Amit has blogged about the Saudi Arabian ban on red roses here:
The decision has been taken by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which sounds like something right out of Kafka.
There’s also a CNN story on this, which contains these priceless quotes:
Ahmed Al-Omran, a university student in Riyadh, told CNN that the government decision will give the international media another reason to make fun of the Saudis “but I think that we got used to that by now.”
Because of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered ahead of Valentine’s Day. Roses that normally go for five Saudi riyal ($1.30) fetch up to 30 riyal ($8) on February 14, the Saudi Gazette said.
“Sometimes we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion,” one florist told the paper.
Anyway. As evil organisations which nevertheless have really cool names go, the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (according to Wikipedia, a more accurate translation is Committee for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) is right up there on both counts, scoring high on both evil activities and cool names.
Kodhi and me have concluded that the reason the name is so cool is that it contains not only the base objective (i.e., Promotion of Virtue) but also the negation of the opposite (i.e., Prevention of Vice). You could similarly make a fixed deposit sound cool by calling it an Instrument for the Encouragement of Savings and Discouragement of Consumption; or mobile phone silent mode sound cool by calling it the Mode for Preservation of Sanity and Reduction of Stress. We have also decided that our sitcom must contain either an organisation named on this principle, or constant Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice references.
The MPVPV also scores high on the being evil front. In addition to banning all things red, it has also banned cats and dogs, as pets are a Western influence and thus nothing to do with Islam:
“One bad habit spreading among our youths is the acquisition of dogs and showing them off in the streets and malls,” wrote Aleetha al-Jihani in a letter to Al-Madina newspaper. “There’s no doubt that such a matter makes one shudder.”
“Then what’s the point of dragging a dog behind you?” he added. “This is blind emulation of the infidels.”
It also beats up Catholic priests, junta who put daaru, and women found talking to men.
However, it’s greatest hit ever was in 2004, when it stopped firefighters from pulling girls out of a burning school building because – wait for this – they were not in burkhas and pulling them out would have incited lust in the firefighters. 14 girls died. The ‘BBC’ says:
According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islam.
One witness said he saw three policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya”.
The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police – known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned “it is a sinful to approach them”.
Depressing as it is that in India we have to deal with nutjobs like the Hindu Makkal Katchi and Syed Imam Bukahri, we can at least take solace in the fact that we don’t have a Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Holding Saudi Arabia as a benchmark is slightly unambitious, but it’s a start.