.” The challenge, Webley says, is the balancing act of cross-subsidising degrees which are more costly from those that are cheaper to put on. However, this can only go so far; “In a market system you respond to the student demand, what else are you supposed to do.” This year SOAS hasn’t grown in terms of student numbers, in fact the number of undergraduates is down for the first time. A substantial proportion of this year’s intake were recruited through ‘Clearing and Adjustment’; the last minute system for students to apply for spare places at the end of August. So, is SOAS able to attract enough students to sustain itself? “This year was our trickiest year.” Webley tells me, “but do I think we’re doing something that is attractive to students? My feeling would be yes.” Failing to bring in more students will have consequences for SOAS’ coffers, however, so will we be lowering entry requirements to ensure student numbers? “Its all a matter of degree, how flexible are we prepared to be? We’re prepared to be slightly flexible, but we’re not going to admit people here who couldn’t succeed on degrees.” Webley adds that “There’s always a trade off between these two things. We’ve got to maintain the quality of intake, because we want to make sure we have good students who are able to benefit from the education we offer. On the other hand, if we were talking about a one-off year that you were going to be losing money, we might be prepared in this particular year to be flexible to make sure we’ve got the money.”
This year SOAS has slipped in some league tables, which rank universities on a number of variables. Professor Webley says “We actually went up last year about as much we came back down again this year...its not fair to say there’s been a trend downwards.” He adds that “the SOAS league table is very unusual” in that most universities have broadly similar scores on each of the criteria being assessed. “Ours are all over the place. We might be in the top ten for this and then we’re 50th for that.” What can SOAS do to improve its student experience and boost its standing in league tables? He says it’s important that where SOAS has established expectations, like on three week essay turnaround, the School needs to deliver. The personal tutor system is also an area Webley feels is in need of improvement; “when I talk to students I get quite a variable impression, some say it was great, some say I’ve never known who my personal tutor was.” There’s a need to make sure the pastoral network forms a consistent safety net for students, he tells me. Some university leaders have said the market logic in higher education should be followed to its obvious conclusion by lifting the cap on fees for home and EU students so that each institution can set its own rate, and potentially bring in extra income. Webley, however, is not one of them, but he does have concerns over current funding arrangements. “There is a bit of a concern, because what we’ve got, almost certainly, is a system that’s not sustainable...but also that is constraining our income in a serious way. We’ve got a £9,000 cap which doesn’t go up each year. When the cap was £3,000 it went up each year [in line with inflation] and it got up to £3,600, £3,700... even with low inflation we’ve got to the point where the £9,000 fee is worth less.” So while he doesn’t want the cap lifted, Webley says that the lack of inflationary rises is causing a problem. Will it fall on international students to pay even higher fees to make up the difference? “Well, it means we have to raise the income we have to raise.”
So what is it that Professor Webley does on a day-to-day basis? “Usually lots and lots of meetings”, he tells me. “What have I done this morning? I’ve had a pre-meet to discuss a meeting, another pre-meet to discuss a meeting, the meeting itself, which was Executive Board.” and, of course, managing a constant stream of emails. Generally, Webley says his role consists of three things; managing, leading and representing SOAS. This is everything from meeting with ambassadors and taking decisions on staff promotion to providing an overall vision for the School and selling us to the outside world. Resting behind his desk is a hard hat - emblazoned with SOAS’ new golden tree - and a pair of sturdy-looking boots, a nod to the development that is surely dominating the landscape both metaphorically and literally Webley’s office has a direct view over the Senate House building site. He says he’s extremely disappointed the project has been held up and now fears completion may be pushed back to Spring 2016. However, the timing may prove fortuitous; the grand opening, pencilled in for June, will be just in time for SOAS’ centenary celebrations. “Seizing an opportunity out of something that’s very irritating”, as Webley puts it. Students will also perhaps be relieved that a move midway through the academic year now seems unlikely. The move to North Block has thrown the future of Vernon Square into doubt. It still seems likely that the building will be sold off, but Webley recognises that real estate in central London, which the School owns outright, has the potential to be an asset worth hanging on to. One proposal has been to transform the campus into a new student halls to provide accommodation that SOAS is sorely lacking. “That doesn’t seem feasible in terms of the planning,” Webley says; Islington Council are not keen on having any more student halls in the area. Nonetheless, Webley tells me, “We need to find a solution for student residences long term. There just aren’t enough places.”
Thursday 13th November 2014
Not only are there too few places currently, but eventually the agreement which guarantees rooms for SOAS students at the Sanctuary-run halls on Pentonville Road will expire. The halls, previously owned by the School, were sold off before Webley’s time - a decision he feels was a mistake - and he indicates that his preference in future would be for halls run and owned by the School. “My take on student residences is that I don’t quite understand what the need is to involve private providers in them at all.” Webley says, “If it works, if you can run your halls of residence so that you charge a sensible sum for them that covers the costs of them and makes a nice surplus to cover other things, why can’t you run them yourselves?” More immediately, what is SOAS doing about the cockroach infestations, broken showers and mice running round kitchens at Dinwiddy? “We have striven mightily in the past to do something about this, the prob-
lem is...we have no say in the matter” Professor Webley says “We have all the responsibility but no power, we can do nothing. We can talk to them but the relationship is between the students and the Sanctuary management.” Since Dinwiddy was sold off, SOAS has no say in how the halls are run. Last year, saw substantial disruption to the School’s running, for a number of days the main building was effectively closed down, due to staff ’s strike action over pay. Professor Webley says these were part of a national pay dispute and “it’s not surprising that after a number of very low years of pay increases, all of which were less than 1%, that actually employees were looking for a larger pay rise...nor does it seem to me surprising that on the other side of the coin for the institutions to be saying….we haven’t actually got the money...its a consequence of less money coming into universities.”
Paul Webley with students fundraising for the Alumni and Friends Fund Credit: SOAS
The cleaners’ and fractional teaching staff disputes are about SOAS though. Webley says he’s not optimistic about the ‘shared services’ model that would see cleaning staff employed by a company across a number of University of London colleges. In any case, this option was not favoured by the Justice for Cleaners campaign, which wants to see cleaners directly employed by SOAS. The issue, Webley claims, is not about outsourcing, but about terms and conditions. “We have a large number of outsourced contracts and I actually find it slightly irritating when people focus on the issue of cleaners...cleaners do not have the worst terms and conditions of any staff here at SOAS...its actually the security staff.” He says Governing Body are seeking to improve the employment conditions of outsourced staff and this will be done “over time”. On the fractionals’ campaign, he says, “we put a lot of time into negotiations... its clear that at least some fractional staff are not happy with the outcome. We have offered improved terms and conditions this year.” Its clear that the
Fractionals for Fair Play campaign, as well as Justice for Cleaners, are set to fight on. Now, barely a six weeks into term and the higher education union, UCU, has imposed a marking boycott that could mean students receive no formal feedback or marks until a deal is struck over planned pension changes. Webley thinks the action is premature and should be suspended until negotiations have progressed further. He repeats the line that SOAS use in every dispute: “Our priority is to minimise the impact on students,” and says it is likely staff will try to provide as much feedback to students as possible within the framework of the boycott. Does he have any concerns about the proposals that could see staff ’s pension entitlement slashed considerably? “We send our view off to UUK [Universities UK] which is the negotiating body for us, we may disagree with what people say… [but] its not helpful for people to break ranks.”
Thursday 13th November 2014
Mozambique goes to the polls Filipe Nyusi wins another majority for the FRELIMO party, but loses 49 seats among growing discontent. Cornelia Körtl, alumnus Since the Rome Peace Agreement of 1992 ended a 15-year civil war and introduced the country’s first democratic elections, Mozambique has been characterised by bipolar party politics. For the last two decades every election has come down to a contest between two parties: FRELIMO (Frente de LibertaÇão de MoÇambique) and RENAMO (Resistência Nacional de Moҫambique). The former constituted the vanguard of the liberation struggle against the Portuguese, the latter originated as an anti-FRELIMO network. FRELIMO has achieved absolute majorities in parliament and provided the president since 1994, dominating political affairs and economic developments, and establishing a de facto one-party state. On 15 October, Mozambicans went to the polls to elect their next president. The incumbent, Armando Guebuza, had already been in office for two terms and was therefore barred from running for a third. Three candidates competed for the post: Filipe Nyusi, a FRELIMO nominee and Guebuza’s advisee, Afonso Dhlakama, RENAMO’s political leader since the civil war, and Daviz Simango of MDM (Movimento Democrático de Moҫambique), a party that was founded in 2009. Preliminary results show that Filipe Nyusi won the elections with a majority of 57.14% of the vote, followed by Afonso Dhlakama with 36.38% and Daviz Simango with 6.48%. FRELIMO won 142 seats in parliament (49 fewer than the previous term), RENAMO won 89 (38 more than the previous term), and MDM won 19 (11 more than previously).
Although FRELIMO’s victory comes as no surprise, their majority has been cut drastically. After winning its first 8 seats in the national parliament in 2009, MDM has played its part in further undermining FRELIMO’s political hegemony. This can be understood in the context of the population’s dissatisfaction with Guebuza’s governance. During his term in office, he did little for the country’s general (economic) development. 54.7% of the population remain in poverty and the life expectancy of 48 years is below the sub-Saharan average of 52 years. The country’s informal sector (the unregulated commercial activity which takes place outside the official or mainstream economy, OED) is large. Just 500,000 people out of the total labour force of about 10 million are employed in the formal sector. Although economic growth rates have consistently been around 7% since the mid-2000s, growth is almost exclusively based on foreign direct investment in mega-projects in the extractive sector. The resource sector has no connections to other economic sectors and few Mozambicans, apart from Guebuza and his allies, have profited from the resource boom. The huge dissatisfaction of the Mozambican population with Guebuza’s politics mounted in several public protests in the capital Maputo in 2013. The election process was not without irregularities. The Liga Moҫambicana dos Direitos Humanos (Mozambican Human Rights League) and the Centro de Integridade Pública de MoÇambique (Centre for Public Integrity) have published an open letter to the President of the Commission for National Elections (CNE) to demand investigations over missing ballot boxes in Zambézia prov-
ince. According to sources who want to remain anonymous for security reasons, the police are planning to destroy the boxes. Earlier, the Human Rights League and the Centre for Public Integrity had published another letter criticising irregularities in the election process. A significant number of polling stations had not been opened, hindering citizens from casting their votes. Neither the CNE nor the government commented publicly on the letter and its allegations. Nonetheless, international observers from the African Union concluded that despite these irregularities, voters were able to freely express their electoral will, and the Southern African Development Community Observer Mission regarded the elections as generally fair and credible. Clearly, the new President is confronted with several challenges. Not only does he have to convince dissenters within his party of his adequacy and competency, he must also look for a constructive and peaceful dialogue with the political opposition (especially against the backdrop of repeated armed clashes between government forces and RENAMO before the elections). Furthermore, he must break with the era of corruption under Guebuza and manage the resource sector boom to reconcile the population’s mounting dissatisfaction with the country’s (economic) developments and to re-establish FRELIMO’s credibility. Note: The election results are based on report N°493 by the Mozambican News Agency from 24 October 2014. At the time of writing, the National Election Commission CNE was yet to complete the verification of all votes cast.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Ebola Crisis requires a practical approach
As the World Health Organisation predicts 10,000 new cases per week by December, debate has grown more heated over how to best deal with the grim situation. Kenneth Nohara, LLB (Law) Nigeria, a state that had 19 confirmed cases of Ebola and seven deaths, has recently been declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This would be a feel good story if not for the fact that the WHO has suggested that we might be seeing up to 10,000 new cases a week by December, more than the number of cases we have seen reported in total since this outbreak began. The Ebola crisis has the pathological capacity to turn into one of the largest epidemics of our time, the disease is a scourge as terrible as any humanity has seen but it could be argued that it is – in the grand scheme of things – a relatively minor part of the greater problem. Numbers are still sketchy but it is almost entirely certain that more people have died since the outbreak began of Malaria or any number of other deadly diseases on the African continent than of Ebola. The disease itself is not the main problem, its effects on the infrastructure of the states are. The breakdown of healthcare infrastructure as a result of the outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leonestates where that infrastructure was never particularly developed to begin with- is the frightening issue, and one that is far harder to fix with a vaccine. When faced with facts like these, there is the propensity to react emotionally, but empathy alone will not staff treatment centers. Indeed, a human tragedy requires a human response, and while the need for financial aid is greater than ever before – the WHO reporting that they have received barely over half of the estimated $260m they require to adequately fight the outbreak – perhaps the world should be following the lead of Médecins Sans Frontières, who last month rejected a pledge of $2.5m from the Australian government, asking instead for Australian doctors – a request that Canberra was less than enthusiastic about. The ebola empidemic raises important and perhaps unpalatable questions. Is it fair or ethical for international organisations to request, and perhaps even demand, that medical professionals from isolated and otherwise unaffected states such as Australia risk their lives to help people half a world away? One might argue that by the Hippocratic Oath those doctors are perhaps ethically obligated
to help those in need but on a greater scale, what about obligation to minimise the risk of infecting an entirely new state with a potentially lethal pathogen? The need for foreign doctors is a result of less than robust medical education and training, both demonstrations of poor infrastructure symptomatic of states plagued by civil unrest. Even if the international community has divorced itself from humanitarian motives, it has an entirely selfish and wholly practical goal in attempting to eradicate Ebola. The looming threat of a deadly epidemic is at the forefront of the public consciousness, not unlike the manner in which previous epidemics such as SARS or the H5N1 virus captured public attention. The world’s citizens are concerned and are mobilising themselves in attempt to counteract the spread of the virus either by donating, pressuring politicians, or calling for border lockdown, the last of which could threaten aid efforts. However, the aid the rest of the world is able to provide is only one half of the solution to the Ebola crisis. The other half is prevention, and there are significant cultural barriers in the way of this. Six months into the epidemic, the WHO released a study which showed that half the cases of Ebola in Guinea were linked to traditional burial practices that involved contact with the corpse of the deceased. Every early case in Sierra Leone was linked to a single, unsafe, traditional funeral in Guinea – a funeral which was also instrumental in allowing Ebola to regain a foothold on the beleaguered state. A woman in Sierra Leone was arrested for failing to follow police instructions to wash her hands in chlorinated water to prevent spread of Ebola as a result of her unfounded belief that the chlorine would give her cancer. Again, a lack of education failed the populace involved in all these cases, and as a result all their lives were made significantly more dangerous. We see then that the Ebola outbreak is at its heart a grim case study of two things we have always known – that education empowers people to be able to affect their lives for their own betterment, and perhaps more importantly that we each of us have a responsibility to the human race proper. Borders have very little meaning to viruses, and as our society continues to dissolve those same borders socially and economically, it is perhaps time for us to realise that the tragedies and struggles of any single person are the tragedies and struggles of all people.
