Monday, February 25, 2008

Saudi Vice, episode 9: Flirting in Mecca

Mecca. The holiest of all cities. Where one cannot walk a cubit without thinking about Allah. Where infidels and dhimmis are strictly prohibited to pollute with their presence.

It is also the land of shopping malls.

Our heroes, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, know very well about the dangers of malls.

After all, they must be extra vigilant to guard against that most hideous of Western-style creatures - the mall rat.

The appropriately-named mall rat is a subhuman who goes to the mall, but not to shop for items that increase his holiness and piety. No, this rat has far more nefarious ideas in mind:

To use the mall to meet women.

Our ever-watchful heroes know where to look, and what to do:
Saudi Arabia began interrogating 57 men Saturday who were arrested after allegedly flirting with women in front of a shopping mall in the holy city of Mecca, a local newspaper reported.

The country's religious police arrested the men Thursday night, alleging behavior that included dancing to pop music blaring from their cars and wearing improper clothing, according to the Okaz newspaper, which is deemed close to the government.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice runs the religious police, who are charged with enforcing Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic lifestyle.

Its members patrol public places to make sure women are covered and not wearing make up, the sexes don't mingle, shops close five times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.

The police _ informally known as the muttawa, literally "enforcer" _ don't wear uniforms. But they are recognizable by their long beards and their robes, shorter than the ones normally worn by Saudi men. They also shun the black cord that sits atop the headdress worn by most Saudi men.

Women in Saudi Arabia are required to wear a long, enveloping black cloak called an abaya and to cover their hair with a headscarf.

The newspaper report said the men who were arrested Thursday could be released if they could prove they did not flirt with any women. Otherwise, they will be transferred to court and stand trial, the paper added.

The Muttawa arrested the men on Thursday, kept them in jail of course for the Friday day of prayer, and started asking them questions about what they were doing after two nights in jail. And, obviously, if they cannot prove that they were not flirting with women - well, they will stay in jail indefinitely.

Because how else can the Commission keep the holy kingdom moral?

The streets of Mecca are now a bit safer without the improperly dressed dancing men. Thanks, once again, to our heroes.

Earlier episodes:

Episode 8: Seeing red on Valentine's Day
Episode 7: Depravity at Starbucks
Episode 6: Protecting Saudi Women
Episode 5: What's ummah, Doc?
Episode 4: The car washer
Episode 3: Holy Shi'ite
Episode 2: Alone with a strange, sick woman
Episode 1: Introduction, plus A Gang of Magicians