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.

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