Now that it’s finally safe to say “Happy Valentine’s Day” in Saudi Arabia again, I’m not sure I’d want to.
Back in 2008, the kingdom’s religious police issued a fatwa banning the observance of the holiday and outlawing the mid-February sale of such items as red roses, boxes of chocolates, heart symbols, teddy bears — even gifts cloaked in red wrapping paper.
Restaurant owners were warned against “creating a Valentine’s Day atmosphere,” according to an Associated Press account, and teachers were told to discourage students from observing the holiday.
But 10 years later, the former head of the kingdom’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention said in an interview on Valentine’s Eve that the holiday, in his opinion, celebrated “common social matters” and a “positive aspect of the human experience.”
Last year, according to Bloomberg, the religious police stopped patrolling shops and restaurants to confiscate Valentine’s Day goodies, and just prior to Feb. 14, observance of the holiday was officially legalized.
“Hearts and flowers are everywhere,” the Arab Times reported last week. “Saudis are buying extravagant gifts, flowers, cheesy balloons, and even the cliched teddy bears for that special person.”
The War on Valentine’s Day is finally over in Saudi Arabia, but the truce that ended it is bittersweet.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has been credited with making legalization of Valentine’s Day possible as part of his program of “modernization and social reforms.” They include making it legal for women to drive and planning the development of an entertainment and sports city with a safari park on the outskirts of Riyadh.
Of course, MBS has also been credited with ordering the assassination and disposal of a Washington Post reporter, for hacking the phone of Washington Post and Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, and with starting a war with Yemen in 2015 that has since left more than 12 million people at risk of starvation.
He’s not a figure who generates warm and fuzzy feelings.
To protest his Valentine’s Day link, I considered switching my allegiance to Groundhog Day as the mid-winter holiday to celebrate. But that whimsical, all-American holiday founded by a newspaperman is under fire from PETA for forcing the various iterations of Punxsutawney Phil to “perform” for loud, obnoxious humans practicing “flash photography.”
PETA would like to see Phil replaced with an artificial intelligence-equipped cyborg groundhog “that can actually predict the weather.”
Hey, if I merely wanted an accurate weather forecast, I would check the National Weather Service website.
I think I’ll jump on board the Leap Day holiday bandwagon when it rolls around Feb. 29. By embracing Leap Day as my mid-winter holiday of choice, at the very least I can be assured that no one can screw it up for another four years.