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Saudi & Haredi Mutaween

This is a guest post by Yeze

In Saudi Arabia, the religious police or mutaween enforce modesty and “appropriate” public behaviour. Under the direct command of King Abdullah, the Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice ensures that unrelated men and women do not mix publicly, Islamic dress and dietary laws are enforced, non-Muslim religions do not proselytise,  and homosexuality, prostitution and fornication do not occur.

Thanks to the efforts of the mutaween, an elderly woman was sentenced to forty lashes for accepting men in her house, a woman was sentenced to death for witchcraft, and a man was beaten to death for possessing alcohol in his home.  The daughter of a mutaweenenforcer was burned to death for converting to Christianity. Time Magazine provides more such examples of mutaween abuse of power and state terror. Most infamously in 2002, mutaweenprevented schoolgirls from leaving a burning building because their attire was deemed inappropriate, resulting in the death of fifteen people.

A group of the same name – Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice– also exists in the Gaza strip, forming part of the Hamas government.

In Israel, mutaween operating independently of the state. The Committee for Preserving the Purity of the Camp uses violence and intimidation to attempt to control public dress and behaviour, particularly in areas with large haredi populations. According to the above report, a haredi modesty squad is believed to be responsible for the  death of Avi Edri in 1990.

The Committee for Preserving the Purity of the Camp is overseen by Gerer rabbi Meir Sofronovitch. The Gerer establishment in Israel has courted controversy for protecting paedophiles and terrorising and racially abusing Christians (yelling insults at a black American pastor and the black child of a Jewish woman in Arad).

The Gerer-led modesty squad is also suspected of throwing acid in a 14-year old girl’s face and attacking a divorcee in Jerusalem. They have also attempted to enforce a ban on the internet upon observant Jews in Israel.

This week, a brawl broke out between police and the modesty squad, after police came to tend to a woman attacked by the “modesty patrol”. According to the Jerusalem Post, mutaween hurled stones at the police.

It must be noted that in Israel, there is no state support for mutaween. The modesty squads do not reflect Israeli law in any way. They instead seek to stifle the freedoms which Israelis have in a liberal democracy. This means that the state must actively police, monitor and investigate the modesty squads.

In August 2008, Israeli police arrested Benyamin Meirovich, suspected of being one of the modesty squad leaders. According to a modesty squad spokesman:

“The chastity squad members are doing the work the police should have done. Instead of thanking us for putting things in order, they are acting against us and trying to destroy the guard.”

Mutaween are a real threat to civilian populations around the world, and not just in Israel, or in Gaza and Saudi Arabia. In a democracy, if a group of people is confident in the strength of their own ideas and identity, they will not need to enforce these ideas through violence.