Ebola Crisis: More UK aid arrives in Sierra Leone. Image: DFID
“Is it fair or ethical for international organisations to request, and perhaps even demand, that medical professionals from isolated and otherwise unaffected states such as Australia risk their lives to help people half a world away?”
Thursday 13th November 2014
Unpaid Internships: Worth the Grief?
More and more employers are looking for graduates with ‘work experience’. The prevalance of these work schemes are on the rise, but are they taking advantage of graduates?
Kay Lee, LLB Law In today’s overwhelmingly commercial and economically driven world, it is no doubt more difficult get ahead. With more and more employers requesting “work experience,” it comes as no surprise that motivated graduates may not land a full-time job instantly after graduation and seek out internships with major employers to boost their CV and add LinkedIn connections. Unfortunately, this has given way to the rise of the “unpaid internship” - desperate students clawing at any chance they can get to add pizzazz to their paper presence. We all know someone who’s done it and more often than not, their distress is the subject of many lunchtime conversations. So this gives rise to the question: Why does this concept of the “unpaid internship” even exist? Do the benefits outweigh the grief? The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has guidelines that explain that the “rules for the national minimum wage (NMW) apply if the arrangements are such that the intern counts as a worker rather than a volunteer” and recommends that employers should at least cover the travel expenses. However, although employers should take into account these guidelines, it will “ultimately be up to the graduates to decide if the benefits of taking up the internship outweighs the fact that it is unpaid.” Clearly graduates who have just struggled through years of schooling are hoping that this internship will help them move on to bigger and better things in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, this is not only undercutting those looking for paid work, but the system is grossly unfair in that it assumes that most people can afford to work for free. It prevents those with high-potential but modest financial backgrounds from getting on the professional career ladder. To put it
more bluntly: If someone is struggling financially and has an unpaid internship in a major firm or has the opportunity to work at entry-level jobs but with a salary, they are more than likely to take the entry-level job to pay their expenses. It doesn’t mean the person is not “determined,” doesn’t see the value in work experience or doesn’t have enough potential - it just means they cannot afford to work for free. This not only stops people from reaching their full potential, but it also decreases the socioeconomic diversity within the professional world. On a similar note, unpaid internships may take advantage of graduates. In a Guardian piece this July about students and employability, it tackled the idea of unpaid internships in various sectors, citing fashion and media as having the worst reputations when it comes to unpaid internships. The article cites horror stories about cleaning rotas, high transportation costs and heavy workloads. Many interns also agree that if they are doing an incredible amount of work, being treated, on some level, as being “part of the team” and expected to cover events and long term projects, then they should be rewarded for it. The lack of reward can be a struggle to many, as they lose sight of their original goals and expectations for the internship and find it harder to justify the benefits of an unpaid internship. It allows employers to take advantage of graduate’s desperate situations and making them do the same amount of work with the dim promise that they will be rewarded in the long term. experience the working world.
“Given the right circumstances and employers, it could actually be a very valuable experience.”
Slavery has evolved; its called unpaid internships, Credit: Adam Fagan
“The system is grossly unfair in that it assumes that most people can afford to work for free.”
In spite of that, I can still see some benefits to unpaid internships, especially during college or university. Given the right circumstances and employers, it could actually be a very valuable experience in the field you may be interested in, or just for general work experience before entering university. For instance, I interned in a law firm while I was on one of my school holidays and although I didn’t know anything about law at the time, it certainly was an eye-opening experience for me as I had never been in an office environment before. There is no guarantee that it will help me climb the ladder in my prospective legal career, but it did help with my personal development as I began to see what it was really like to be a part of the work world and catching snippets of conversation between the associates and partners allowed me to take a peek into an environment very different from school. From my experience, I can say that as I wasn’t looking for a job opportunity at the time and merely an opportunity to experience the working world. My internship although unpaid, was beneficial to my personal growth. Weighing the pros and cons are entirely personal, but you should ask yourself whether or not you are potentially willing to over-stretch yourself, de-motivate yourself and let your hard work and potential go unrecognised? If you are unsure about the value of unpaid relationships and the circumstances you might fall into, you can check out websites such as targetjobs. co.uk which give you a rundown on what you should expect out of an unpaid internship and what you should be considering. Likewise, check out-
webpages like internaware.org which might give you some insight as to what an unpaid internship might really entail and in some cases, help those who have been unpaid claim back their pay. Although not all cases will make you feel devalued, remember that you are an important member of their team and your hard work, dedication and enthusiasm should not be dulled by a lack of recognition.
“It allows employers to take advantage of graduate’s desperate situations and making them do the same amount of work with the dim promise that they will be rewarded in the long term.”
Thursday 13th November 2014
You Will Always ‘Suck’ On Your Year Abroad We should be mindful of the implications when undertaking a year abroad. Bea Bottemley, BA Arabic Marlene Soulier, BA Arabic ad Development Studies In light of the recent article published in the SOAS spirit, we too felt a need to reflect on our year studying abroad in Nablus, Palestine. We do not claim to speak for anyone but ourselves, and are aware of the various ways in which our voices as white Europeans are privileged over those of Palestinians. We are aim to deconstruct this, but acknowledge that there will inevitably be times when we fail to do so, and for this we apologize. Before going abroad, it is not only important to consider how it will affect you on a personal level, but also how it will impact on the community that you are visiting. Most of all it is important to be aware of the historical context of a country, and your role within that. We don’t pretend this is easy. Encountering injustice on a daily basis, it is natural to ask yourself how you can have a positive impact. Some people find a calling in activism or in working for an NGO. We don’t question their intentions or integrity, but think there’s a need for critical analysis. Much of the structural function and internal dynamics of NGOs and the broader aid industry helps to create and sustain a neo-imperialist
“We’re aware that we, as students on our year abroad, often take more than we realise, more than we contribute.” global order and perpetuates poverty and conflict. These privatised semi-corporate bodies often take over critical social functions. Their existence deprives communities of democratic control over the structures that come to define significant portions of their lives. Those employed from outside these communities are often granted a political and social role of great significance and privilege without any accountability for the people they speak and act on behalf of. It seems that passport, colour and privilege too often outweigh
experience, learning and in-depth understanding, which could be more effectively found in members from within the community itself. Why are Europeans being provided with a luxury lifestyle to perpetuate an unsustainable economy based on aid, while their local counterparts are left unemployed, or paid half as much? In fact, we could ask, why are most Europeans there are at all? This was a question that troubled us during the last year, and for which we never found a clear answer. The structures that create war and poverty are global, but their effects are, for the greater part, relocated to “developing” countries. We are all actors in this orientalist narrative of “development” and “enlightenment” that has been under construction for centuries. No doubt, those living in countries stricken by conflict and poverty are victims of structural injustice and racism. However understanding these people as in a fixed state powerlessness denies them their agency, thus strengthening neo-colonialist structures. In Palestine, many of our friends argued that the aid industry formed another layer of occupation in their lives; however many visiting foreigners chose to ignore this. Instead, for whatever reason, they chose to be tourists in the Palestinian people’s suffering. anger of the Palestinian people, without appreciating that we have been granted the privilege to choose when to stay, or when to leave, when to see, or when to ignore, and what or when to “suffer”. It can’t be denied that we were part of that. We arrived with little knowledge of the country, and left with a greater understanding of ourselves as political and social beings. We learnt a lot from the people around us; it wasn’t always comfortable, but we are thankful for it. We gained a lot from the last year in all aspects of our lives, and we hope our relationships were not all one-way. However we’re aware that we, as students on our year abroad, often take more than we realise, more than we contribute. We build our CVs, using buzz words like “Palestine”, “refugees”, and so on, without being fully accountable to the depth of the situation and our privilege.
Palestine (Credit: 31774, pixabay)
These structures are more nuanced than we can describe in a seven hundred word article. However they played a large role in how we interacted with the people
“It seems that passport, colour and privilege too often outweigh experience.”
ourselves in. We can’t reduce it to the best year of our lives; it was more complicated than that. We can’t give you a five minute summary of the last year. Nor can we give you an expert overview of the situation in Palestine. There are a variety of voices and resources that should be given more authority than us. Our privilege means that we will always ‘suck’ on our year abroad, and that’s one of the most important things that we learnt.
around us and the situations we found
Thursday 13th November 2014
Fossil fuel divestment: small shuffles will lead to big shifts
We have a duty to set the standards to bring about change. Harriet Freeman, BSc Economics “All power to the people.” This is an exclamation which can once again resound throughout the student body- as it did in 1960s Americatriggered by the incipient ‘Divest from Fossil Fuels’ campaign which is spreading across universities around the world. SOAS is boldly representing a strong presence in the wider Fossil Free UK campaign. Climate change is a product of man-made actions and decisions, led by the vastly miscalculated market prices at which fossil fuels have been available. We are digging, we are burning and we are emitting. What is important to recognise is that the crises consequences we are now facing and are to face in the future are endogenously created within the capitalist system. We still retain the power to alter the behaviour leading to these outcomes. The movement to divest wealth away from fossil fuel companies has been offered as a tool to seize this power. Yet how much of our weight as students and citizens can we throw in the way of forcing alternative practises in Shell, BP, BHP Billiton, through portfolio-reallocations? What Exactly is Divestment? Divestment is a socially motivated activity of private wealth owners, either individuals or groups who choose to shift their portfolio arrangements, (e.g. university endowments, public pension funds). It was in the era of 1980s apartheid in South Africa which this method of protest is commonly acknowledged to have originated. Many believe the institutional pressure that accumulated in the US from firms who were facing threats of divestment because of their relations with South Africa, had a great part to play in the later progressive decisions made by the South African government. Divestment campaigns have also been successfully staged in other realms tobacco, munitions and even gaming. Where divestment campaigns have a real chance in garnering support is in emotionally fraught issues.
