The SOAS students' struggle to decolonise their curriculum is a call to reshape and re-imagine what the university is for and whom the university should serve.
The School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was founded by the British state in 1916 to strengthen imperial interests in Asia and Africa. It admitted its first students in 1917, among them colonial administrators, as well as military officers, doctors and missionaries, to instruct them in the languages and cultures of the regions to which they would be posted to govern and rule on behalf of the British Empire. It is in light of the institution’s centenary that SOAS students are seeking to decolonise it. This collective action undertaken by academic staff and students attempts to challenge the university’s “self-image as progressive and diverse”
and build a more just and inclusive institution. Some of the aims of decolonisation are reparative: students are demanding the provision of more scholarships for refugees and displaced people, regardless of their immigration status, and more bursaries and grants for working-class students. Linked to the decolonising agenda is also the campaign
to end the outsourcing of cleaning staff and for their secure work and pay.
"We know that the work for the left now is long and slow and that it requires force and numbers and commitment at a grassroots, community level. We must also recognise that the challenge for the left in 2017 is one of transnational solidarity: figuring out how to join up, link up and learn from global struggles." - Rachel Shabi looks back at a year of many challenges, and what we can do to build solidarity and resistance in 2017.
Of course it wasn’t the worst year, ever. Those bewailing the myriad awfulness of 2016 know history has dealt worse than the year of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, the year of deadly terror attacks around the world, a desperate refugee crisis and an alarming rise in far-right forces across Europe. Even ignoring swathes of history, recent years have been awful, too: the five since the Arab Uprisings have seen grotesque war in Syria, a deadly assault on Yemen, repression and human rights abuses in Egypt and Bahrain – as well as a harsh crackdown in Turkey, once considered to be a ‘model’ for the region. Egyptian analysts might well say the “worst year ever” was 2013, when a military coup put their authoritarian, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi in charge.