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Friday, 13 April 2012

Alcohol, Religion and Islamophobia

A story in the Standard ( alerted me to what the paper calls a "ban" on alcohol at a London university. The story suggests that London Metropolitan University (LMU) plans to "ban" alcohol from part of its campus, in deference to the sensibilities of those Muslim students who don't drink alcohol. It goes on to explain that LMU's vice-chancellor, Professor Malcolm Gillies, is "considering replacing one of the bars on campus with a coffee shop", in line with what students (including some Muslims) might want. So nothing is being "banned", least of all alcohol, and least of all at the behest of Muslim students.

LMU and (one assumes) its surrounding area will continue to have many bars that serve booze - subsidised bars, in the case of the university's own establishments. But that won't stop the saloon bars of Barnet from echoing to the sound of disgruntled old men moaning about how Muslims have now banned beer from British universities (I myself am a gruntled middle-aged man).

It will go all over the world, spread by viral emails sent by the same sort of people who falsely claimed that "the UK" was scrapping Holocaust education so as not to offend Muslim pupils (a filthy lie which, in a surreal twist, sparked a similarly false viral allegation about Holocaust studies at the University of Kentucky, which has the initials "UK").

And the same credulous people will believe it, just as they believe so many other islamophobic smears. What is wrong with a university having a coffee shop as well as having bars? I would expect a university, an airport or a big hotel to have some bars, some coffee shops and some restaurants or cafes, some serving alcohol and some not. If a university opened a coffee shop because it now had more mature students and fewer beery undergraduates, would anybody turn a hair? It's called "supply and demand" and it's got nothing to do with a religious ban on anything. Must our discussion of these issues be constantly dominated by such misinformation?

The irony is that I grew up in a place that does indeed ban the sale of alcohol - Hampstead Garden Suburb, whose Christian founders imposed bylaws banning the opening of pubs or off-licences, of which the Suburb has not one to this day. It does, however, have one or two very nice coffee shops.

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