Photographer: Scripps Howard News Service
Islamic and Hindu fundamentalists are fighting a losing rear-guard action against an insidious Western custom -- Valentine's Day.
From Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, the day is observed with the usual trappings we have come to associate with the patron saint of young lovers and his mythical sidekick, Cupid: cards, candy, candles, silks and satins, and basically anything red and heart-shaped.
The day is observed furtively in conservative Saudi Arabia, where the religious police have been ordered to stamp out its observances because of the day's Christian and pagan origins and what the authorities see as its promotion of sexual decadence.
In India, small bands of radical Hindus have threatened to beat up young couples celebrating the day, but they have been overwhelmed by its great commercial opportunities. The merchants love it. Websites in India and many Muslim countries offer to rush Valentine's Day merchandise to loved ones you hope to impress.
An Associated Press dispatch out of Baghdad gives a sense of just how pervasive Valentine's Day has become. The Iraqi capital, reports Bushra Juhi, is expecting "the nation's most amorous celebration of the holiday ever:
"Street corners across Baghdad are blanketed with the synthetic red fur of teddy bears, while silken nighties and lip-shaped satin pillows hang in storefronts."
Even in the West, nobody ever said Valentine's Day was totally in good taste.
The Muslim celebrants seem completely oblivious to the day's religious origins. They just want to have a good time and, maybe in their highly restricted societies, meet someone.
Considering how remote Valentine's Day has become from its religious origins, the fierce opposition of hard-line fundamentalists may have another explanation, one that H.L. Mencken put his finger on when he defined a puritan as "someone who is afraid that, somewhere, someone else is having a good time."
Similarly, Halloween and Christmas are also beginning to be celebrated in non-Christian countries as completely secular occasions to exchange gifts, dress up and party.
Perhaps the fundamentalists' war on Valentine's Day has been all but lost. But they are regrouping to prevent yet another decadent Western observance from taking hold -- St. Patrick's Day.
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