Whilst openly voicing concerns about the environmental calamities he world will endure as a result of climate change, Desmond Tutu (former Archbishop of Cape Town and social rights activist) strongly suggests that our struggle for environmental preservation against business interest is as much about human rights as the 1980s apartheid movement. Julia Christian, a key figurehead of the SOAS Fossil Free campaign, told the Spirit that aggregate enthusiasm is continually growing for divestment because its “community-based” and “grassroots nature” allows for significant emotions of empowerment with every step forward. Joining the movement of divestment edges us further to asserting a democratic hold over corporate realms. Through using the threat of lost profit as a force, campaigners have the potential to gain a hold over carbon-emitting monopolies, which feel to be an ocean’s distance away from citizen sway. Divestment Resistance? At the moment resistance to the movement appears to be coming most strongly from the Australian government. Last month the Australian Financial Review noted Joe Hockey’s - the Treasurer of Australia- response to the Australian National University’s decision to divest from many key national energy companies: “I would suggest they’re removed from the reality of what is helping to drive the Australian economy and create more employment.” Aside from the questionable action of government intervention in private investment decisions, a move which has received a great deal of criticism, it is of much greater concern that these prominent policy figures are completely undermining the global initiative towards low-carbon production. Whether or not these politicians are playing the mouthpiece of fossil fuel companies, the outcome affirms Tutu’s remark that “we live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests
Will divestment make an impact? (Credit: Elizabeth Jellicoe)
“SOAS is boldly representing a strong presence in the wider Fossil Free UK campaign.”
mouthpiece of fossil fuel companies, the outcome affirms Tutu’s remark that “we live in a world dominated by greed. We have allowed the interests of capital to outweigh the interests of human beings and our Earth.” Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, also responded to ANU’s actions, saying, “any entity that refuses to invest in energy companies was depriving its members of a good investment.” Labelling a fossil fuel asset as “a good investment” is almost analogous to the way in which US housing assets received faulty praise in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis. An economic crisis is estimated to be on the horizon as financial analysts, rating agencies and investment advisors critically undermine risks present in finite-energy assets, thus inflating energy company’s stock market valuation. Many valuations of fossil fuel commodities are falsely forecast on the basis of commodity reserve ratios, in other words their future supply. Carbon Tracker, a climate change thinktank, noted in their 2013 report that all players across the financial chain do not quantify or even recognise the possibility that governments will go some way to act upon reducing emissions. This wilful blindness of financial actors is producing an ever-threatening “carbon bubble,” UK MPs warn. The business models by which fossil fuel companies have been running by for years depend on reserve replenishment but this design is simply not viable in order to achieve the cap on global average temperature at 2C – a goal confirmed by governments in the 2010 Cancun Agreement. So What are the Channels in Which Divestment Aims to Make an Impact? Three key avenues can be identified. First, press fossil fuel companies and government through legislation to leave the remaining reserves “down there.”
This year’s National Student Survey from this year showed overall student satisfaction across SOAS remained at a high of 88%, the
Second, press fossil fuel companies to undergo “transformative change” that can cause a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, like switching to less carbon intensive forms of energy supply. Third, press government to enact legislation such as ban on further drilling or a carbon tax. However, we appear to face a problem in the fact that the direct effect of our divestment on equity or debt of these companies is likely to be limited. Why? Because the maximum sum of capital that can be divested away from fossil fuel companies by SOAS, other universities and public pension funds is relatively insignificant; it is unlikely we will see dramatically declines in share prices. An average of 5% of university assets is committed to investable fossil fuel public equities in UK universities’ endowments. Stigmatization - The Weapon to Win the War Yet, all is far from lost. SOAS and other key institutions are crucially planting seeds of a new market norm; a forceful downward pressure on the stock price of a fossil fuel firm is likely to occur if this divestment behaviour blossoms amidst the great flows of capital. It’s the stigmatisation of a companies and of noxious and unsustainable business models that’s imperative here and it’s enabled through a spread of pragmatist dialogue. Julia Christian from the SOAS Fossil Free Campaign revels in the way divestment campaigns expand the reach of climate change concern to those do not usually deem themselves as activists. The cultivation of a stigma can potentially close all profit siphons by ostracising the favour of governments, customers, suppliers and potential employees. So where better to cultivate a stigma against monopolistic, profit-nestling and inequality-inducing energy companies than SOAS?
Thursday 13th November 2014
Should Universities Support the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions? Taking a clear stance does not antagonise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it helps us understand it.
Dr Luigi Achilli, Research associate at the Institut français du Proche-Orient, Amman A few weeks ago a fellow anthropologist colleague forwarded me a petition: “Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.” The main goal is to voice opposition to the ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and to boycott Israeli academic institutions whose complicity into the systematic violation of Palestinian basic rights notoriously goes well beyond the passive acceptance of the status-quo. As a scholar who has spent over a decade carrying out research on and in the Palestinian refugee camps of Jordan, I have grown quite sympathetic with Palestinians’ struggle for national liberation. I have signed the petition; so have nearly one thousand anthropologists- tenured and untenured scholars, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows. The petition is part of a larger campaign called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) that started in 2004 in response to calls from grassroots movements and civil society inside the Occupied Territories. The aim is to pressure Israel by means of various strategies that range from divestment and sanctions to consumer, cultural, and academic boycotts. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued a call in 2004 for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. The boycott does not prevent individual Israeli academics from attending conferences or entering into research collaborations with the signatories of the statement call. It does bar however any organization and individual who have subscribed the call from collaborating on projects and events hosted or funded by Israeli academic institutions, from teaching or attending conferences or other events at such institutions, and from publishing in academic journals based in
Israel. Collaboration with individual scholars based in the Israeli academy remains open. Over the past months, the academic boycott of Israel has grown considerably in size and relevance. Many prestigious academic associations and institutions have subscribed to the call. In February 2014, for example, the members of the American Studies Association (ASA) National Council – the oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history – have endorsed their participation in the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Similarly, many other academic institutions and associations across the world
“The idea of an active, politically committed, and morally engaged personal involvement sounds disturbing to many academics.” have joined the call and expressed their support for the international BDS movement against Israel. As expected the nature of the boycott has spurred harsh criticism and bitter debate in and outside the academia. The Israeli Anthropological Association recently sent a letter to the American Anthropological Association (AAA) calling any academic boycott of Israel “a moral insult to our integrity.” It says: “Punishing scholars in Israel for the acts of their government is not only meaningless, ineffectual and counterproductive, it is first and foremost a breach of academic freedom and freedom of speech.” Even Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has supported a settlement boycott but opposed a boycott of Israel on the principle of a mutual recognition with Israel.
BDS protest in Melbourne, Australia (Credit: John Englart)
For others, the academic boycott seems a dangerous strategy. Noam Chomsky, for example, argues that the academic boycott could backfire a become “a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”. Against this background, should we take a position? I believe so. I actually deeply disagree with those who argue that taking a clear stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is becomes part of the duration of the conflict. Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian basic human rights has clearly demonstrated that this is not the case. However, behind many scholars’ reticence to support the call, there may be also something Over the past months, the academic boycott of Israel has grown considerably in size and relevance. Many prestigious academic associations and institutions have subscribed to the call. In February 2014, for example, the members of the American Studies Association (ASA) National Council – the oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history – have endorsed their participation in the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Similarly, many other academic institutions and associations across the world have joined the call and expressed their support for the international BDS movement against Israel. As expected the nature of the boycott has spurred harsh criticism and bitter debate in and outside the academia. The Israeli Anthropological Association recently sent a letter to the American Anthropological Association (AAA) calling any academic boycott of Israel “a moral insult to our integrity.” It says: “Punishing scholars in Israel for the acts of their government is not only meaningless, ineffectual and coun-
terproductive, it is first and foremost a breach of academic freedom and freedom of speech.” Even Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has supported a settlement boycott but opposed a boycott of Israel on the principle of a mutual recognition with Israel. For others, the academic boycott seems a dangerous strategy. Noam Chomsky, for example, argues that the academic boycott could backfire a become “a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”. Against this background, should we take a position? I believe so. I actually deeply disagree with those who argue that taking a clear stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is becomes part of the duration of the conflict. Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinian basic human rights has clearly demonstrated that this is not the case. However, behind many scholars’ reticence to support the call, there may be also something else other than the mere unwillingness to do so for strategic and personal beliefs. The idea of active, politically committed, and morally engaged personal involvement sounds to many academics as disturbing. In a seminal article appeared in 1995 in Current Anthropology, Nancy Scheper-Hughes remarks how “above and outside the political fray is where most anthropologists cautiously position themselves.” Scholars, especially anthropologists, have been afflicted by a haughty intellectual aloofness in the name of a cultural relativism that reads more and more as moral detachment. However, as experts who study how power, domination, and structural violence affect everyday life, anthropologists and social scientists should be in a good situation to condemn Israel’s assaults on Palestinian culture and society.
Thursday 13th november 2014
Modi-fication of India – A Move Towards Growth or the Rise of Divisive Nationalism? At the end of last month, it emerged that the Sanskrit department of Delhi University started a project aimed at proving that Aryans did not migrate to the Indian subcontinent, but were indigenous to the region. This is an age old debate in academia, but is now becoming a wider political one. Sparsh Pandya, BA South Asian Studies A number of political forces in India both propagate and reflect the notion of Hindu nationalism. They present this ideology by claiming that the Aryan civilisation and the Vedic culture originated from India, therefore making India a Hindu country or at the very least a ‘Vedic’ country at its core. Within these Hindu nationalist organisations thought and debate are heavily simplified and inflexible in nature and divisive tactics are cleverly used to gain support using the legacy of partition – a tangible representation of the division of cultures. It is important to note that whilst many of Hindu nationalist scholars claim that their theories are counters to imperial forces which attempted to rid the subcontinent of any cultural heritage, what they are actually doing is re-creating similarly reductive theories by finding alternative political enemies which more often than not suit the ever prevalent Islamophobic political landscape in India. The desire to prove an Aryan indigenousness has come from Hindu nationalist sources, primarily the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The history of the RSS and its sister organisations are interwoven with complex Hindu-centric politics. In response to British colonisation, the Sangh’s agenda was to build a strong Hindu nation through physical and military training and the construction of a fundamental Hindu identity that asserts higher-caste cultural values. It was a political strategy for a free India where upper-caste and upper-class Hindus could accumulate and maintain privilege, social and cultural power over other religions, notably Muslims and Christians and ethnic minorities. Following the victory of Narendra Modi and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) who are open affiliates of the RSS and espouse Hindu nationalist politics, a change in political atmosphere is visible in India. Every challenge posed to this narrative has been carefully dismantled and removed in order to fortify and establish this political line. Examples of this include Modi’s dismantling of the Indian Planning commission – a central government body established to facilitate the development and aid of parts of society who are most economically and socially deprived. The work of the planning commission does not fit alongside the BJP’s programme, which appeals to the business and commercial elite through their neo-liberal stance on the economy, a policy stance which will result in the increasing division and exploitation of the working class. Dismantling of the planning commission is an attack on the basic principles of the Indian constitution, which states India to be a, “sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic.” Another consolidating move made by the BJP was seen in the proposal of the National Judicial Appointment Commission – a body heavily driven by the BJP with the responsibility of appointing and transferring judges to the higher judiciary. This is a reversal of the previously held judicial independence and is a move
Narendra Modi addresses 69th session of the UN General Assembly (Credit: Narendramodiofficial flickr)
“Dismantling of the planning commission is an attack on the basic principles of the Indian constitution..”
