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‘Chomsky told me to teach troops,’ Soas professor hits back

A LECTURER at a London university with a left-wing tradition has hit back at students who criticised him for teaching British soldiers.

Last week students revealed that the School of Oriental & African Studies (Soas) had taken £400,000 from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to give troops cultural advice about countries in Asia and Africa.

But one of the staff involved, Professor Gilbert Achcar, defended the scheme in a three-page open letter.

He said his lectures to troops on the Middle East “are essentially about the history, politics and socio-economics of the region, provided by critical scholars to lower-ranking military personnel.

“Everything that the teaching staff teaches is included in their publicly available writings and can be obtained by attending Soas classes, as some military personnel do.”

Prof Achcar has previously written a book with Noam Chomsky and said it was the revered left-wing intellectual who convinced him that “it is important to let critical voices be heard, even among the military.”

Professor Chomsky gave a lecture to the US military’s West Point academy in 2006, which influenced the Soas staffer’s decision to teach British forces.

“Should we prefer that the military and security personnel of this country be solely exposed to right-wing education?” Prof Achcar asked in his open letter.

“Is it in the interest of the left in this country, starting with the Labour Party, who very rightly denounced recently a bunch of military right-wingers who were using Jeremy Corbyn’s portraits as targets for shooting training?”

The scheme was exposed by a Soas student group, Decolonising Our Minds, which called on the university to “cut all of its ties with the MoD” because of what the group called the department’s historic and ongoing colonial and capitalist role in the global South.

In further correspondence with the Star, Prof Achcar explained: “The red line for me is to reject any activity contributing to imperialist designs and acts: for instance, if I were asked to advise the military strategists or MI6 in their activities, I would flatly refuse; if I were asked to advise the UK military during their occupation of Iraq on how to conduct it, I would reject this categorically.”


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