Hate Valentine's Day? You may consider moving to Indonesia.
Several cities in the Southeast Asian country have banned the holiday, pushing back on what critics there call a Western tradition — rooted in Christianity — that leads to behavior that contravenes the mores of the Muslim-majority population.
Across the archipelago on Wednesday, raids and stern warnings from provincial leaders replaced candlelight dinners, Hallmark cards and heart-shaped candies.
Police officers in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, detained about two dozen unmarried couples in a sweep intended to clamp down on Valentine's Day celebrations, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
In Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara province, police were ordered “to raid schools in the hunt for passionate students unable to keep their hands off each other,” the AFP reported.
In Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, leaders maintained the ban on the romantic holiday, which they have imposed for the past several years, according to the Reuters news agency — but it was unclear whether police there had raided the city's convenience stores and confiscated condoms, as they did last year, in an effort to prevent lovers from engaging in casual sex.
But in Aceh, the only Indonesian province to impose sharia law, the ban on Valentine's Day was visible for all to see. Images of protest rallies from the province showed dozens of students holding signs that expressed sentiments such as “Save the Muslim from Valentine Day becase Valentine is not my day.” Others wore headbands with a more direct message: “NO VALENTINE.”
“Valentine's Day reflects a culture which is not in line with Aceh's and Islamic law,” provincial governor Irwandi Yusuf said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Valentine's Day does have roots in Christianity — University of Southern California history professor Lisa Bitel has charted the day's puzzling evolution from celebrating “beheading to betrothing” in the name of Saint Valentine — but Indonesia's bans come as the Muslim-majority country has increasingly rejected Western cultures. In recent months, lawmakers there have moved to outlaw gay and extramarital sex, prompted by religious Muslim conservatives.
“More conservative elements want full criminalization [of gay and extramarital sex], which we reject,” Ichsan Soelistio, a member of Indonesia’s largest political party, told The Washington Post last week. “But we have agreed to accept a law which allows prosecution of sex outside marriage and homosexual sex, but only if one of the sexual partners or their family members report the crime to police.”
Some other countries also have tried to stamp out Valentine’s Day as a form of Western cultural infiltration.
Each year, Iran’s hard-liners issue denunciations of the holiday and orders to ban Valentine’s Day gifts such as cards and heart-shaped trinkets. Yet stores in Tehran and elsewhere often have plenty of cards and items to mark the day.
“Honoring foreign celebrations is the spread of Western culture,” said Ali Nikou Sokhan, head of a printers union, according to a report this week by the Iranian Labor News Agency. “Our country has an ancient civilization and various days to honor kindness, love and affection.”
In Saudi Arabia, five men were sentenced to prison and lashings in 2014 after police raided a Valentine’s Day party that authorities claimed included dancing between unmarried men and women.
And though a few places in Indonesia forbid the celebration of Valentine's Day, most do not, and many Indonesians celebrate with cards, chocolates and flowers, according to Reuters.