This special day of affection originally had Christian roots — honoring a Christian martyr named St. Valentine. But over time, this link has become increasingly attenuated. Valentine’s Day is now considered a secular holiday, celebrated throughout much of the world. It is a day associated with romantic love, and a time to express it through the exchange of red roses, heart shaped candy, and mushy greeting cards.
Not so in the Islamic world, however, where the holiday’s long-forgotten Christian roots are often used as a justification to ban the holiday. Indeed, every year Islamic countries around the world either totally or partially ban aspects of Valentine’s Day, which they view as un-Islamic and as an invasion of Western culture.
The holiday didn’t used to be celebrated in Islamic countries, but it has gained increasing popularity over the last ten years, especially among young people who are both exposed to Western culture via the Internet and too young to remember the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Iran, in particular, is one of the Muslim nations that forcefully cracks down on those who celebrate Valentine’s Day. While the actual celebration of Valentine’s Day is not officially illegal in Iran as it is in Saudi Arabia, Iranian hardliners have certainly gone out of their way to make it difficult for Iranian citizens to express their romantic feelings out in the open in general and on Valentine’s in particular. Of course, Iran’s Valentine’s Day-related bans are cloaked in the language of morality, but the crackdowns are just one additional way for the authoritarian regime to demonstrate its power over the citizens and suppress behavior that the Free World would consider normal.
It is interesting to note that the Iranian regime has been rather unsuccessful in its quest to suppress Valentine’s celebrations amongst its people.
In large measure, those Iranians who insist on celebrating this day of love constitute the same population as those who protested in the Green Movement in 2009. After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared a win in the presidential election and announced his intent to serve a second term in what many perceived as a rigged election, Iranians, many of whom were under the age of thirty, took to the streets to demonstrate. Their cries for freedom went largely ignored by those around the world who watched in silence, including the United States. Thousands were jailed, scores were murdered, and many were tortured in prison. In the end, the revolution failed, and Iran’s highly educated, western-oriented youth remain in the shackles of Islamic authoritarianism.
At the time of the failed revolution, it was already the law of the land that schools were segregated by gender and that unmarried men and women could not mingle, in accordance with Islamic law. Till this day, women must have their heads veiled so as not to entice male sexual appetites. Western influence, including Western music, meanwhile, is viewed by the government as a national security threat. After all, if the government’s raison d’être is to promote and live out its version of Islam, then anything secular or “un-Islamic” threatens the regime.
Nonetheless, Valentine’s Day has grown in popularity, and by 2011 the Iranian government had had enough. Though the holiday itself is not officially illegal, in 2011, the government did pass a ban on the sale and distribution of any Valentine’s Day products, including red roses, teddy bears, heart-shaped candy, and even boxes and posters decorated with red hearts. At the demand of hardliners, the Printing Works Owners’ Union issued a directive explaining that shops violating the ban will face legal action against them. This poses a problem not just for young lovers, but for retailers who made good money during the holiday, and who needed it, especially in light of sanctions against Iran.
Still today, in upscale Tehran, many restaurants offer special menus on Valentine’s Day, sometimes with live music or fireworks. Yet, if unmarried couples are caught socializing, openly expressing affection, or exchanging Valentine’s gifts, they face the possibility of jail time.
Fortunately, the same determined youth that were intent on protesting for political freedom during the Green Revolution are still refusing to submit to laws restricting affection. Some express affection behind closed doors. Others risk imprisonment to say “I love you” in public. To their credit, they have the courage to remain outlaws of love.
Deborah Weiss, Esq. is a contributing author to the book “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network”; and is the primary writer and researcher for “CAIR: its Use of Lawfare and Intimidation”. She is a regular contributor to FrontPage magazine and The Washington Times. A partial listing of her work can be found at www.vigilancenow.org.
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