Drink least of our worries

April 19, 2012

Muslim students at London Metropolitan University and elsewhere must be groaning in despair at Malcolm Gillies' recent ill-advised comments about alcohol and Islam ("Raising the bars a 'moral' matter", 12 April).

Claire Locke, president of London Metropolitan University Students' Union, has pointed out that there is variation in how strictly Muslim students practise their religion; that several union positions are held by Muslims; and that there has been no call from Muslim students for an alcohol ban. Unfortunately, the online discussion boards are now full of people attacking Muslim students for trying to restrict our freedoms (some authors are misinformed; others are racists).

Gillies himself could have consulted Sheikh Musa Admani, London Met's only Imam, on the topic, but for the fact that the vice-chancellor sacked him last year to save money.

When it was pointed out that not all Muslim students are teetotal, Gillies responded that the teachings of Islam are quite clear on the topic. His narrow concentration on the literal interpretation of religious writings rather than modern thought is highly problematic. For example, he should be aware of the negative comments about homosexuality in the main texts of most religions - including the Bible, the Koran and the Talmud. Surely he wouldn't suggest that our university adopt such negative positions in deference to the students who follow those major faiths?

Gillies' cultural "sensitivity" is also contradicted by his own actions. He has cut the university chaplaincy service and sacked our Imam, and a female governor has just resigned in protest over the likely closure of our esteemed Women's Library in light of his decision to reduce its opening hours to one day a week. Meanwhile, he continues to defend London Met's involvement in training the future leaders of Uzbekistan, a repressive dictatorship whose secret programme to forcibly sterilise large numbers of women - mainly Muslims - has been revealed by the BBC.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the two main campus unions are currently conducting a vote of no confidence in Gillies on the basis that we believe his strategy of cuts and his actions to date are damaging the prospects of our university. This latest episode simply strengthens that view.

Mark Campbell, London Metropolitan University University and College Union (coordinating committee, chair); Max Watson, London Met Unison (branch chair); Cliff Snaith, London Met UCU (coordinating committee, secretary); Catherine Maguire, London Met Unison (branch secretary); David Hardman, London Met UCU; Peter Cambridge, London Met UCU; Richard Payne, London Met UCU; Rob Merthwaite, London Met UCU; Yaz Djebbour, London Met UCU (all coordinating committee members)

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