Thursday, 14 February 2008

Valentine Massacre

There's so much defeatism around when it comes to the future of western culture - whether it's Rowan Williams talking about the "unavoidability" of Sharia or Martin Amis gloomily foreseeing demographic disaster - that's it's good to see just how resilient and appealing our consumeristic western decadence really is. In Saudi Arabia there are people so desperate to celebrate Valentines Day, says the Telegraph that they place under-the-counter orders for roses weeks in advance. One florist claims to make up to four times his usual price on each order, which are delivered secretly at midnight to avoid the attentive gaze of the Commission for the Suppression of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue, who (anxious to take no chances) ban the sale not just of roses but of anything red in the week leading up to February 14th. Others go abroad.

The Saudi Gazette quoted one leading imam as saying,

As Muslims we shouldn't celebrate a non-Muslim celebration especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women.

This is actually an annual crackdown. An official fatwa issued in 2004 declared:

It is a pagan Christian holiday and Muslims who believe in God and Judgment Day should not celebrate or acknowledge it or congratulate people on it. It is a duty to shun it to avoid God’s anger and punishment.

They must find this particularly offensive:

Of course, Saudi Arabia has a reputation for (shall we say) peculiar judicial priorities - today's horror story concerns the plight of a woman sentenced to having her head cut off for being, of all things, a witch - but the story is far from unique to that benighted land. In Kuwait (that's the place that decadent western armies rescued from the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein, it will be recalled) two prominent politicians this week sought to prevent any hearts and flowers from polluting their oil fiefdom. "We call on the commerce minister to perform his duties by banning celebrations of Valentine's Day which is alien to our society ... and contradicts our religion's values and teachings," said one. While another, who heads the delightfully named (it could almost be French) "parliamentary committee for monitoring alien practices" spoke of the need for restrictions, in order to prevent the spreading "moral corruption of the young".

Further afield, multicultural Malaysia also has its anti-Valentines, such as the government official Muhammad Ramli Nuh who last year made the remarkable (and historically ignorant) statement that,

Celebrating the Day could be regarded as recognizing the enemies of Islam because Valentine or Valentinus took part in planning and attacking Cordoba, once a well-known centre of Islam in Spain, causing its downfall.

What all this shows, of course, is profound cultural defensiveness. And well they might be defensive. The traffic is mostly one-way, after all. Despite a small fuss last week over Dutch plans to re-brand Lent as "the Christian Ramadan" (on the grounds that, modern education being what it is, teenagers were much more aware of the concept of Ramadan than they were of Lent) there are few signs of a mass take-up of Islamic holy days among the wider population in Europe and America, no attempts to ban them, no attempts to circumvent such bans. It might feel, sometimes, like we're losing the struggle, but the samizdat roses of Riyadh tell a different story.

Happy Valentines, everybody.