“Applying a political narrative to the educational field allows the party to establish and extend its position in the long term.”
allowing for much more influence and coercion by political forces. The law effectively can be made subject to the motives of Modi and his government. These moves are reflection of a convergence of the neo-liberal and religious right wing. It is also a move to erode the moral ground of justice and replace it with sensibilities of partisan politics, allowing for the extension and easy consolidation of the Hindu-nationalist narrative. In the same way that these narratives are being forced into the economic and judicial fields, one sees them pervading out into various sections of society – Hindutva is ever present – and the most recent example this is this project being announced at Delhi University. Proving that the Aryans originated in India is not simply a case of historical analysis, or purely academic in nature. The wealth of historical, archaeological, anthropological research on this subject all points to an Aryan migration into the subcontinent from the Caucasus region and in academia consensus has been largely built up around this question. Renowned historian, DN Jha commented, “This debate is not new, but I can say that at present there is no scientific evidence to prove that Indo-Aryans were indigenous to our subcontinent. But since the political ambience in the country has changed, there will be many such attempts to prove this.” Applying a political narrative to the educational field leaves a lasting impact – it allows the party to establish and extend its position in the long term. By rewriting history, the notion of Hindutva can be embedded in national discourse. Examples of normalising forces like this are increasingly becoming part of the superstructure which
legitimises this government’s heavily neo-liberal agenda. In October, here at SOAS the South Asia Institute held a roundtable event entitled “Caste and Development under the Modi Government”. This was in collaboration with Awaaz, a UKbased network of South Asian organisations and individuals supporting the ideas of secularism, democracy, human rights and tolerance, and challenging religious hatred and intolerance whichever community it comes from. The event was very well attended with a range of views and opinions being shared, but the main idea that arose out of the discussion was that result of all these efforts by the BJP is the huge decrease in dissident, critical and revolutionary voices. Such a political atmosphere is being fostered that it is becoming ever more dangerous to have a differing opinion. It falls on us, either as members of the diaspora or simply as individuals who stand against divisive politics to discuss these issues, analyse political motives, critique these actions and support movements for change. Voices of resistance in the international community are incredibly important in showing solidarity to those attempting to voice these issues in India. So, I urge everyone to support events and local efforts in India that aim to create an alternative voice and eventually an alternative option for the people of India which satisfies the constitutional preamble: “we, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens.”
Thursday 13th November 2014
‘Insufficient Evidence’: A Wider Perspective Last month’s ‘Insufficient Evidence’ article drew a variety of responses. One SOAS alumni contacted us and wrote about her own experience, and the lack of solidarity she sees within the student body. Trigger warning: sexual assault
Anonymous In September, a friend and I were sexually assaulted as we were returning home on a night out. Yes - I was drunk, no - I was not dressed provocatively, yes - I was wearing lipstick. We were offered a drink of water by someone working in a hotel nearby SOAS, and gratefully accepted. Apparently, this is tantamount
to consenting to a man groping two girls. When I said “NO” loudly, he rebounded to my friend and then back to me repeatedly. Anyway, I apologised to the guy and said that wasn’t what we were there for and that we weren’t interested, we were just grateful for some water and somewhere to stand for five minutes while we got our bearings. He didn’t stop, so I bustled my friend up the stairs in front of me,
The ‘Insufficient Evidence’ article as it appeared in the last
during which time he repeatedly put his hand up my skirt, and away from the hotel. The next day I just felt shame, and didn’t know how to tell my partner. The day after that I felt angry, so angry. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t kicked him down the stairs and attacked him. For a few days I couldn’t stand being looked at or anyone touching me, whether accidentally brushing past me in the street
or intentional contact from a friend. I’ve had the usual before, a slap on the arse, random guys grabbing you by the waist and pulling you in close. I’ve even had a manager smack my arse with a fly swat on the shop floor in front of colleagues and customers when I worked in a supermarket. Banter. This was different, I felt utterly violated. It wasn’t something I could laugh off, I couldn’t tell him to f*ck
Features off, I couldn’t even threaten to report him to the chain of command in a laughing banterish-way. In the end, I confronted him with my partner and got him to admit it, a bittersweet experience. I went through a cycle of emotions blaming him and myself, wondering whether I’d done something to suggest it was okay for him to do this and then feeling sorry for him – he was small and quite pathetic really. Perhaps I should have done more, but what? I could go to the police and he might be deported, which wouldn’t do him or his home country any good. I could inform the hotel and he’d lose his job which would result in a worse life for him and the family he said he had at home relying on his wage. I digress. That week I was supposed to file an application for a £2000 bursary at the university where I’m doing a Masters. I was given a week’s notice about the bursary deadline as the university’s emails were not getting through to me. I contacted them, explained my situation and asked whether I could submit the application the following day (Friday) after the deadline and was told to do so but nothing could be guaranteed. The following Monday I received an email telling me that while they sympathised, in the interests of ‘fairness’ to the other students my application could not be considered. I responded, explaining again in writing that they had given me a week’s notice about the deadline due to communication problems they’d known about in the spring, when they had used the wrong email address. Sympathising with my situation, there was still nothing they could, or rather would do. I then contacted the Welfare and Community Diversity officer from the SU of the university explaining my situation and that I didn’t want to cause any trouble, rather I wanted to express my frustration and talk about this situation which was entirely unfair in my view. Being assaulted isn’t fair, not receiving the same communications and notice of deadlines as the other students isn’t fair. I never got a response. Around two months later, I don’t think about it as much and I feel okay sitting down and writing about the whole thing with the knowledge it may be published in the SOAS Spirit. In many ways, life has gone back to normal for me, and that is one reason why I am writing about it. After the night I was assulted, I read ‘Insuf-
Thursday 13th November 2014 ficient Evidence’ in the SOAS Spirit and felt compelled to respond to the writer or anyone who knew her for three primary reasons: first to ensure the perpetrator was not the same- they were not, second to offer sympathy, support and solidarity along with any help, and thirdly to express outrage at the way she had been treated by the Economics department and to see what could be done. What happened to her may affect her for the rest of her life due to the final grade she was awarded for her degree which was heavily based on the results of exams she sat under emotional turmoil. Her appeal was dismissed for ‘Insufficient Evidence’. I’m not sure what counts for sufficient evidence of a rape, particularly if the ‘victim’ hasn’t gone to the police and has no forensic evidence, of which there might not be any anyway. The whole idea seems monstrously wrong to me. I was ‘lucky’ – I wasn’t raped and although I missed out on potential financial help towards my MA, I already had a part time job. My family are working class, and without the other financial support given by the university when I applied and the understanding and support of my partner and my boss, there’s no way I’d be able to continue with postgraduate studies. So far I’ve been able to keep up with a full time MA and a part time job, as well as a life outside of all of that. The strong person who bravely wrote that article will potentially have her life defined by the grade she received – future studies, funding and jobs as well as social standing are often contingent on the grade achieved for a BA – which, I imagine, is a heavy prospect to deal with, on top of the pain of dealing with what happened. But if that isn’t bad enough her university let her down, the fact that her friends were equally if not more unsupportive is something I want to talk more about. As noted in ‘Insufficient Evidence’, SOAS talks the talk but it doesn’t walk the walk at an institutional level and an individual level. SOAS students will rant, fight and protest about certain causes but when it comes to helping fellow students or looking after each other they simply do not care. This is clearly one of those examples. Students, even prominent feminist students who passionately write and talk about such things, do not know how to offer
solidarity or simply do not want to. It is so much easier to preach about an issue in abstraction than it is to face it and fight it in real life. This abstraction might take the form of online activity or an article for a newspaper or university. So many SOAS people, and people everywhere, espouse ‘right on’ views about a given topic but when it comes to a real life situation they seem unwilling to deal. I wonder whether I’d have felt so compelled to contact SOAS Spirit had I not been through my horrible experience? This is one example. Another is the case of Talha Ahsan. Talha is a SOAS alumnus who was imprisoned in the UK for six years before being extradited to the US where he was held in solitary confinement since October 2012 without seeing the evidence against him or being tried until 2014. He had to enter a plea-bargain in the US, which was essentially the best of a bad bunch of options for a majority of defendants (97%) in the US, in the end, the judge rejected many of the prosecutors claims and spoke of Talha’s good character. He received a time served verdict. He is still in the US, but now he is being held in an immigration centre awaiting repatriation to the UK, a lengthy process for reasons which are unclear, if they exist at all. Throughout this time, Talha’s brother Hamja has campaigned tirelessly across the nation and abroad for his brothers’ release. Time and again he has held stalls and events at SOAS, and although people sign up to newsletters or occasionally sign an Eid card for Talha, essentially they do not care. Students will talk about the ‘War on Terror’ in righteous anger and indignation, and they will protest at embassies and at Whitehall about human rights abuses as a concept, but when there is a solid example of someone who is known and has a name, many people simply don’t want to get involved. Things are too complicated and individual situations too complex for people to put the energy in to understand and fight for. What if Talha did do something wrong to deserve it, what if someone is raped and has no ‘evidence’? Principles are vocally fought for, but when a real situation arises people lose sight of the principle. Who cares is a friend got raped if you can argue about the finer points of feminism from a mainstream perspective in the context of wage inequality? Who cares when a friend has been charged on undisclosed evidence and extradited? When another brown skinned person, another Muslim, has been incarcerated and had his rights removed? Who cares when you can discuss whether Warsi or some other politician is Islamaphobic and therefore
whether they should be allowed on campus, whether free speech matters, or whether Malcolm X was a hero? Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an attack on feminists, nor do I mean to point the finger at Muslims for not helping other Muslims enough, that isn’t my place nor my intention. In fact, many students at SOAS have been very supportive of Talha’s case. My purpose in writing here is to highlight the disparity that still often between words and actions, beliefs and truths, ideals and reality; a disparity that exists all over this country but seems especially perverse at SOAS given its vociferous activist reputation. Perhaps SOAS students could actively work on being who they claim to be, rather than arguing on Facebook about personal hygiene or library fines. I know the idea of a ‘SOAS student’ being some homogenous group of same thinking people is problematic, but surely everyone has enough humanity to care about rape or incarceration without trial? Perhaps extradition events would be packed out and Theresa May’s inbox would be full if Talha himself was speaking at an event rather than Hamja, but he can’t, he’s locked up. Perhaps the school wouldn’t have claimed ‘insufficient evidence’ if the woman attacked was also beaten black and blue, the same principle behind attacking or undermining those with hidden disabilities. Perhaps people would have noticed if she’d carried a mattress around. Perhaps we can fight for this woman’s grade to be changed, or for her to be able to do retakes (should she want to), next year. Perhaps we can fight for some kind of tangible justice.
If you feel affected by the content of this article, you can find support by speaking to a counsellor or health professional via your local sexual health clinic. Support is also available via Rape Crisis England & Wales Free helpline: 0808 802 9999 www.rapecrisis.org.uk or via SOAS’ Student Advice and Well-being studentservices@soas. ac.uk
Thursday 13th November 2014
Star spangled food close to home Last month we gave you a glimpse of Chinese London. For this issue, Kevin tells us how to have a true ‘Merican experience in London. There might be some unhealthy food recommendations... Kevin Quigley, BA Linguistics and Japanese Studies In London, cultural events pop up out of nowhere all the time. They’re accessible, relatively inclusive, and easy to find. In fact, many SOAS students unknowingly stumble into the occasional rogue festival or poetry night by accident. Last term, a friend of mine went out to grab some milk and returned three hours later after having crashed a Latin American film screening somewhere down in South East London. Some people attract interesting experiences. Some others spend their weekends laying on their floors, wrapped up in their flatmates’ stolen Kermit the Frog onesies, listening to Kate Bush cover albums. For the latter group, a bit of effort is needed to ensure nights of good vibes and cultural exposure. Whoever you are and whatever you do, fear not! The SOAS Spirit will help you out. This article is the second installment of a series meant to bring specific cultural events to the attention of interested SOAS-ians. Each installment will focus on a different part of the world so as to cover as much ground as possible.
organic, free-range breakfast cafes around the city. What I liked about TBC is that there is nothing pretentious about it. Their menu is a mix of hardy American style cuisine and fresh ingredients—all the meat is hormone/ steroid-free (Upton Sinclair would be pleased). The most popular dish is the All-American pancake special. This thing consists of a sizable stack of thick cloud-like pancakes, scrambled eggs (you can ask for fried if you want to be progressive about it), sausage, herbed home fries, streaked bacon, and a river of maple syrup. Guys, this dish screams red, white, and blue -I could hear the freedom ringing as my server brought the meal to my table.
