- By Clare SestanovichClare Sestanovich and Sylvie Stein are researchers at Foreign Policy.
Love was momentarily in the air in Saudi Arabia — until the cops showed up. AP reports this morning that a young Saudi man from Riyadh will face 90 lashes and four months in the slammer as punishment for "engaging in immoral movements" (read: kissing) at a local mall. The unnamed culprit and his female companions (who have yet to be sentenced) are the latest victims of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — a moniker that seems best suited to the pages of an Orwellian novel, not the text of a modern legal system. And, unless he can prove royal lineage of some kind, he certainly doesn’t have the clout to make his prosecutors backtrack — a feat a Saudi tribesman managed last year after being beaten for smooching his wife in public.
The arrest is a telling indicator of the slow-pace of modernization in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has professed to support more lenient law enforcement, much to the chagrin of his hard-line cohorts. Short of throwing out ancient practice altogether (which, as Juan Cole explains, would flout a long history of Islamic tradition on the Peninsula), Saudis are looking for incremental ways to ease some of the kingdom’s most stringent guidelines.
Just this week, two prominent clerics proposed an innovative — and downright bizarre — strategy for loosening the prohibition against gender mixing among unrelated men and women. In a newly released fatwa, they urged Saudi women to distribute their breast milk to adult males. That’s right: for drinking. According to Islamic law, women can mix unveiled in the presence of men they have breast-fed (because nursing precludes future sexual relations). By donating their milk, women in essence "adopt" their male acquaintances, opening the door for greater, not to mention more modern, interaction.
Regardless of whether or not Saudi men and women embrace the edict, I see a great new "got milk?" ad somewhere down the road…