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SOAS’ New Director: BME Champion or Neo-Conservative?

  • Opinion


Many people have been commenting on the new SOAS director Valerie Amos and most news articles have showered her with praise. A lot of people have boarded the racial equality bandwagon uncritically, using the fact that she is a black woman to champion her prematurely. I am happy that our new director is a black woman. However, we must remain critical, and not immediately hail this as a victory for liberation politics.

It is something that persistently happens in politics and with positions of power. We get someone who breaks the mould of the ‘traditional’ figure of authority, and people grasp hold of them as if they will never come around again, completely ignoring any element of hypocrisy the person in question may hold.

This distracts us and stops us being critical. I remember the excitement everyone had at the prospect of having a black president of the USA. We all latched on to it as though it would bring on a new era in race relations. Predictably, it hasn’t. Obama has bombed 7 countries (officially) since taking office, has addressed police brutality pathetically, and has bought into the racist ‘war on terror’ narrative which preceded him – ultimately reproducing racism, instead of tackling it.

On a more modest level, Russell Brand is a similar example. People are so caught up in idolising him as a pseudo-socialist messiah reflecting the thoughts of the liberal left, that they ignore his blatant sexism (which I have witnessed firsthand at an LSE talk), not to mention his selling out to establishment and liberal rhetoric regarding voting.

In a similar fashion, I warn people to not catch Corbyn fever. We must remain critical of the Labour party’s position on the Iraq War. In my opinion, Corbyn legitimises a party which many would argue has effectively committed war crimes, as well as reinforcing pro-establishment power dynamics regarding representative ‘democracy’.

It’s this line of argument I want to use to address our new director. Let’s not forget that Amos canvassed in Cameroon, Angola and Guinea to persuade their leaders to support the UK and USA in the UN Security Council in the run up to the Iraq War.

I’m all for championing her state education background, and the fact that she didn’t go to Oxbridge. But let’snot forget she didn’t just passively keep quiet over the Iraq War, but was actually active in its implementation. I refuse to hear the excuse that she was misled, which is the usual excuse MPs give now the Iraq War is not popular. 1 million people marched through London in opposition to the Iraq War – which was the largest political demonstration in the UK’s history – and they clearly weren’t stupid enough to be ‘misled’ so easily.

We don’t need to go through the stats from the Iraq War, and the thousands displaced and killed by Western ideas of democracy. But we do need to examine the repercussions of it, especially the rise in extremism as a result of decimating a country such as Iraq. I understand why ISIS and other extremists exist: they are a product of the hatred and racism of colonial powers.

For all the image of her as a BME role model (which I admit is deserved) says, let’s not forget that Amos was a cog in the colonial machine. I look forward to hearing her attitude towards Prevent this year, given that so much domestic extremism is a result of Western foreign policy in the Middle East. No doubt she’ll avoid comment on how extremism has no place in university, or something like that. Most likely, she’ll say what most do: ‘I agree with what Prevent’s aims are but disagree with its implementation’. Like many liberals, Amos will be against Prevent, while not actually taking action to stop it.

I’m sure that’s similar to what she would say about the Iraq War if we asked her today, but I guess we’ve just got to wait for her to comment on it, and I’m sure, as SOAS, we’ll make her.

Oh also, she’s a goddamn Baroness! Does anything symbolise selling out to the establishment, wealth and power inequality, more than having a title such as that?!

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