Be Mine, Valentine! Iraq’s Approach to February 14

Valentine’s Day is a holiday that can actually promote EPIC’s efforts in Iraq. That’s right, the day those of us living in singletown love to hate is actually being used to empower the youth in Iraq. How, you ask? Well…

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

I don’t watch a lot of television, and when I do its typically PBS or similar programming. But I do have one show that’s a guilty pleasure: The Bachelor. This season, one of the competing women was Selma, an immigrant from Baghdad.  As with all of the other bachelorettes she was young and gorgeous. However, unlike the others, she didn’t kiss the bachelor on their dates. Explaining herself to both him and the audience, she said that in Iraq young couples are rarely seen together before marriage, so to be dating on national television was already upsetting her parents. To kiss someone in front of such a large audience would be an absolute travesty.

Selma was booted from the program last week (ironically, only minutes after finally breaking down, apologizing to her mother, and kissing him). After the episode ended I turned the tv off and drove to Target. Upon entering the store my eyes had to adjust to the sudden barrage of pink, frills, and cheap boxes of chocolate set up for Valentine’s Day. With the drama from the show still in my head, I began to think about the holiday in Iraq, wondering whether or not it was celebrated, and if so, how.

It turns out that young people in Iraq have embraced Valentine’s Day!  This week storefronts from Baghdad to Erbil can be found covered in teddy bears, candles, flowers, and many other items that we in the west have come to associate with February 14. As one Iraqi woman told the Associated Press, “It’s for you and I, for me and my brother, even for someone on the street. It’s not just about me and my fiancé. Iraqis need happy moments to make them forget what they have been through – we have had enough sadness.”

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press

However, not everyone in the country approves of the holiday. Older, more conservative Muslims believe that the celebrations are “an encouragement of perceived Western decadence and premarital sex,” according to the AP. Celebrating Valentine’s Day has even been made illegal in several other Middle Eastern countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Despite the rumblings of older generations, it appears that Selma the bachelorette is representative of some young Iraqis who are going against the older generations’ wishes by having more public relationships, especially on February 14. iErbil, a magazine focusing on the Iraqi Kurdistan city, has an entire page on their English-language website devoted to Valentine’s Day, including “the best chocolate in town” and a list of restaurants in which you can have a romantic meal with “your lover.”

I have never liked this holiday, even in the years when I wasn’t single, as it always seemed so obviously corporate. But after learning that my counterparts in Iraq are using this hallmark holiday as a way to empower their own lives, I hold a newfound respect for the day. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

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Laura Lundahl

Laura Lundahl

Laura has her B.A. in International Studies and Political Science, with a focus on European politics and affairs. She is currently an intern with the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, and hopes to someday obtain her Master's Degree in either transatlantic relations or global health.

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Ayhan
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Loved this!!!

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