Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Italian Prevention of Vice | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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One Italian city has grown so tired of miniskirts, and other sexually provocative garments, that it has decided to impose a ban on such clothing, within the framework of a campaign to fight unacceptable social behaviour. Such behaviour, according to a statement issued by an Italian official, offends the public sense of decorum. This is merely a summary of the information I received from my friend Ahmed al-Murri, the former Qatari Minister of Endowments, and I must stress that I hold him accountable for its credibility!

This example highlights how Italy, being a stronghold of Catholicism, attempts to combat vice. If you analysed other countries, you would find that they each seek to prevent vice in their own way, with different countries applying different limits and principles. In terms of principles, some nations are driven from a purely religious perspective, as is the case with Saudi Arabia and a number of other Muslim counties, whilst most countries around the world adhere to legal principles, in an attempt to maintain public morality and decorum.

As for the limits, each country defines its own, and any individual who infringes upon them is thereby committing a vice, and is thus subject to punishment. In Europe, for example, prostitution is prohibited in a number of countries such as Britain, Spain and France, whilst it is legalized in the Netherlands and Austria. Some countries attempt to prevent vice in one area, whilst permitting it in others. For example, gambling and prostitution are penalized by law in many areas across the United States, but such activities are permitted in the desert state of Nevada, where the vibrant city of Las Vegas stretches across its sands.

With regards to clothing, each country has its own specifics about what people are allowed to wear. Although western countries advocate unrestricted freedoms, such countries have restrictions and systems governing what may be covered, and what may not. For example, a woman in London may not sunbathe in Hyde Park with her chest uncovered, and a man in Brighton [UK] could not lie naked on the beach. Such activities are penalized by law, and offenders often have to pay a fine. Meanwhile, on the beaches of Spain and Brazil, women and men strip naked, and the act is neither considered illegal, nor eye catching. The US, whilst forbidding complete nudity in public places, also permits designated “Black Beaches”, specifically for nudists. In such an environment, it is considered more of a vice when a man or woman hides their private parts.

When vices are forbidden by the law in western society, citizens respect this. No one launches accusations of breaching personal freedoms, or brands people as extremists or hardliners. In contrast, we notice that some western intellectuals are demanding the abolition of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, in Saudi Arabia. This is despite the fact that the Kingdom regards the committee as its means of enforcing Islamic Shariaa laws, in order to control public behaviour and maintain morality. This is what European countries have sought after, following many years of moral deviation. If some westerners object to the Committee on the pretext of maintaining human rights, this is an irrelevant argument. This is our set of systems and laws, in the same manner that it would be irrelevant to object to a country like Britain restricting prostitution, gambling, or marijuana use; as such restrictions are stipulated by their systems and laws. However, there is a clear difference between demanding the abolition of the Islamic religious police, and exposing its weaknesses. By levelling fair criticism of its practices, the Committee can improve its performance and rectify its mistakes.