This Valentine’s Day reminds me of the time when Lyn and I were courting, nearly fifty years ago. She lived in New Jersey and I in Queens. On Sunday nights, she would drive me to the bus stop in Paterson and wait with me until my bus departed for New York City. Of course we used this half-hour wait as an opportunity to smooch in private.
On several occasions a policeman flashed a flashlight into the car to check on our doings. This was a little embarrassing, but not much. He asked if everything was OK, left when we assured him that it was and we continued where we left off.
The Paterson bus station wasn’t exactly lovers’ lane even then. And I have no idea what places lovers prefer in Malaysia, but the moral police in the Kedah, Penang, Kelantan and Selangor do. The Pan-Islamic Party is ready for Valentine’s Day, not to celebrate love but to quell “immoral acts.”
A spokesman for PAS said, ““We have identified spots in these states which are used by lovers and we are deploying local religious department officials as well as party members to stop such sinful acts as casual sex, which violates Islam.”
I don’t know if Lyn and my necking would constitute casual sex. The PAS spokesman pointed to last year’s celebrations, which included hotels offering free rooms to unmarried couples and the encouragement to shed underwear, as contrary to Sheri’a law.
“We are not trying to stop love, but want to ensure that whatever Muslims in Malaysia do is moral and in keeping with our faith,” the spokesman explained.
In Malaysia, Sheri’a applies only to Muslims, so Lyn and I wouldn’t have had to worry. But in several others countries that have adopted Sheri’a, though, these restrictions apply to everyone irrespective of religious identification.
Allowing for freer sexual expression, getting the government out of people’s bedrooms and retiring the moral police are all steps forward in respecting people’s autonomy. But there is something to be said about PAS’s concerns, as overwrought and wrong their expression may be. Sexual liberation in the West has been a mixed blessing, after all.
All societies regulate sexual behavior in some way. The measurement of whether those norms are moral is the extent to which they foster or hinder women’s rights and the extent to which they foster intimate relations.
While the West’s hyper-sexualized society is morally troubling, worse by far would be one where a policeman shines his flashlight in a car and a couple is beaten or jailed because their smooching is an “immoral act.”