University. A place to study and – in many, many cases – a place where you find yourself drinking until your liver begs for mercy. Of course, you don’t have to but many do and probably every campus in the country has a subsidised bar or three which will sells gallons of cheap, nasty lager as well as plenty of other alcoholic products on a nightly basis. And if you fancy something which isn’t watered down then there are no doubt plenty of licensed establishments close by.
At the university I attended there were, as I remember, a total of two places on campus which sold booze (both within the union building) and no shortage of places which didn’t – including much of the union. Assuming that this is not an uncommon arrangement, I am somewhat befuddled therefore as to why the vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University*, one Prof. Malcolm Gillies, is
…considering banning the sale of alcohol from some parts of the campus because a “high percentage” of students consider drinking “immoral”
Unless London Met is different from what I experienced, the vast majority of the campus – including the refectories – will not be used for the selling of alcohol. Indeed I’m almost certain that it is possible to do everything a student might wish to do, with the possible exception of consuming alcohol, without setting foot in that small percentage of floorspace where the sale of alcohol is permitted.
So, who are these students that the good professor claims to be speaking for? The clue it seems is in the make-up of the student body: one fifth are Muslim and most of that 20% are women.
Oh, and as he admits himself he is
…not a great fan of alcohol on campus.
Therefore I see two possibilities here
- the professor is using the Muslims as an excuse to enact up his prohibitionist tendencies, or
- the Muslims have found a willing ally in promoting their wishes.
and in the crazy world of prohibition and cultural appeasement in which we live, either option is possible and Alaa Alsamarrai, the vice-president of student affairs for the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), was quick to jump on the passing bandwagon:
“We want our universities and unions to be inclusive – where students from all walks of life can come together and share experiences.
“Alcohol is a barrier to many Muslim students participating in freshers events and often in society activities – so we’re in support of moves to have some alcohol-free zones and events.
“Though if a student wants to drink in their lifestyle, we of course don’t want to ban that.”
How nice of him to include that last line…
Yes, students drink but unless you are joining those groups which specifically include the consumption of alcohol (wine, beer etc societies) then I don’t think anyone will care if you aren’t a drinker – even the Athletic Union will more than likely tolerate a teetotaller in their midst if you are any good.
Understandably the idea didn’t go down well with the University’s Student’s Union, with their president calling for him to apologise:
Claire Locke said Malcolm Gillies had “offended” Muslim students by generalising about their beliefs. There had been no calls from students to create alcohol-free areas on the London Met campus, she said.
Ms Locke argued that London Met’s Muslim students were “respectful of other people’s cultures”. Muslim students’ union officers were currently fighting for a new student bar to be opened at the university’s City campus, she added.
Ms Locke said it was not true that Muslim students did not drink, and that in the previous academic year three out of the four Muslim students’ union officers had drunk alcohol. “He should retract the comments and apologise to the students he has offended,” she said.
The unrepentant vice-chancellor then apparently chose to widen his net of those who might agree with his stance:
…some students, particularly Muslim women, would feel uncomfortable attending university events in a pub, for example, and that the concerns he raised could apply to other groups such as American Protestants or Buddhists.
It seems that in his desire to be a good little prohibitionist, the professor isn’t adverse to using minority groups as cover.
From a personal perspective, having worked along side a few Muslims, met one or two others socially (in a pub) and currently having one as a lodger, none of them have cared that I’m a consumer of alcohol – or, indeed, bacon.
Certainly at home I haven’t stopped eating bacon, drinking booze and wearing clothing considered decent by Western standards but probably positively shocking by Pakistani standards. Yes, it might be my gaffe, my rules but, because I have a small modicum of common sense and can sometimes demonstrate a tolerance for the foibles of others, I’m not going to ask him to join me for a drink and some pork scratchings. Indeed he is free to leave anytime he wants*** but has, as yet, chosen not to.
Thus once again I come to the conclusion that if the Prof Gillies’ and Alaa Alsamarrai’s of this world just left well alone we’d all manage to rub along quite happily and the world would be a better place for it.