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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentine's Day: A tale of two cultures

A couple of days ago, an Egyptian Islamic cleric went on a bizarre, wild rant against Valentine's Day.
In a few days time, a very dangerous virus will attack the body of the nation. What virus? Is it AIDS? No, something more dangerous. Something more dangerous than Ebola, which dissolves the human body, more dangerous than cholera, which killed half of Europe a few centuries ago. I am talking about the Valentine virus, people. I have come tonight to warn all boys and girls about an extremely dangerous virus, which is about to attack the hearts of the nation’s youth, and to destroy our relations with God. We must confront this Valentine virus?

Extremism is not solely the province of Muslims. At about the same time as this broadcast, an extremist Hindu group was also freaking out over Valentine's Day, threatening violence:
Militants belonging to a group called Sri Ram Sena, who claim to be custodians of Indian culture, said Valentine's Day is un-Indian.

The threat comes days after the group's activists stormed a bar in the south western city of Mangalore, dragging out and beating women they accused of acting obscenely and "going astray".

The attack led to fears an extremist "Hindu Taliban" was on the rise in India.

Gangadhar Kulkarni, an activist in the group, which is a radical wing of the Hindu nationalist movement, said: "If people celebrate the day despite our warning, then we will definitely attack them."

"Valentine's Day is definitely not Indian culture. We will not allow celebration of that day in any form," added Pramod Mutalik, the group's founder.
We have seen how the Muslim world generally responds to fatwas from crazed Islamic lunatics - they cower. They might have no respect for the imam of the day, but they will not confront him, for fear of losing their honor or their lives.

Luckily, Hindu women have different ideas:
Threats of violence from a group of right-wing Hindus have not deterred some Indian women from celebrating Valentine’s Day.

Nisha Susan, a 29-year-old female journalist from Karnatka, India, started a Facebook group last Saturday called the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women in reaction to Sri Rama Sena’s vowed crackdown on Valentine’s Day. The group has garnered support across the country and around the world, and has even spawned an underwear-based protest to let the hardliners know what its members think of the anti-Valentine’s Day decrees.

The SRS has said that it plans to force unmarried couples seen in public to either marry or put on “rakhis”—string bracelets that signal that a male-female duo are siblings.

So in reaction, the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women urges its followers to join them “on February 14, Valentine’s Day, the day in which Indian women’s virginity and honour will self-destruct unless they marry or tie a rakhi,” as the group’s sarcastic tagline reads. “Walk to the nearest pub and buy a drink. Raise a toast to the Sri Ram Sena.”

As of 11:00 am EST, the Facebook group had almost 30,000 members. Rallying support from around the world, the group has since launched another protest that some would call even more “cheeky.”

The Pink Chaddi Campaign, urges all its supporters to mail pink underwear to Pramod Muthalik, the leader of the SRS. Chaddi is the Hindi nickname for underwear.

Indian Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury has also come out in support of the protest.
If Muslim reformers could think as creatively as these Indian women, the extremist clerics would transform from objects of fear into laughingstocks.