"Al Gharam mamnâ€™uh, al Gharam kufr," screamed the self-declared cleric in al-Ansarâ€™s chat room this Friday. â€œLove is forbidden, love is infidelâ€ — said the online fatwa about the â€œlegitimacy of loving and being in love.â€
A weekend before Valentine’s Day, jihadist souls were not questioning the "commercialization" of romance, but inquiring about the ban on "being in love." The "scholars" said human love is evil. The simple feeling of being attracted to or in love with someone is a terrifying sin if it is committed outside of their religious dogma — and it warrants serious punishment.
"Al Hub" (basic love) — said one of the scholars online — "is not permissible outside commitment to Jihad." The subject of romantic love was new and overwhelming to the al-Qaeda sympathizers, who were busy dodging the "decadent feeling." But it was too close chronologically, too well publicized, and too difficult to escape on the web.
Suddenly, a marquee rolled an ad for Valentine’s Day in the room. The room shouted its objections, but the ideologue could not ignore reality. "Sometimes we’ll have to absorb our reaction and control ourselves. This Valentine’s Day is a dark day, it is poison, but by the will of Allah when the Caliphate will be established, Valentine’s Day will be smashed."
But there was a concern: Valentine’s Day is "ravaging" the region, including under the most restrictive regimes. They are right to worry: the battle for love is as wide as the call for jihad.
In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, girls were severely punished for not being escorted by male relatives, or for not wearing burqas. Chatting with someone from the other gender was a crime. Movies, mixed-schools, radios, music, and poetry were banned. Valentine’s Day in Kabul was equated to Satan.
In Saudi Arabia, women still can’t drive or vote, much less date. Valentine’s Day is illegal. In Iran, high school girls cannot hold hands with their boyfriends. Imitations exist in Iraq’s Salafi and Sadrist enclaves and in Beirut’s Hezbollah suburb.
But the revolution is rising. The "love guerrillas" are spreading on the street and on the internet. In liberated Afghanistan, transistor radios air love songs. In Iran, boys and girls have waged the revolt of "kissing in public." Tracked by the militia, the teenagers perform the kiss-and-run tactic.
In Kuwait, tactics are evolving. In this oil-rich state, young Arabs buy two cell phones, and as they see their beloved driving by, they throw one of the mobiles in her car; then the telephonic romance can begin.
In West Jerusalem, young Palestinians who want to stroll freely with their girlfriends, walk up the Yehuda street speaking Hebrew. In Egypt, soap operas compete with their Mexican counterparts. Love warfare has become the boldest threat that can roll back jihad.
On the internet, Arab, Persian, Kurdish, Aramaic, and other love and music chat rooms attract ten times the al-Ansar-crowded rooms. There, you read and hear discussions of love; they seek not decadence, but the early stages of a romantic revolution.
Lebanon’s TV has taken the freedom for love to sophisticated artistic expressions. With shows seen by millions, the LBCI has been shaking off the fundamentalist quarters of the region. On al Jazeera, clerics are horrified by the scenes. Their deepest nightmare is to see young Saudi men singing the beauty of human love, while their jihadist counterparts are assassinating young Iraqi women for not wearing the hijab.
This region has a massive and underreported potential to become a culture of romantic passion. We must remember that Adonis and Ashtarut, antiquity’s gods of love, were Phoenician legends. Cleopatra was an Egyptian Queen. The lovers of pre-Islamic Arabia, Antar and Ablah, were the precursors of Romeo and Juliet. And that the Sherazade of the one thousand and one nights and Omar the hopeless romantic were Persians.
From the twentieth century, let’s remember that Um Kalthum, the voice from Egypt, Said Akl, the poet from Lebanon, and Khalid, the rock singer from Algeria, have sculpted love in the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of these people.
The B-52s may have been successful in Tora Bora, but Music Channels and the internet are triggering deeper instincts.
The followers of love have no weapon except human nature; it is the only one they need. Valentine’s Day may be infidel in the eyes of the jihadists, but it has many more faithful followers among the peoples of this unlucky region. The terrorists are not intimidated by death, but they are terrorized by love.