Odds Without Ends

Most people I know hate Valentine’s Day.
Some are just spiteful that they’re single; others complain of the mass consumerism associated with the holiday. And some just flat-out reject the notion of “love.”

Sure, there’s some merit to all of those arguments. Devoting your love to your significant other on one particular day seems absurd. Why not show it all year round?

But this year, I’ve found more meaning than usual in Valentine’s Day. In fact, as odd as it may sound, it’s made me more fully appreciate living in a country that accepts and acknowledges diverse opinions.

More specifically, I was struck by the recent events in Saudi Arabia – a country that has long been criticized for its harsh theocracy and brutal treatment of women. It seems like this year, the Saudi government has cracked down on Valentine’s Day, deeming the holiday “un-Islamic” and one that encourages relations between unmarried men and women.

According to a recent article in the Saudi Gazette, the government in Saudi Arabia has made it illegal to purchase any symbols of affection for Valentine’s Day, whether it be flowers, cards, or even anything red.

“The Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” the name of the Saudi religious police squad, raids stores before February 14, removing all gifts that could be given as symbols of love.

Sound ridiculous? It gets worse.

The article goes on to note that flowers and other signs of affection are now being sold on the black market. “Sometimes,” one Saudi florist told the newspaper, “we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion.” Other Saudis, to avoid their country’s legal repercussions, travel to Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates to celebrate the holiday.

The emergence of a Valentine’s Day black market, with escalated prices on February 14, is simply absurd.

According to Sheikh Khaled al-Dossari, an Islamic scholar who spoke with the Saudi Gazette, the Saudi ban on Valentine’s Day stems from many of Islam’s deep-rooted stances.

“As Muslims, we shouldn’t celebrate a non-Muslim celebration,” said al-Dossari, “especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women.”

The Saudi crackdown on Valentine’s Day is a perfect example of what can happen when the line between government and religion is blurred. In Saudi Arabia, there simply is no line; after all, the monarchy in power strictly adheres to the Sharia – the Islamic code of law.

Cases like this are why Americans strongly associate radical fundamentalism with the Middle East and Islam. But they often fail to realize the dominating presence of Christian fundamentalist groups in their own country.

Take, for example, Pat Robertson – the notorious host of “The 700 Club” and longtime controversial evangelical activist. Back in 1986, he strongly argued against the celebration of Halloween. “I think we ought to close Halloween down,” he said. “Do you want your children to dress up as witches? The Druids used to dress up like this when they were doing human sacrifice… [Your children] are acting out Satanic rituals and participating in it, and don’t even realize it.”

Robertson is not the only American fundamentalist who’s made headlines. Other groups, such as Eagle Forum and Focus on the Family, have spoken out in favor of banning anything from homosexuality to Harry Potter books, all of which they deem sinful.

There is much more that can be (and has been) written about religion clashing with common law, but let’s not forget one important thing: America houses some fundamentalist groups that are just as radical as those in Saudi Arabia. But let’s be thankful to live in a country that doesn’t allow these groups to make their opinions the law.

If you’re like most of the people I know, you probably hate Valentine’s Day. But this year, as you curse the happy couples out there that buy into the mass consumerism, think about those Saudi Arabian men buying black market roses at 3 a.m.

It just might give you something to be thankful for this February 14.