Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Russia’s Commission for the Prevention of Vice | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Although the title of this article is not strictly factual, this is not intended as mere media hype for it is true that Russia will be subject to inspections by men whose main objective will be to prevent the “greatest vice and major sin” namely that of gambling. This government operation which has outlawed gambling across Russia except for certain areas has support from both the Russian public and major religious institutions.

The vice that is to be prevented in Russia is that of gambling. The religious authorities support this measure, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the highest religious authority in the country. The men undertaking the job of controlling the gambling industry in Russia are the police. The police force are implementing new laws that were ratified by the Russian parliament in 2007 and which only came into effect this June. These laws outlaw casinos, slot-machine parlors, and gambling halls across Russia except for in certain “special zones” located in four distant regions of the country.

One of the most prominent figures behind this gambling ban is the Mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov, who has been an important critic of Russia’s gambling industry and has long fought to do away with the casinos and gambling halls in the Russian capital. Mayor Luzhkov is even unconcerned about the millions of dollars of tax that the government earns from the gambling industry so long as this vice is prevented. This reminds me of a successful “prevention of vice” operation undertaken by a British church in collaboration with the Islamic Centre in London to prevent the establishment of a bar in London’s West End.

This kind of “prevention of vice” exists in most countries around the world as all countries have outlawed or prohibited certain practices. In the majority of Western countries “prostitution” – the oldest profession in the world – and gambling are outlawed. For instance in the US the police force “prevent the vices” of prostitution and gambling, except for under specific circumstances. These authorities go after illegal prostitution, as well as drug trafficking and other illegal activities and nobody objects that these prohibitions are against personal freedoms or contrary to the principles of human rights. Certainly mistakes and errors occur in the implementation of such laws however this does not result in the media calling for the abolition of these laws, or the closure of the agencies that are implementing them.

It is normal that when such prohibitive laws are implemented in any country that an executive “commission” is formed to supervise their application through activities such as performing inspections and undertaking investigations, as well as arresting all those who refuse to comply with the new legislation. Such a “commission” could be called a “Religious Police” or a “Virtue Committee” as has been proposed in Yemen, or as in the case with Saudi Arabia, a “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. [CPVPV]”

The Saudi version of this remains the most famous example worldwide and the one that has received the most criticism from the media. Some of this criticism is objective; however the majority of it is prejudiced and unfair. The CPVPV has been subject to media criticism as a result of certain violations or mistakes made by its cadres, however when this happens these mistakes are investigated [and resolved]. Despite this, the media continues to say that there is no solution other than to dissolve this organization. This resulted in Saudi Arabia’s Second Deputy Prime Minister, Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz, describing such media criticism as prejudiced and unjust.