You’ll have seen last week’s remarkable story:
A London university could ban the sale of alcohol from parts of its campus because some students consider it to be “immoral”.
Malcolm Gillies, vice chancellor of London Metropolitan University, said he was considering the move because a “high percentage” of his students see alcohol as “negative”.
About 20 per cent of students at London Met are Muslim, and of those the majority are women.
Speaking at the Association of University Administrators’ annual conference, Professor Gillies said he was “not a great fan of alcohol on campus” and added that the issue was one of “cultural sensitivity”.
Sadly, I suspect that this follow up story – from the TES – will not get nearly as much play in the press:
The president of London Metropolitan University students’ union has called for the vice-chancellor to apologise after he suggested the sale of alcohol should be banned from parts of the campus because some Muslim students believed drinking was “immoral”.
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.
Gillies is undeterred, however:
Responding to her comments, Professor Gillies said that the Islamic prohibition against alcohol was “quite clear”, although the practice of Muslims regarding drink varied.
“It’s indisputably clear because it’s immoral [in Islam],” he said. “If you speak to virtually any Muslim student they will tell you what their teaching is.”
I’m sure Gillies thought he was being “helpful”. But few people enjoy the constant spotlight having their cultural and religious identity. Even when it is meant in a friendly way.
At times like this, I’m reminded of the Runnymede Trust definition of “Islamophobia”, the first feature of which is:
Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
If Gillies wants to avoid being accused of Islamophobia, he should stop making broad generalisations about what Muslims do, and don’t do.