When searching for new cultural experiences, people are quick to explore that which is considered to exist outside our cultural ‘mainstream’. But sometimes it’s not easy to find Ecuadorian jewelry workshops or Scandinavian potpourri conventions The Breakfast Club Soho. \ —trust me, I’ve tried. So, why not try Credit: www.muinlondon.wordpress.com something a bit more familiar? Something that’s been shoved down our throats since the mid 20th century? Also, if you’re looking to save some That’s right, friends, I’m talking about cash, go to TBC around brunch time, America: Land of White Bread and order the All-American, force yourself Loud Talking. to finish the whole thing, and you’ve covered two-two and a half of your In an effort to reconnect with the daily caloric intake. Plus, it’s only United States, I visited American-style £10.50, which is pretty good for Lonestablishments around town to see don pricing. SOAS herbivores, there’s what was up. First stop on the list was no need to feel left out! The Breakfast an 80’s themed café-restaurant apClub serves mouth-watering meatless propriately called The Breakfast Club dishes that would make any vegetable (TBC). Split into two locations, one garden shake in its boots. I personally in Soho on D’Arblay Street, the other recommend the ‘When Halloumi Met wedged in between artsy storefronts Salad Wrap” because not only does it on Camden Passage in Angel, the honour one of the best romantic comBreakfast Club is a nice break from edies ever produced (RIP Norah), but what seems like hundreds of pop-up it also combines halloumi, sun dried
tomatoes, hummus, spinach, and balsamic dressing to form a healthy, relatively cheap (£8) breakfast-time meal. The only thing I found lacking in The Breakfast Club was its lack of dessert options. Its menu features French toast and a few yoghurt parfaits, but in the States, those dishes fall under the ‘health food’ category (Michelle Obama is not happy about it). So, I packed up my notepad and feathered quill - going for that Rita Skeeter aesthetic- and headed off for The Hummingbird Bakery in Islington. Now, I love London. It’s accessible and the people only glare at you on the street sometimes, but the lack of dessert-based dining establishments is embarrassing. Any trendy city in the States is mostly filled with cupcake cafes, never mind health clinics or affordable housing, because there’s something magical about eating something miniature for its cuteness factor. It’s all about the way you think you look when you try to eat something small and delicate. The Hummingbird Bakery offers a full range of American-style baked treats and desserts including cupcakes, layer cakes, brownies, pies, cheesecakes and much more. And they have locations in Richmond, Soho, South Kensington, Spitalfields, and Islington, so it’s very accessible. Their philosophy focuses on natural ingredients that can be found in any kitchen across the States. For a pastry shop, its pricing isn’t ridiculous and the quality is top-notch. It’s cool because anyone can ask a server or go online for a complete list of ingredients for each of the items featured on the menu. I ordered a red velvet cupcake—the most popular item served by The Hummingbird. Guys, it was like biting a cloud. A red cloud, topped with sugary, sweet stardust. People write albums about this kind of stuff. My friend ordered a carrot cake cupcake, and it was like eating a slice of autumn nostalgia. I know this because I ripped the dessert out of her hand as she was paying and wolfed down half of it.
“it was like biting a cloud. A red cloud, topped with sugary, sweet stardust.”
“this dish screams red, white, and blue -I could hear the freedom ringing as my server brought the meal to my table.”
The HummingBird Bakery. Credit: www.londontown.com
So, we’ve covered breakfast and dessert. What about dinner? My final destination was The Diner—an American styled diner with locations in Camden, Covent Garden, Islington, Soho, Shoreditch, Gloucester Road, Spitalfields, and Dalston. It’s nice because, atmospherically, it has all the components of a dive restaurant, but the food is sensational. I ordered a vanilla milkshake (£4.50) and the classic Diner Dog—a 100% beef frank topped with Swiss cheese, bacon, sour cream, and pickles. It sounds a bit grimy, but the whole experience is very satisfying. It is also the only place I have yet to find that sells corn dogs and fountain soda for a decent price. The staff are really cool and, even at their busiest times, won’t try to kick you out—even if you’re doing Kanye impressions and people are staring.
The Diner. Credit: www.theleisurepartnership.co.uk
Thursday 13th November 2014
From Portobello to Peckham Rye: a guide to london’s markets
East Street Daniel Ross, Image: www.thefirstpint.com
Jonathan Galton, MA Social Anthropology Vibrant local markets are a stock-in-trade of guidebook writing and no trip to Bangkok or Brindisi would be complete without sampling street food and attempting to engage a surly (or “characterful”) stallholder in lively repartee. London is no exception, and punches above its weight in world-famous names: Covent Garden for tourist trinkets, Spitalfields for dubious art and, of course, Camden Lock for international food and the evergreen pastime of Goth-watching. Venturing outside this narrow orbit you hit neighbourhoods such as Brixton and Brick Lane, now firmly hauled out of the economic doldrums by young creatives and bankers, but if this scene starts to pall, it’s probably time to cast your net wider. For a slice of echt South London life, head to East Street (nearest tube Elephant and Castle) where the staunchly ungentrified daily market (closed Mondays) does a roaring trade in cheap veg, bric-a-brac and household goods. Lining the street you’ll find Afro-Caribbean grocers and halal butchers, and for a dazzling range of spices, pick any of the shops at the Walworth Road end. Otherwise expect the unexpected – bargain deals on a mattress announced through a micro-
Late-night, outdoor dining, Exmouth Market, Image: Alamy, Telegraph
East Street Market. Image : wikimedia commons
phone, perhaps, or you may catch the Serbian Roma singing duo (“Like someone strangling a cat” as I heard a disgruntled stallholder describe them). Staying south, why not check out Peckham (nearest station Peckham Rye) perhaps once a byword for gang crime, but now yielding to an unstoppable tide of soda bread and soya lattes. Stick to Rye Lane, however, and you can enjoy a scene as absorbing as any London has to offer. Frequently cited as one of the most ethnically diverse neighbourhoods in the UK, the West African presence is easy to spot here – Sierra Leonean restaurants, Nigerian churches and stalls piled with cassava, plantain and all those other vegetables you wanted to know about but were afraid to ask. Chicken feet go for a reasonable £1.99 and, if that’s not enough, a fiver can get you a “Big Hard Chicken”. If strange fruit and crossing the Thames aren’t your thing, Clerkenwell’s frightfully hip Exmouth Market may appeal. It’s the kind of place where people sit outside pubs in hand-knitted jumpers drinking craft beers while tapping film reviews into their Macs. If that’s not blatant enough, the presence of Gail’s Artisan Bakery should convince you you’re a far cry from Dalston Junction (for the uninitiated, Gail’s is a wayside shrine to sourdough and German rye bread, whose libations
Portobello Market, Image: www.lisagusto.com
Portobello Market, Image: southwestsix.blogspot.com
of organic milk can be sampled in all the capital’s chi-chiest locales – Hampstead, Dulwich and Notting Hill amongst others). Indeed, the street is mostly about food, be it the excellent English fare at Medcalf restaurant, razor clams at Bonnie Gull Seafood Café or Moorish classics at Moro, where ladies like to lunch on pumpkin salads and slow cooked rabbit. On weekdays there are food stalls at the Farringdon Road end (a brisk 15 minute walk from campus), some run by the street’s restaurants, others offering burritos, pulled pork and an incongruous-sounding “German BBQ”. Meanwhile, if you do want to branch out into the non-edible you could always get a tattoo at “The Family Business” or pick up a present at Bookends childrens’ book store before popping round the corner to The Old China Hand to sample their fabulous range of real ales. Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve been to all the above and time hangs heavy then consider heading south to Deptford High Street, a gem of a traditional shopping street with markets stalls on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, or west to Goldborne Road (market every day except Sunday) a quirky extension to the more famous Portobello Road and informal hub to London’s Moroccan community.
Peckham Market, Image: Al de Perez, Telegraph and Argus.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Life on Boats: Dream vs. Reality
day at five in the morning and fight and quack so loudly we couldn’t sleep at all,” according to Emily, another canal boat resident.
To escape the rush of the city to an affordable floating home might seem as if it was made for a SOAS student. Here is what it’s really like.
Katerina Veliskova, BA Middle Eastern Studies Life aboard boats on the river Thames certainly has a rich tradition; dating back to the days of the industrial revolution when boats were used for goods transportation. The families of boaters would for financial reasons adopt this lifestyle, reducing all their living space into a tiny cabin with fold-down beds and a small stove. Although contemporary vessels are usually equipped with a slightly more spacious living environment, families still live their lives on canals in the present day.To paint a better picture, The Guardian claimed there to be around 15,000 people living on boats in 2014. There are undoubtedly many attractive features to this lifestyle. It is arguably a more sustainable and self-sufficient form of living that brings you in close contact with your surroundings and nature in general. When talking to boat dwellers, the only thing that everyone emphasises is how this lifestyle makes you slow down and notice things around you. Another appealing aspect is the independence. As Luke, who has lived afloat for 17 years, puts it: “I like that I don’t rely on anyone and I have the possibility to move around. In fact, it is as free as you can be.”
It’s also impossible to deny the astounding sense of community, something woefully amiss in most London neighbourhoods. Even though they might be from different backgrounds, these people are driven together by their choice of living. They are used to helping each other with everything from security to small repairs on their neighbours’ boats. Tansy, a young actress, tells me: “I’ve lived in London for nine years as an adult and about one year as a boater, but I feel like I’ve met and befriended far more people in this one year afloat.”
But it’s certainly not all roses. For one thing, there are many practicalities that need to be considered. Your mail must go to a different address, because your floating home doesn’t count as a permanent residence. Your water tank must be filled up regularly, as must any batteries to ensure a supply of electricity. You need to think about the coal and wood for the stove, the lack of space, and most of all the fact that everything will inevitably break at the most inconvenient time. Also, nature tends to lose its charm when “in the spring, the ducks would come on our roof every
Luke earns his living by selling records on a boat he owns. All pictures by Katerina Veliskova.
Nevertheless, it seems that the combination of a vision of a romantic getaway with the soaring prices of the housing market makes more and more people interested in adopting this lifestyle. “I had a room in Clapton for £600 per month, but I just felt that I’m throwing my money out of the window,” says James, who just bought himself a boat. Life afloat nowadays also tends to have this label of cool alternative living that also attracts young people, especially artists and students. However, it seems that this lifestyle might be under threat. The rising number of boats leads to many problems and canals starting to feel overpopulated. Moreover, a lot of people (students especially) embark on this lifestyle only with the aim to save money, without any idea how a boat works or how much time maintenance takes. Student rents are also often done illegally which then causes further problems when accidents occur. Additionally, the authorities are generally in favour of so called holiday boaters, those who rent a boat for their week off, because they bring money to the canals. As Emily sees it: “In ten or even five years, it’s going to be very difficult to get a permit for permanent mooring in London.”
“In ten or even five years, it’s going to be very difficult to get a permit for permanent mooring in London.”
This tiny boat on Regents Canal is a home for two young girls. It’s cosy, but it lacks a toilet.
So, what is the conclusion? Life is not a fairytale and the boat is not a magical retreat in the heart of London. It certainly has its problems which might multiply in the future. Nevertheless, the life afloat definitely has its charm and it is a unique way of life that is worth preserving. As Tansy remarks while repairing her boat, “It is time consuming. But if you’re willing to put enough effort into it and you don’t do it just to save money, it’s a beautiful way of life.”
