Protecting virtue by force [Archives:2008/1170/Viewpoint]

July 7 2008

Nadia Al-Saqqaf
A recent social trend is that of a group of so-called religious people, men and women, who has taken the responsibility of defending the virtue of the country. They patrol some public areas designed for outings such as the beaches or the parks, to ensure that no “misconduct” takes place.

They have no authority, they are not operating under the law and they are present in every major city in various forms and concentrations.

A French journalist who had visited Yemen recently explained to me that she sees signs of change currently in Yemen similar to what she witnessed during Taleban's gaining power in Afghanistan. Indirectly, she predicted an Afghani future for us, and that scared me.

If it were about political change, it wouldn't matter much because governments come and go. But when the change is among the people, it is critical for intellectuals, media and NGOs to raise an alarm. I am saying this because I am witnessing social acceptance of the role of this virtue police. People accept their authority over them and allow them to take away their rights.

So now we have those people telling us what is acceptable and what is not.

Taking away our right to chose what to wear, what to study, what to work, or even where to go for entertainment.

Take for example the early marriage issue in Yemen. There is no legislation that defines a minimum age for marriage (although even Afghanistan has one), because some religious men in the Jurisprudence Committee in the parliament think there should not. They have made themselves the legislators of the country and the interpreters of the Quran so they claim there should not be an age to define the minimum age for marriage.

What do the rest of the parliamentarians do? Nothing. They just surrender the issue to a bunch of long bearded men, who decided there is nothing more important for the sake of protecting the religion and defending the nation's virtue than to allow men to marry 15-13- even nine year old girls.

As if virtue is only related to sex. That it has nothing to do with corruption, with bribing, with extortion, with abusing public properties or public money.

As for those verdure police patrolling our streets, they think nothing of endorsing Islamic behaviour in one's work. They don't mind a husband beating a wife until she bleeds, or an influential person taking away a land by force, or a businessman running away from taxes, or a governor hiring and firing as he likes, or a state VIP who thinks the national budget is his own private account.

To those religious men, these issues are not important to the welfare of the country and for creating a true religious nation. Eventually it seems everything those religious people fight for rotates around sex, and women. And I believe that they are using the religion and the public ignorance and submission to get away with many things that are not even remotely related to Islam. It is time we put an end to this, before another Taleban truly takes control of our country.