Majid Mohammadi explores the delicate and easily-wounded sensibilities of radical Muslims. As Muslims in Western Europe and the U.S. assert their right to maintain their culture and not assimilate, as Dyab Abou Jahjah of the Arab European League has insisted, we will see more of this sort of thing in the West: “In Saudi Arabia, for example, the Ministry of Commerce checks trademarks of imported goods to ensure there are no violations of religious law. . . . The criteria for recognizing something as “Western ” or “Christian” are totally subjective. A good example is the necktie, which is considered Christian and hence is forbidden in Iran; or the letter “X” that is forbidden in Saudi Arabia in trademarks because it is shaped like a cross. Everything disturbing the delicate sensibilities of Islamists is banned. Every summer, Iranian men have their arms spray-painted by Ansaar-e Hizbullah, the Iranian morality police, when they visit shopping areas in insufficiently conservative clothing. The same thing takes place in Saudi Arabia.” In fact, this sensibility has already manifested itself in France, in attacks on girls not wearing hijab. From the Daily Star, with thanks to Nicolei:
On this Valentine’s Day, it is useful to examine how Western holidays and cultural habits are playing out in the Muslim world, particularly in two countries where a conservative version of Islam is buttressed by powerful religious establishments: Iran and Saudi Arabia. There are two strong ideological currents in both countries confronting one other. Reformers are offering more tolerant readings of Islam, against the proscriptions of religious establishments facing legitimacy crises.
The original arrangements between the Al-Saud and Mohammed Ibn Abdulwahab in late 18th-century Saudi Arabia, and between the Shiite ulama and the Qajar dynasty in early 20th-century Iran, were designed to resolve such crises of legitimacy. Clerics agreed to support the political leaderships, in exchange for Islam being made the ideology of the domain. Although this deal was breached in Iran during the Pahlavi era, culminating in the Islamic revolution, it was revived under the Islamic Republic. However, the new order was characterized by disagreements, first, between the Islamic left and right and, subsequently, between Islamists and reformists, amid a growing legitimacy crisis in an era of overwhelming democratic discourse.
These crises are best reflected in the policy toward public culture and morality. Morality and culture in Saudi Arabia and Iran are totally ideologized, and specifically enforced by religious policies of the state and government institutions, particularly “morality police” having a free hand in internal affairs Â despite several catastrophic incidents where the actions of this “police” have led to violence against civilians, and indeed death. This free hand is granted because the Iranian and Saudi religious establishments offer legitimacy to the state. This has led to a crackdown on Western cultural commodities, ideas and institutions, amid increasing domestic demand for greater choice, democracy and vindication of human rights and the rule of law.
A good example is the different policies toward Christian and Western celebrations. There have always been major crackdowns on items related to Valentine’s Day or Christmas in both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Stores have been closed down or fined, and merchandise has been confiscated after coordinated campaigns of raids against “disobedient” outlets. In Iran, shopping centers that belong to Christians must make this fact clear at the entrance. This is one way of controlling the sale of forbidden materials. The religious establishments regard the Christian or Western celebrations as “pagan” (in Saudi Arabia) and as an embodiment of “cultural invasion” (in Iran).
Iranian Islamists are not only harsh when it comes to Western holidays. They still cannot accept Iranian celebrations such as Sizdah Bedar (celebrating the 13th day of spring) or Nowruz (Iranian New Year). The only holidays accepted are those mentioned in the Koran or by the Prophet Mohammed.
Restrictions are not usually declared as official policy in Iran or Saudi Arabia, but their enforcement is seen as a way of reestablishing the eroding authority of the Wahhabi or Shiite states. There are those in both societies who buy into such restrictive policies, because of the deep identity crisis in the Muslim world. The public wants to define itself as something different from the West and usually picks the simplest and least expensive way of doing that, namely through a policy of rejection.
At the same time, the public also wants to celebrate love, as on Valentine’s Day, in societies that prohibit worldly love other than between couples in prearranged marriages; people also want to dance and listen to music in public celebrations.
Enforcing religious policies is not limited to the morality police in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Every government office is obliged to implement such policies, and those who breach them are liable to bear the consequences. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the Ministry of Commerce checks trademarks of imported goods to ensure there are no violations of religious law. If the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice objects to a name or a specific commodity, the commerce ministry may refuse to register or clear it.
The criteria for recognizing something as “Western ” or “Christian” are totally subjective. A good example is the necktie, which is considered Christian and hence is forbidden in Iran; or the letter “X” that is forbidden in Saudi Arabia in trademarks because it is shaped like a cross. Everything disturbing the delicate sensibilities of Islamists is banned. Every summer, Iranian men have their arms spray-painted by Ansaar-e Hizbullah, the Iranian morality police, when they visit shopping areas in insufficiently conservative clothing. The same thing takes place in Saudi Arabia.
The members of the morality police consider themselves selfless. Indeed they must be. Could it be any different when these learned and faithful must confront apostates and infidels on a daily basis?