Thursday, February 14, 2008

V-Day in Qatar

Happy Valentine's Day everyone (special love to James).

Interestingly enough, I noticed a bit more Valentine's Day hoopla than I was expecting- the Hyatt Plaza mall had a huge display/shopping section with large balloons, candy displays, and the Hallmark and Giant Food store had cards, stuffed animals and candies as well. I wondered how much of the local population participated in V-Day or how much of it was for the expats. I did notice some Arab/Qatari men in the Valentine's day section and did notice how some of the V-Day cards had cheeky British humor- so perhaps it was a mix. CMU-Q's Fine Arts Club and Culture Club were even selling and delivering roses for 8QAR each ($2.20 each). I was initially surprised that they were selling roses at all, for it seemed very liberal and somewhat anti-Muslim.

Turns out my initial impression was correct. I was prepare to plunk down some dough for roses for my coworkers when I heard a rumor that one particular student (male Qatari) was completely against the Rose Sale and harassing the students organizing the sale. He argued that Valentine's Day and the Rose Sale in particular, could be seen as promoting immoral relations between unmarried individuals- it was too amorous. He made them feel like they were being 'bad' Muslims. The organizers bowed to this pressure and withdrew their support of the sale. The sale was canceled and customers received refunds.

Shortly after receiving the email that the Sale was canceled (we have a very open communication policy- students, faculty, and staff regularly send out emails to the entire school- like a recent one regarding a fitness challenge, to which the Dean and faculty began to 'reply to all' and playfully trash-talk. Another difference between here and the main Pittsburgh campus). Where was I? After hearing about the cancellation of the Rose Sale, I found this article on, detailing how 'Saudi Arabia bans all things red ahead of Valentine's Day'. According to the article, "Every year, officials with the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice clamp down on shops a few days before February 14, instructing them to remove red roses, red wrapping paper, gift boxes and teddy bears. On the eve of the holiday, they raid stores and seize symbols of love." It's certainly not as strict here in Qatar, but as our canceled Rose Sale suggests, religion and morality still play a huge part in daily life here.

However, it's curious to note what gets censored and what is freely distributed. I've been shopping in Carrefour Grocery store and heard songs with 'mothaf*cker','n*gga-what' & 'b*tch'. Recently Darbi and I were driving by a Burger King and heard them blaring through the children's play area a song using a host of descriptive names for female genitalia. Hmm. So it's ok to sing about these things but not ok to have suggestive material? Or do they not recognize the words for what they are- the slang goes in one ear and out the other? Considering the censorship of websites and reading material, I am surprised that the songs are not censored as well.

Ah- well. Roses aside, there is still a decent amount of chocolate floating around- both my parents and my Grandma sent me over 2 lbs of Fannie May chocolate candies and a coworker just gave me a liquor-filled chocolate truffle (shh- don't tell anyone) ;) Grammy also sent over a huge tin of gumdrops and conversation hearts, which I brought to class yesterday and my students devoured. The gumdrops may have been haram (forbidden to Muslims) due to the inclusion of gelatin (which may or may not have been made from pork) but I left that decision up to students. Many of them ate the gumdrops anyhow, but whether out of ignorance or conscious decision, I don't know.

Anyhow- Happy V-Day!

(Later: I just found this NYTimes Op-Ed by a Saudi graduate student studying in Chicago- giving more details about her experience with Saudi Arabian Valentine's Day- an enlightening read.)

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