Saturday, January 23, 2010

Not So Godless in Gower Street

I'm a bit late on this one, but it turns out the chap who tried to blow up his trousers in Detroit had studied at my alma mater, UCL. I was sorry to hear this, not because of the terrorism- he's not the first dodgy character to walk those halls- but because we like to think we're a bit brighter than that.

The Islamic Society has released a note on the subject by the way, which is worth reading. In my time I knew quite a few members of it, and I also had dealings with the Society as an organization, and found it to be an open, respectable and rationally peace-loving group. This was over twenty years ago and I wondered if things might have changed. The tenor of their communication, which is direct, clear and open with no attempt at obfuscation or implied qualification, suggests that things haven't, and I'm glad to hear it.

They make the point that no one, staff, Union or the Society itself, noticed anything worrying about him. This is consonant with what has been said about other such terrorists, including one of the London bombers who was a much respected primary school teacher (as I recall).

There has been criticism of the staff and the Union officers for not noticing a propensity for setting fire to his underwear, but how is a 50-year-old Professor of engineering supposed to know when a student is weird in a different or more dangeous way from the general eclectic weirdness that you find in a group of intelligent young people from all over the world? And the Union has other fish to fry.

In my day the political life of the Union was run by a rather nasty clique of Trotskyist homosexuals (it was the Trotting I objected to; I liked the Gaysoc, they had the best parties), who tried to stifle debate outside the claustrophobic limits of their own ideology, and as a result Union politics was not taken seriously by any but them. The sabbatical officers were the ones who ran the social manifestations of the Union, including (I think) the student health centre. They liked a bit of political posturing, but the ones I knew were fairly normal, and in any case their real function was to get enough money out of the University to keep the beer cheap and the sports grounds functioning. They are called sabbatical because they are just students who are elected to the position for a year and are allowed to interrupt their studies while they do the job. They have neither the responsibilty nor the training nor the experience to evaluate what someone might later turn into.

On balance I'm prepared to exonerate the Islamic Society too. But that's a personal, and perhaps partisan, judgement. Oh, and I should probably keep this quiet, but he's not the first we've had.

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