Thursday 13th November 2014
What about getting into journalism? Maya Pillai takes a look at getting into a career in journalism with some advice from former BBC Asia editor and current president of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, Rita Payne. Maya Pillai, MA International Studies & Diplomacy We, the average reader, often take for granted the dangerous risks taken to report news stories. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in 2014 alone, there have been 41 journalists killed as of yet. In 2013, 211 journalists were jailed worldwide. Local journalists, who report on the repression of human rights or corruption, or act as war correspondents, are the ones most at risk - they put themselves on the frontline in order to bring important investigative journalism to the public.
“Being a journalist in the digital age parallels with being a jack-of-alltrades” Accompanying those numbers are the poor records of arrests and conviction rates of perpetrators, highlighting the sad truth that the dangers accompanied with being a journalist only continue to increase, and with them the threat against press freedom. The late Ben Bradlee, an influential Washington Post Editor who green lighted the exposure of the Watergate presidential scandal, had challenged the Federal Government. This important piece of investigative journalism paved the way for greater press freedom in the US. Former UN International Police Force monitor and whistleblower, Kathryn Bolkovac, who exposed the sex trafficking ring operated by
hired private contractors during the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, was able to challenge the UN institutional authority and that of the large private contractor. This later paved the way for the UN to pay more attention to the sexual exploitation of women. The pursuit of the truth and to hold those accountable isn’t by any means an easy task. Whilst much of the mainstream focus spotlights the difficulty of keeping a foot in the industry, the challenge still remains for those of us who are trying to get our foot into the door of the industry. Current President of the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) and former Asia Editor of the BBC World Service, Rita Payne, advised attending regular local council meetings as a good start for anyone who wants to embark on a journalistic career path. Here, as ‘citizen journalists’, we can witness, investigate and, most likely, scrutinise local councils firsthand. Now, you may think this isn’t exciting, but just recently the ‘right to report’ digitally in local council meetings was made possible. The regulation was initially met with
“Payne has also welcomed SOAS students to join the CJA” resistance by most local council authorities. If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, perhaps the idea of being a pioneer for a more robust
local democracy will. Payne has also welcomed SOAS students to join the CJA as student members and they are always looking
“Are we fact-gatherers or story tellers – or are these two of the same?”
for volunteers to help with events. This will be a valuable experience and a great networking opportunity for those of you who are enthusiastic about journalism. Being a journalist in the digital age parallels with being a jack-of-all-trades, it comes with the person specification. Technological advancement has evolved journalism to operate on a spectrum of platforms, from print newspaper, radio, television, internet and now, social media. If that wasn’t enough, digital journalism allows for a 24 hour news cycle and various sources of information competing for an audience. From BuzzFeed to podcasts, from RadioLab to blogs such as Geopolitics Made Sexy, to visual data storytelling like the Guardian’s Data blog– everyone is publishing. Everyone is publishing, it’s true, but the bright side is there are so many avenues within journalism to pursue. So, in a vast ocean of information, how do you compete? How do you avoid regurgitating existing news? What is relevant? Should we go for the
jugular? Are we fact-gatherers or story tellers – or are these two of the same? These questions move us toward the current debate over ethical standards in journalism and to the purpose of journalism – ultimately, to inform the public. Although at SOAS, we are no stranger to the dominant narrative that has an exploitative tendency towards ‘the other’, it can never be stressed too much that moving away from dogmatism and exposing the dominant narrative to competing narratives is both more healthy and better for learning. As a society we need to challenge and displace failing perspectives in order to progress. A healthy debate, a healthy dose of exposure to a spectrum of narratives and criticism makes for a stronger political system with greater press freedom. The Commonwealth Journalists Association is a voluntary body that aims to connect journalists to one another, whilst also promoting journalistic freedom and honest media across the Commonwealth countries. The CJA holds regular discussions on journalistic issues, the most up and coming being the Who Rules the World talk, which will explore geopolitical rivalries and security dilemmas from China and Japan to Russia and NATO/ EU. The second event, An End to Impartiality, debates whether impartiality is still required for journalism.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Give it a go: The Name of the Wind
Palestine Society at full speed
The shortfall of so much fantasy writing is a great plot with abysmal character development.
An upcoming event is the Awareness Week that will take place on November 17-21
hate fantasy writing, or how sceptical you are before embarking on this epic; by the time you have read 50 pages, you will not be able to put it down. After 100 pages you will adore the main character, and when the time comes that you have finished this first bastion in what promises to be one of the all time great trilogies of fantasy writing, you will seriously consider dying your hair red and changing your name to Kvothe (that’s the main character, by the way, and no, I have no idea how you pronounce it either...).
Lucy Warden, Near and Middle Eastern Studies It is against this unfortunate trend in the genre that Patrick Rothfuss wrote his debut novel, The Name of the Wind. The plot follows the retelling of one man’s spectacular life, crafted in such a way that the void that awaits you when you finish the last page and realise there is no more book to read, is actually painful. With its sublime mix of comedy, myth, adventure, bildungsroman, and study of human nature, it is literally impossible not to love this book. I’m serious, it really doesn’t matter how much you
Just please do not get put off by the cover. The reality is that many writers, especially in the fantasy genre, have absolutely no say over what cover is put on their many years of work (in the case of Patrick Rothfuss, it took him eight years to write this book). I have no idea who picks these covers, but suffice it to say, they are universally dire. Just as well, it’s the content that’s important and no one at SOAS is shallow enough to judge an excellent book by a poor cover.
An invite from SOAS’ Fem Soc Feminism has been a hot button word in recent years—and not always for the right reasons. Kevin Quigley, BA Japanese Studies and Linguistics It is against this unfortunate trend in the genre that Patrick Rothfuss wrote his debut novel, The Name of the Wind. The plot follows the retelling of one man’s spectacular life, crafted in such a way that the void that awaits you when you finish the last page and realise there is no more book to read, is actually painful. With its sublime mix of comedy, myth, adventure, bildungsroman, and study of human nature, it is literally impossible not to love this book. I’m serious, it really doesn’t matter how much you hate fantasy writing, or how sceptical you are before embarking on this epic; by the time you have read 50 pages, you will not be able to
put it down. After 100 pages you will adore the main character, and when the time comes that you have finished this first bastion in what promises to be one of the all time great trilogies of fantasy writing, you will seriously consider dying your hair red and changing your name to Kvothe (that’s the main character, by the way, and no, I have no idea how you pronounce it either...). Just please do not get put off by the cover. The reality is that many writers, especially in the fantasy genre, have absolutely no say over what cover is put on their many years of work (in the case of Patrick Rothfuss, it took him eight years to write this book). I
Isacco Cividini, MSc Middle East This academic year, the SOAS Palestine Society is working hard to organise activities and events that update the school on the daily happenings of Palestine. Anyone with an interest in Palestine is welcome to join and help participate in the struggle for Palestinian rights. An upcoming event is the Awareness Week that will take place on November 17-21. There will be a photo exhibition, film screenings and talks with Palestinian and international activists. The week will end with a lively event featuring delicious food, euphonious music and folk-dance (dabkeh). Look out for further details. Meanwhile, in the first Student Union’s General Meeting, the assembly approved a motion concerning the creation of a group in charge of studying how to implement a complete academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The ratification will be proposed in a referendum to all SOAS students.
Give it a Go: Keaton Henson’s Album Sukaina Kadhum, BA English
have no idea who picks these covers, but suffice it to say, they are universally dire. Just as well, it’s the content that’s important and no one at SOAS is shallow enough to judge an excellent book by a poor cover.
Kept a secret before its release in late spring, Keaton Henson’s most recent album ‘Romantic Works’ fills the cobwebbed void between classical and modern rock music with a haunting perfection. Created in his own home, Henson’s highly acclaimed album rings with rawness and rusticity. Featuring cellist Ren Ford, the simplicity in composition and the choice of instruments in each song echoes the style of the great heroes of classical music. However, Henson adds a modern twist in songs such as The Elevator Song, by including electronic recordings of everyday life. Unique yet simple; have a listen to this powerfully constructed album if you are looking for something a little different.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Ming, 50 years that changed China For anyone who studies Chinese history, the exhibition’s subtitle, “The Fifty Years That Changed China”, might seem like a hefty claim, Carolynn Look went along to see if it lives up to its claim. Carolynn Look, BA Chinese and Development Studies The British Museum seems to imply here that this half-century slice of time, shortly before establishing regular commercial links with Europe, changed China in a drastic way, as by revolution. Although 1400-1450 was a period of profound political changes; it saw the movement of the capital from Nanjing to Beijing and explorers reaching as far as the shores of Africa, the exhibition actually offers little evidence of defining upheaval in either thought or art. In fact, one could argue that it underlines China’s cultural resilience under increasing contact with the outside world and modernising technology. Despite the exhibition’s slightly problematic title, however, more than 40,000 tickets have been sold since it opened on September 18th,
averaging more than 1,000 visitors per day.
