Sunday, June 08, 2003

Yes to the Religious Police... but

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi •

Those who argue that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is unnecessary fall into two groups: The indecent, and the victims of terrible mistakes. As for the rest of us, we do need the commission to guard and preach Islamic values and morals in our society. Whenever we see its officials patrolling streets and public places, we feel safer.
We understand that the commission’s shortcomings are simply a reflection of our own. If some of its officials are narrow-minded or too strict in implementing rules, that is a product of our social and religious upbringing. If the attitude is “hear and obey,” that is what we have been practicing in our homes, schools, universities and public institutions. As for the lack of training, weak qualifications and shortage of intellectual and information resources, this is true in all our organizations, private and public. Considering all that, the question becomes: Why all of a sudden this strident campaign against the commission?
Many believe it was part of an American smear campaign against our religious institutions, education curriculum and social traditions. Whether this is true or not, we should not ignore the fact that at least some of the complaints against the commission are right. It is high time we discussed these issues objectively with the aim of reforming, not humiliating. We should always remember that the commission is a social institution not above the law or criticism. The commission’s officials and workers are human beings and may make mistakes.
They need to be given good advice, training and guidance and should be disciplined or reprimanded if needed. Top of my list, the commission needs to correct two un-Islamic ways: Their deep suspicion of people, and the requirement that suspects should prove their innocence. If we change these roles of conduct, then members would not intrude homes, public parks, restaurants, family sections and cars to demand that people prove their innocence.
The commission’s officials must also stick to their jurisdiction. It is not their right to confiscate merchandize they deem improper. This is the responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce. If the commission has an objection to a particular product, they must raise the issue with the concerned authorities. A retail trader should not be punished. He buys a product from a wholesaler who has brought it legally into the Kingdom after receiving an official license. They also should not conduct raids on resorts, hotels and housing compounds and ask the management to produce lists of guests and residents, or take it upon themselves to verify the relation between women and men in cars and restaurants. If there are violations in this respect, they should be tackled by the concerned security and commercial agencies.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Waste Not, Want Not

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

The American journalist smiled as he pointed to a large buffet organized by the firm hosting the media delegation. “Finally, we have found a good reason to come to your country again,” he said.
Dipping a piece of bread in the houmus, he added: “I wish there was a plan to distribute surplus food after every party.”
I did not reply, but asked myself what would have been his reaction if he had attended some of our weddings and other ceremonies where the number of sheep slaughtered is actually greater than the number of guests.
What would have been his impression if he had witnessed some people boast of the kind of food they order, be they at home or in restaurants or at open buffets, which they in fact eat very little of.
I recalled something Prince Muhammad Al-Faisal once told me about how the people of Taif used to live. They invited people to their home and slaughtered only the animals they really needed, then distributed the surplus among their neighbors.
Waste and extravagance are not part of our ceremonies alone. They have become part of our everyday life.
Take electricity. While there is a shortage of supply in many new districts or remote areas as a result of the lack of resources, our cities are illuminated by floodlights.
I compared this situation with the American cities where I have lived for many years. Streetlights there are strong enough only to help drivers see their way clearly. Economic use of electricity is evident in houses and commercial complexes, where lights are kept on only in rooms which are being used.
The case of water is even worse. We waste this valuable resource at swimming pools, public gardens and car wash centers. Even those who live near rivers and lakes and have plenty of rainfall use water cautiously, as if they were in the desert itself.
It amazed me when Dr. Ghazi Al-Gosaibi, the minister of water and electricity, stated that half of our water problem could have been solved by preventing wastage.
Instead of conserving underground water as a strategic storage to use in emergency, we waste this natural resource for agricultural purposes as we produce subsidized wheat more than what we require and export the surplus at less than cost price.
Consumption is another area of extravagance. You purchase a mobile phone today and replace it tomorrow when you find a new model. It is the case of almost all other products.
We have to remember that nations in the past were destroyed because of their extravagance of God-given resources. So, let us fear God and use the natural resources in an economic and judicious manner.
Arab News Features 1 June 2003