Damned if I do: Why banning Valentine’s Day for cultural impropriety makes no sense


On the 7th of February, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA) issued an advisory to media channels to stop the promotion and coverage of Valentine’s Day on both television and print media outlets, as per the directives of the Islamabad High Court (IHC). The IHC also prohibited the celebration of Valentine’s Day in public spaces this time last year.

Apparently, the orders were given based on a petition by a citizen who believed Valentine’s Day spread immorality, indecency and nudity, and was against the teachings of Islam. This isn’t all that shocking, considering that in 2016, President Mamnoon Hussain also urged the nation to refrain from the celebration of Valentine’s Day, as ‘it has no connection with our culture’. This might have been a valid argument, had it not been for the scores of events, customs and practices sanctioned by the Pakistan Government (and accepted by the general masses as appropriate and acceptable), that also have no apparent connection with our culture.

I suppose the biggest example of us being cultural sell-outs, is the fact that our official language is English. All official documents, all our sign-posts, all our billboards are in English. Although the government was working on making Urdu the sole official language in 2015, nothing really came out of it. To this day, English, a language we have no cultural connection with (barring the fact that we were once an English colony, which to be fair, doesn’t signify a cultural connection, just a cultural imposition), is our official language. And PEMRA, along with the rest of the nation, has no real problem with it being that way.

We see our head of states giving speeches in suits (and also, again, in English), which again is an attire that has no cultural value. Had they been so committed to upholding cultural integrity, perhaps we would see less of Shahbaz Sharrif’s ridiculous hats, and more culturally appropriate shalwar kameez.


This pattern of selective acceptability is repeatedly seen in many state decisions. Black Friday sales are declared un-Islamic and should be banned, but Western sports such as cricket and hockey are embraced with nationwide zeal and fervor, and become national sports? Family planning is deemed culturally inappropriate, but nobody bats an eye when cinemas all over the country screen Captain America, because of course, Pir Chris Evan’s roots probably trace back to Lalamusa. Cultural connection, you know.

There’s a story about one of Turkey’s Caliph, which is sort of relevant to this ban. Apparently, when Germany set up its first printing-press, somebody suggested that they get one for Turkey also. The Caliph in Turkey waved it off and declared it, unsurprisingly, un-Islamic. While the authenticity of this incident is highly questionable, it does seem to point out a rather consistent trait of the Muslim nation, in that anything or anyone can be declared un-Islamic, without rhyme or reason.

It makes you wonder though, doesn’t it, about the driving forces behind propriety, and its lack thereof. Are things culturally out-of-place because they’ve been so historically and now it’s just easier to go with than to deal with change? Or are they so because it suits someone else to have them declared so? What makes it alright to borrow Mother’s Day from the West, but not Valentine’s Day, and who decides that? Maybe we’re all just confusing religion with culture, or maybe we’re just willfully ignorant? Either way, the true motives behind this ban and our approval or disproval of it need to be re-examined.


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