“The exhibition has attracted everyone from primary school students, to university students, to people who love art, music, architecture and history in general,” says Jessica Harrison-Hall, who is the exhibition manager and, together with Oxford Professor Craig Clunas, brought the event into being. Although most of the audience so far has been Western, Harrison points out that there have been many visitors who have flown in all the way from China to see it. Many of them are drawn there to see the original copy of “The Yongle Cannon”, the world’s earliest and biggest encyclopaedia, written in 1408 by 2,000 scholars. The structure of the exhibition is organised
Southern delights For those of you who haven’t ventured south of the Thames: a new resident of Kennington shares the hidden surprises and delights on offer. Honor Bulmer, BA Study of Religions There was a mixed reception in the Bulmer household on news that I would be moving to Kennington. My parents were concerned about things like how I was “getting home after dark”; my sister, with seemingly less regard for my personal welfare, got excited about ‘hidden’ eateries with which I would soon – in her mind, at least - be intimately acquainted. My brother’s reaction was somewhat unexpected. After glancing at the pictures of my new place (read: basement room in a terraced house share) on spareroom, he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly, and then talked excitedly about how I should go to The London Palace. I quickly discovered that he wasn’t talking about any kind of royal monument or monarchic home; if you venture into the Elephant &
Castle Shopping Centre (I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise), The London Palace, situated on the first floor, combines all possible midweek entertainment needs under one roof. As long as those requirements are bowling, arcade/ casino games and bingo that is! Student nights are Mondays and Tuesdays, where ten-pin bowling is £2.95 per person, per game, or you could do worse than playing in the 2,000 seater retro bingo hall. Ministry of Sound and The Coronet are two club venues if you’re up for a more standard – yet expensive – student night out. Check out the week’s listings for La Bodeguita (Latin American restaurant and club - goes until 4am on a Saturday night) and Corsica Studios for a more culturally enriching evening. The Jamyang Buddhist and Kagyu Samye Dzong centres are both a stone’s throw from Kennington tube station. Based around the Tibetan Mahayana tradition, these centres also offer meditation for non-Buddhists and begin-
in a bottom-up fashion: beginning with a look at the local courts that coordinated everyday life in the Ming Dynasty, alongside humble, human representations of the emperor, and ending with the empire’s international voyages and achievements. “Usually with China, you do the whole of Chinese history or focus on huge chunks of time and space, and we wanted to narrow it in so that you could say something more interesting,” Harrison-Hall explains. Since the initial seed of the Photo: British useum idea was planted, it took five years for the two experts to The price tag was covered by one make their dream of an exhibition a of our less well-liked contributors, reality. Harrison-Hall and Clunas are namely BP, who after contaminating both specialists of Ming history and millions of years worth of biodiversity, consider it an essential portion of the perhaps thought they could redeem history of China, which is becoming themselves by investing in less envievermore interesting to westerners as ronmentally-sensitive areas. the country rises on the world stage. Overall, the exhibition is still worth Our very own SOAS professors its slightly ambitious ticket price of have also played significant roles in £13 (£16.50 for full price adults). The the creation of the exhibition. Profesfact that it addresses various aspects of sor Andrew Lo was involved in the life during this fifty year period means research of a 15th century board game that students from all disciplines will and SOAS also helped organise the hopefully find something that is interMusic of the Zhihua temple event that esting to them, even if it’s just for stutook place in the framework of the dents studying classical Chinese to go exhibition in early November. in and interpret some original letters from the emperor to his bureaucrats ners. Most are free, dropin type classes but some, such as the ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction’ at the Jamyang Centre, you have to pay for. If living with flatmates gets too much and you need some respite, you can even stay in one of the cells of the Old Courthouse there, the building’s original function. I promise it looks cosier than it sounds! Avoid like the plague the fast-food establishments which line the Walworth Road, otherwise you’ll end up, like I did in my first few weeks here, spending a fiver on a miserable kebab or huge ice cream sundae from Kaspa’s Desserts (admittedly actually rather nice) after a night out. Instead, for the same price, you could try a noodle bowl at Mama Thai or Dim Sum at Dragon Castle, both very local to the Elephant. Takeaway recommended for the former if you have problems with the rather shabby interior. For something more up-market, The Lobster Pot certainly doesn’t scrimp on decor: it is done out like the interior
of a yacht, complete with portholes and seagull ‘music’, all whilst you enjoy fresh seafood from Billingsgate market. If this sounds all a bit too kitsch for your taste, or you just prefer home-cooking, East Street Market has much to offer, especially in terms of Afro-Caribbean food products. Visit Longdan Express supermarket for an impressive range of Asian foodstuffs, or Baldwins if you’re after vegan inspiration. Further south, a trip round the long-established Tooting Market could be a day out in itself, especially if you’re already visited the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road. Finish it off with drinks at the friendly Beehive pub.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Tips for an Affordable Theatre Experience I always imagined myself getting immersed in the vast array of spectacular theatre shows in London. Upon starting university I soon realized that this was a fantasy. Ella Linskens, BA Arabic and Politics Theatre is expensive – as if it wasn’t already hard living on a student budget, I was immediately put off by the West End prices. That being said, with a little effort and persistence, I discovered many different ways to catch brilliant shows at affordable prices. Firstly, avoid the commercial ticket booths when buying tickets. Instead, go to TKTS, the Half Price Ticket Booth. The booth, based in Leicester Square Gardens, is the only official discount theatre ticket outlet operated by the Society of London Theatre. Here, you can find half price tickets on the day and up to a week in advance. Check out their website – tkts.co.uk/whats-on-sale – to see what is being sold that day and for what price. My advice is to ask for balcony tickets because the seller doesn’t always clue you in on it. If you’re lucky, you could go to the box office of the theatre an hour and a half before the show starts and find that the ticket agents have returned some tickets. This is usually the cheapest option. To save time, you could always check with the theatre beforehand to find out if this is likely to happen and also what the asking price will be. All theatres have reduced price previews, prior to the opening night. The plays may not be fully perfected, but at least you save on ticket prices. For example, the Lyric Hammersmith sells tickets in their preview weeks for £9. Alternatively, you could source discount websites such as timeout.com/tickets and lastminute.com. These websites offer substantial discounts, especially when you book a month or so in advance. Besides the West End, there are amazing shows for great prices at fringe theatres such as the Union Theatre, the Southwark Playhouse, the Young Vic, the Menier Chocolate Factory and the Royal Court. Take a break from studying and read some theatre blogs and reviews to see which one is worth attending. A famous fringe theatre is The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, where standing tickets are available in person for £10, one hour before the performance. Other deals at this theater include £10 tickets on Mondays. There is also the Pleasance Theatre based in Islington, where the ticket prices range from £12 to £15. Specifically, I would recommend attending Shakespearean plays at the Globe, where you can get access to the yard for just £5. If you line up outside the gates two hours beforehand, you could meet other penny-saving students and avid Shakespeare fans before watching Hamlet pressed right up against the stage. You’re sure to get one of the best views and an interactive experience, which makes up for the pains of standing and uncertain weather conditions (there’s no roof). Some places are especially kind to students below the age
of 26. For instance, The National Theatre London offers an Entry Pass for those under the age of 26, as a scheme to encourage the youth of the street to visit the theatre for free. Then, a limited amount of tickets to see most shows are only £5 each. The English National Opera offers tickets to 16-25 year olds that are from £10 to £30. Moreover, the Royal Opera House has a Student Standby Scheme, where you receive emails the minute certain limited tickets become available, allowing you to watch performances that can cost up to £200. The Old Vic on the other hand, offers 100 tickets per performance for £12 to those who are under 25.Nonetheless, it is often the simplest ways of saving money that are overlooked. Case in point; go to the theatre on weekdays instead of Fridays and Saturdays. Furthermore, at the Royal Opera House and the London Coliseum, you could save up to £80 by moving away from the stalls and sitting on the balcony instead. If you don’t mind standing, you could even gather a large of friends and get a discount by bulk-buying standing tickets. At the Old Vic, you can save 50% on tickets when booking in a group. The SOAS Drama Society went in a group of 20, with each person only having to pay £5. So, there you have it. If you love the theatre, invest some time and energy in doing some research and planning. Be sure to know what shows are coming up and when ticket sales begin. Student discounts work, but the tickets provided are limited. So, plan ahead and you’ll be more likely to get them. If you fully throw yourself into the London theatre scene and you’ll soon realize it’s easy to find bargains.
Photo credits: Oliver Theatre,National Theatre London. www.nationaltheatrelondon.com
“If you love the theatre, invest some time and energy in doing some research and planning.”
“Besides the West End, there are amazing shows for great prices at fringe theatres”
Thursday 13th November 2014
What’s in your SOAS bag?
We thought we would continue what we started in our fresher’s issue, and carry on getting to know our much-loved professors by cooking their favourite food! Cooking for the SOAS Spirit this month is Ms Narguess Farzad; let’s hope her cooking is as fantastic as her teaching!
Have you ever been curious about what fellow students carry in their bags? You’re not alone.We took a nosey peak into the depths of these totes, handbags and backpacks.
Ms Narguess Farzad, Senior Fellow in Persian
Sukaina Kadhum, BA English Ali, Economics Year 2
Bag: from Timberland Contents: UN Association magazine available with a student membership, Open Ciy Doc Fest, Dale Carnegie’s Personality Book, United Nations notebook, ‘The President of Good and Evil: Taking W.D. George Bush seriously’ by Peter Singer, Prayer beads, Prayer book from Iran
Nasgol Law and Religion Year 2
Contents: ‘Journey of the Unseen World’ (Religion book, Books for Kuranic Arabic class, Gemstones from New York, The divan of Hafez (Traditional Iranian book),Wallet from Tumble and Hyde.
Aliya Law Year 1
Bag: Iranian souk from Dubai Contents: Bahraini dress for International Night at SOAS, Diary from WH Smith,Kindle, Waterstones loyalty card, Law Textbooks.
Sukaina,Law Year 1
Bag: from The Mountain Co-up Contents: Umbrella from the Hudson Bay Company - Canada, Prayer materials from Kuwaiti company ‘Pray Everywhere’, Purse from Roots (Canadian company) Images: Ali Allibhai
KuKu Sabzi: Persian Herb Frittata
Ms Narguess Farzad, Senior Fellow in Persian. Image: SOAS website
This deep green, explosion of herby yumminess is a very popular dish and is always made at Norooz, the Iranian New Year when the earth goes through the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere, or for picnics and as a light supper. It can be served hot or cold but always with fresh bread and a side dish of yoghurt or salads. Serve 4 as main course or 8 as starter 200g of baby spinach 100g of parsley 150g coriander 50g dill 50g or two bunches of spring onions, finely chopped 2 tsp turmeric 2 tbsp plain floor 2 tbsp thick yoghurt (like Greek yogurt) 2 garlic cloves crushed 8 medium eggs 3 heaped tbsp. dried barberries, washed (the exquisite Persian zereshk berries add sharpness) optional 50g walnut pieces chopped- optional Salt and pepper to taste Oil for frying (but the dish can also be made in the oven. Wash the spinach and other herbs and dry well, either rolled in a kitchen towel or in a salad spinner. Chop finely by hand or in a food processor. Lightly beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the yoghurt, flour and turmeric, as well as the salt and pepper. You may need a generous amount of salt as the herbs will soak it up. Add the chopped herbs (except spring onions & garlic) a spoon at a time to the egg mixture until all combined. Add the barberries and the walnuts if using. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the spring onion and garlic for two minutes on medium heat. Pour the egg and herb mixture in the pan and cook on low heat for 15 minutes until firm to touch. Finish off under a hot grill. You can also make the dish in the oven. Use a large ovenproof dish. Line with non-stick baking paper. Pour in the egg and herb mixture, as well as the lightly fried spring onion and garlic and bake for 35-40 minutes. To check whether cooked or not insert a knife or skewer in the centre and if it comes out clean and not eggy then the dish is cooked. Cut into small or large squares and serve with fresh bread. Top tip: KuKu can be made with main ingredients other than herbs such as potatoes or aubergine.
Thursday 13th November 2014
A SOAS Postgraduate’s perspective on Paul Robeson House Isacco Cividini, MSc Middle East Politics
Isacco Cividini gives us a peek into the experiences of SOAS postgraduates in student halls. It is now almost two months in to the start of the academic year, and life in the flats of Paul Robeson House has taken up its routine.
the many examples that illustrate just how much work Sanctuary Student has to do in order to reach the expected standards.
Much like the undergraduates’ residence of Dinwiddy, this postgraduates’ house is also located near the Vernon Square campus and is structured in a similar way. Some flats have double rooms hosting couples, whereas others have between 5 to 7 private en-suite rooms. The common feature is the adjoining shared kitchen. A majority of students moved into their rooms on the 21st of September, but it was the early birds who discovered a disconcerting fact about their new abode.
Nonetheless, the students in Paul Robeson House have grown to be a tight- knit group. Perhaps one day they will be able to look back at their struggles and laugh it off together.
“Within the first few weeks, there were already so many management issues being
‘it was the early birds who discovered a disconcerting fact about their new abode.”
Students were not happy to discover that their kitchens were sparse, with nothing else besides an oven and electric cooker. Granted, the contracts expressly stated that appliances such as kettles and toasters would not be provided. Nevertheless, most people were expecting to be provided with at least basic cutlery and plates. What was unnerving was that some students witnessed the Sanctuary Student cleaning staff clearing out the kitchens and throwing away the utensils of the former residents. Some where lucky enough to salvage a few items, but the rest were forced to head to the store or head back home to grab their own appliances. Needless to say, students were peeved at this squandering. Within the first few weeks, there were already so many management issues being raised. For instance, the lift in Block B had been out of service for more than two weeks. It was eventually repaired only when the residents signed a petition for it. This is but one of
Photo Credits: SOAS Paul Robeson House Yard Umezo KAMATA
Image Credits: Flickr , Spencer Chumbley
Thursday 13th November 2014
The beauty in the simplicity of travel We were on the outskirts of Barcelona, it was about 3:30 in the morning and raining again. We had no place to go and were so annoyed with each other, that we didn’t think we’d ever reach Morocco. Katerina Veliskova, BA Middle Eastern Studies If this sounds familiar to you, you’re probably a thrill-seeker that enjoys travelling spontaneously with only a little amount of money, a big backpack, and no real plan of where you’re going or how you’re going to get there. You might have done this a thousand times or you might have always had a plan and a booked hotel, but secretly wished you chose the impromptu method instead. Whoever you are, I’d like to tell you about the beauty that I find in embarking on simple travels. It always begins with an idea. It might be a sudden impulse to climb the Kilimanjaro or a bet with a friend to walk to Paris. As for my friends and I, we planned to travel around Morocco with the least amount of money that was possible. In essence, that meant a lot of hitchhiking, sleeping outside or couch surfing and eating almost nothing but bread with buttermilk for about three weeks. Keep in mind, the most important thing to do is to never let go of your vision, even if you struggle to find people to go with or feel overwhelmed by the pressure to get an internship instead. There really isn’t much that you should take with you. The lighter your backpack is, the easier it will be to explore the cities and the nature around you. While packing for Morocco, we each limited ourselves to one piece of luggage. After a great deal of repacking, we managed to stuff three big backpacks worth of content into one and happily boarded the plane. Remember that the whole point of the adventure is to explore the world, not to lug around miscellaneous objects from home across borders. You’ll see how much lighter your footsteps will be. Coming from Prague, Czech Republic, we decided to use the simplest and cheapest form of travel, hitchhiking. That meant passing through all of Germany, France and Spain, which took us almost a week. This type of transportation has its ups and downs. With every car that stops, you get a little window into another person’s life. On the other hand, all you might see are highways for days and days, and it may just so happen that you get stuck in the ugliest place in the world with no food or shelter or any real perspective on when you will ever get out of there.
