Imagine your boss told you he needed you to make a trip to Iran’s capital, Tehran. What sort of things would you worry about before you went? You’d want to make sure all your paperwork was in order wouldn’t you so you didn’t get any problems at the airport or if stopped on the street during your stay?
You might want to read up a bit about the versions of the Muslim religion to be found there and how to avoid giving anyone offence as a result of your ignorance. You’d probably have a thorough check through the hard drive on the office laptop to make sure it contained nothing that might be misunderstood. And you’d have to decide between deleting most of the books on your Kindle, in case they were on some banned list you didn’t know about, or leaving it behind.
Plenty of things to worry about; plenty of things to consider.
But, would you worry about your chances of getting knocked down in the street by a drunk driver? Would you worry that the taxi-driver taking you from the airport to your hotel was drunk and liable to crash the vehicle and kill you?
Of course not. While you are not naïve enough to believe that any ban is ever 100% successful, you know that Iran has one of the strictest regimes in the world and has been known to sentence people to death for violating its ban on alcohol1 so the number of people willing to ignore the law is going to be very small.
At least, that is the view of the BBC Monitoring service that listens in to broadcasts and monitors websites from around the world. Health officials in Iran are said to be concerned about the high and rising levels of drinking and making those concerns public.2
It is reported that during a one month period of testing drivers in Tehran 26% were defined as drunk. Now, there are no figures for how many drivers were tested, nor whether they were stopped at random or only if suspected of being drunk. For that matter, the definition of ‘drunk’ in an alcohol free place may not be the same as it is elsewhere.
Iran is said to have a population of around 75-80 million against the UK’s 63 million and that might help to get an idea of the true scale of the problem. In the UK around 90,000 people a year are convicted for driving whilst having a blood alcohol level over the prescribed limit. The BBC report says that, in 2011/2, Iranian police withdrew the driving licences of 829 people for failing drink or drug tests.
That suggests that the idea of one quarter of all Iranian drivers being drunk may be skewed in some way and given that it is estimated that under 100 million litres of alcohol is smuggled into Iran whereas the UK consumes around 1,500 million litres per year the problem may not be as great as might at first appear.
But, if the numbers are inconsistent and lacking sufficient detail to enable setting them in proper context, what cannot be denied is that alcohol use has become of sufficient concern to be made public.
That is I want to focus on. In a country with one of the strictest regimes on alcohol in the world not only are there still plenty of people who are willing to ignore the law and the threats of extreme punishments and carry on drinking but, it appears, a good many of those people have no qualms about appearing in public displaying the symptoms of intoxication.
I’m not exactly sure when Peter Hitchens’ new book ‘The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment's Surrender to Drugs’ is to be published (Amazon says 1st November but he seems to be promoting it pretty hard already). As a result of all the pre-promotion we know that he is going to argue that what has been wrong with drug policy is that enforcement has failed. That, if only we had tried harder to make the Misuse of Drugs Act effective, we wouldn’t have the levels of use we see today.
When it is published I expect he’ll ‘do the rounds’ to further promote it. I really hope someone asks him just how much more draconian than Iran he wants UK enforcement to be because it is clear that what Iran currently does is not enough to prevent a fair number of its citizens drinking.
man sentenced to death for drinking alcohol four times Mail
Online 7th February 2008 (carries potentially distressing image)
2.Iran's 'hidden' alcoholism problem BBC 20th June 2012
'Is That Cat Dead? - and other questions about poison plants' is now also available in Kindle form from Amazon.