However, all your unpleasant and unforeseen situations just mean that you will have enthralling stories for people back home. Not only do they build your character, but they also make your arrival all the more enjoyable. We reached our hardest point in Barcelona. We had barely slept in two days and to make matters worse, a French family accidentally took us to the center of Barcelona. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful place; but being lost somewhere inside a big city is one of the worst things that can happen while hitchhiking. By night, we ended up somewhere on the outskirts with nobody to find, no food to eat, and no parks to sleep in. The cold, rainy night was seemed so unfamiliar to our image of Spanish summer, and one of my friends wanted to go back home. What saved the day in the end was a couple of Spanish punks who took us in their tiny red Peugeot, all wet and upset with each other, and put on some proper Spanish punk. And that was it; we were back on the road. The beauty in the most unexpected situations lies in just letting whatever happens, happen. The best way to get to know someone is to strike up a conversation with one while travelling. When a random person on the street invites you home for tea and cake, don’t be afraid of going. Try couch surfing at least once during your travels; it will give you a whole new perspective on local life, not to mention; it’s free and it has a shower. Embracing all the random situations opens you up to some of the most beautiful strokes of luck. While we were on the ferry from Spanish Almeria to Moroccan Nador, a peculiar Spanish man (that later turned out to be the boat’s chef) appeared in front of us with ice cream and baguettes with roasted meat. Without understanding a word in English, he walked away only to come back a second later with a bottle of red wine. In the end, we sat through this six-hour boat ride across the Mediterranean surrounded by endless plates of food from cheese to lobsters, not paying a thing and not being able to understand or thank this kind person. So, here it is. This article is not meant to be the perfect manual for travelling, nor is it an attempt to prepare you for all the things your journey might bring you. If it were to serve any purpose at all, it would be to encourage you to travel in any way you can.
Believe me, it is so nice to escape the everyday routine of London life and just observe the world around you. Simple travel can teach you so much and the experiences you get during those journeys are usually the funniest and most meaningful. So, go.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Japan as you have never seen it
“The best way to fully understand a country’s culture is to visit that country’s rural regions”
A SOAS student describes his experience of traveling in Japan, and why Tokyo is not always the place to go. Giordano Epifani, Bsc International Management, Japan If I were to say the word, “Japan”, what would you associate it with? I am sure that for the majority it would probably evoke images of extraordinary skyscrapers, or mesmerising streets full of life in Tokyo. Another large portion of readers, instead, would perhaps be focusing more on all those means through which we, as foreigners, look at Japan, such as manga, anime and J-pop. What if I were to tell you that my two month experience in Japan had nothing to do with this? What if I were to say that my experience in Japan was much more about rediscovering the beauty of simplicity, humbleness and bucolic realities that I had almost forgotten after having lived for so long in a metropolitan area?
A year ago, somebody told me that the best way to fully understand a country’s culture is to visit that country’s rural regions. This is because it is there that the people who incarnate the culture and values of that country are hiding, scared of how their compatriots living in urban areas have instead let themselves acclimatise to a model of life that may partly negate many of the values, traditions or customs that used to shape their nation. That is why, after some research online, I decided to participate in a program that would let me experience the, what I like to call, “Real Japan”. Before I could even realise it, a week after finishing my first year exams, I was on a flight to the Japanese countryside, namely to a prefecture called Shiga.
I only knew that I would be doing a homestay, living for two months with a Japanese family in a city called Nagahama. I would have to speak only in Japanese, as nobody could speak English or any other language, and the program would revolve around the traditional Japanese art of Bunraku (Japanese puppetry). Once arriving there, I soon realised that the program was not just that, rather, it was a full immersion into a multitude of Japanese ttraditions and arts Giordano with that are still being safeguarded with pride by people from his the locals of the region. programme. During those two months, I had the chance Image: Giodano Epifani to learn about the history of Bunraku. Not only that, but also, given that at end of the program we were expected to perform in theatre, I learned how to move the various components of the puppets, how to play the shamisen (Japanese instrument that gives Additionally, I was lucky enough to take part in experiences that I do not think I will be able to replicate very easily in my life, but have unquestionably enriched it. Through the program, we took part in typical Japanese dance, shodou (Japanese calligraphy), and sadou (tea ceremony). We learned how to wear a yukata (typical Japanese summer dress), which resulted in us buying our own. On top of that, we learnt how to play koto (Japanese harp), how to make typical Japanese dishes, and how to make zouri (Japanese slippers to wear indoor). I bonded with my host family, enough that one day they took me on a three hour trip to a very famous onsen (Japanese-style hot spring), in which we stayed over night and I had the pleasure of soaking in a bathtub near a forest with fireflies flying around our heads. This was the most idyllic scenery I have ever had the luck to witness in my life. I could carry on forever describing how beautiful this experience was for me, how my Japanese improved tremendously, and how I see Japan in a different light now, but I will not. Instead, I will just give all of you studying Japanese language or culture my advice. You will always have the opportunity to go to a big city, but the countryside is much more complicated to get access to, if you do not know where to go. Remember that it is in the countryside where you will be able to acquire a great amount of knowledge about the country you are fascinated by, and, especially in Japan, unravel at least part of the mysterious culture that this nation is so greatly shaped by. Finaly, I will just say that, if you want to Giordano having know more about the program I took part a Japanese muin, I will be extremely glad to answer all your sic jam. Image: questions. Giodano Epifani
thursday 13th November 2014
Restaurant Review: Persepolis
Jenny Williams headed down to Persepolis for some Persian treats, good enough to make you salivate. Disguised as an arts and crafts space from its unimposing corner off Peckham High Street, Persepolis has proven itself to be a heady trove of Persian cooking. Dishes revolve around pulses, beans, wholegrains and cleverly contorted vegetables, along with a selection of fragrant teas and cardiac-inducing sundae desserts. Following its appearance in Timeout last week, demand has soared. Hungry bodies are turned away as we eat. But when I discuss this with chef and owner, Sally, she looks a little sad. Commercialisation is clearly the enemy; Sally is sporting an ‘I <3 Peckham t shirt’ and their drinks fridge came close to being nabbed by Coca-Cola on intellectual property grounds. The atmosphere is confusing;
non-descript tables and chairs, stacks of shelves piled with ingredients that may have seemed ‘exotic’ - apologies SOAS students - before Ottolenghi brought Middle Eastern cookery to the British middle classes. There are also cardboard boxes filled with t-shirts proclaiming Sufi poetry on the back, and the handwritten notes strewn across the shop by Sally in beautifully slapdash fashion... “Does smoking fruit tobacco in a shisha pipe count as one of your five a day?” Perhaps, Sally, perhaps. Down with the nanny state! But this is emphatically not just “da weed shop”, proven by the glorious array of mezze brought to Kaberi and me for starters. A mung bean, brown rice and mango salad, pumpkin kibbeh, spinach fatayer (Lebanese style pies), mast-o-khiar yoghurt with rai-
Front of House at Persepolis and he cardiac-inducing knickerbocker glory. Image: SOAS Spirit Photo team
“turnip soup that has all the air of a homemade broth”
sins, walnuts and rose petals, muhammara (a pepper paste with walnuts) and need I say, hummus. We progress to a shared turnip soup that has all the air of a homemade broth prepared by a loving mother to waive off winter ailments. It is delicious, and accompanied by a garlicky gashneetch. This relish provides a much-needed kick of chilli and supposedly will provoke a state of helpless laughter for the rest of the afternoon. We shall see. Fully sated by this point, it would be gluttonous to concede dessert, but who in their right mind could refuse a Persepolitan Vegan Knickerbocker Glory, resplendent in its cream and ice cream and submerged bits of walnut and elusive layer of dark, crumbling sugar flirting with us from the depths of this very, very tall glass? Spoons down, we stop to contemplate our surroundings. We are content. Pink Floyd is floating out from Absolute Radio and cries of ‘CINNAMON, CARDAMOM!’ are emanating from behind the counter. The spacing of Persepolis is a bit
strange, with tables strewn behind and alongside shelves and the deli, but in a way, this complements its off-kilter demeanour. The only complaint I can truly make is the lack of a loo, which keeps our Saffron and Persian teas at a sadly singular number. Later, walking through the corridors of SOAS, I find myself laughing a bit too hard when my friend informs me she is on her way to the library for an hour. I think to myself, well, it really must be the gashneetch. If it’s making me laugh at the library, this is not something you or I could feasibly do without. Not to mention the menu is student friendly- a fiver for a generous shared mezze and generally modest pricing. Get down to Persepolis, bring your friends, go on their website, visit their pop-ups, FEAST, BE MERRY... and watch this space. A certain girl by the name of Star is planning an expedition to a certain ‘Sarastro’. It will be interesting... http://foratasteofpersia. co.uk/Persepolis 28-30 Peckham High Street, SE15 5DT.
Thursday 13th November 2014
Changing Education, Transforming Society The 995 members of the 2012 Teach First cohort. Credit: www.storyingsheffield.com
Krisha Gandhi, BA Chinese and History Coming into my final year, I spent the whole summer anxious about what I would do after SOAS. I dreaded the thought of leaving behind security, a 10hour week, a course I love, the Hare Krishna queue, and all for uncertainty. Not knowing what I would be doing scared me to the core but even more terrifying was the London post-student trap and falling into the rat race of trying to survive. This would mean paying the rent, the bills, the non-student Oyster Card prices, working a 9 to 5 in an office block surrounded by less colour than the SOAS basement gymnasium, whilst in a job that I care absolutely nothing about. So when Teach First presented itself I thought it was too good to be true. Working towards ending inequality in education I naively thought a mere undergraduate, like myself, would never be able to work on coming straight out of university. My dad being a youth worker, I’d heard the statistics; just 20% of pupils eligible for free school meals make it to university. But how could I feasibly be a part of changing that? Teach First offered me the chance to sign up to a graduate programme that allowed my financial concerns to be eased. It would pay for my PGCE qualifications and allow me to earn a full time salary. Above and beyond, it fed my desire to do something important, to have an impact on society. I could start making a difference from my very first day on the job. The statistics suddenly became a lot more real, a lot more relevant. Of those claiming free school meals, a quarter leave primary school education unable to read at the expected level and almost 50% achieve no passes above a D grade in their GCSEs. Furthermore, 244,000 young people leave school at 16 without a C in GCSE maths each year, and shockingly, only one in ten teachers would consider teaching in a challenging school. Educational inequality, one of our country’s most corrosive social problems, I now understood is not only unfair, but unacceptable. Be it in terms of mental or physical health, future earnings or the general wellbeing of society, education affects everything we do. And with the impact that educational disadvantages have on a child, existing far beyond their school years, something needs to change. With a collective effort to challenge the status quo and with inspiring leaders in classrooms, schools and throughout society, we can
work towards a community where no child’s educational success is bounded by their socio-economic background. For penultimate and final year students wanting to be a part of this change, online applications are now open for Teach First’s prestigious graduate Leadership Development Pro-
gramme. Also available are a number undergraduate opportunities. Alternatively, you can contact SOAS’s Graduate Recruitment Officer for Teach First, Samir Khan, on firstname.lastname@example.org. uk
Issue 11 - November 2014