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X Rated by Saudi Vice Commission

One of my all-time favourite films is the 1969 political thriller Z, set in a fictitious Mediterranean country loosely based on the Colonels’ Greece. The film famously ends with a narrator listing the various things banned by the repressive regime:

…Concurrently, the military banned long hair on males; mini-skirts; Sophocles; Tolstoy; Euripedes; smashing glasses after drinking toasts; labor strikes; Aristophanes; Ionesco; Sartre; Albee; Pinter; freedom of the press; sociology; Beckett; Dostoyevsky; modern music; popular music; the new mathematics; and the letter “Z”, which in ancient Greek means “He is alive!”

And now, nearly forty years on, the New York Sun gives us the headline

Will Saudis Ban the Letter ‘X’?

The story describes Amru Mohammad Faisal, a Saudi businessman who wanted to trademark a service with the name “Explorer”, and who consequently came up against the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice:

…experts who examined the English word “explorer” were struck by how suspicious that “X” appeared. In a kingdom where Friday preachers routinely refer to Christians as pigs and infidel crusaders, even a twisted cross ranks as an abomination.

So after waiting a year, the Saudi businessman, Amru Mohammad Faisal, got his answer: No. But, like so many other Saudi businessmen who suffer from the travesties of the commission, he seemed more baffled than angry. He wrote letters to Saudi newspapers to criticize the cockamamie logic. An article he wrote appeared with his photograph on some Arabian Web sites. It sarcastically invited the commission to expand its edict to the “plus” sign in mathematics and accounting, in order “to prevent filthy Christian conspiracies from infiltrating our thoughts, our beliefs, and our feelings.”

However, Faisal’s article was published in November 2003 (as noted by blog The Marshian Chronicles), so the Sun report should perhaps really have been headlined ” Hack finds old report on Internet”.

Meanwhile, Austrian newspaper Die Presse mentions the case of two (unnamed) Muslim mothers who do indeed supposedly object to the “+” sign:

In Oberösterreich protestierten die Mütter zweier moslemischer Taferlklassler: Ihre Kinder würden auf keinen Fall mit dem Pluszeichen addieren, denn dies sei das Christenkreuz!!!!

This kind of thing is also easy to find in Israel; the New York Times reported in 2004:

For the ultra-Orthodox, [Catholic patriarch spokesman Wadie] Abunassar said, “Jesus is not just a bad Jew, but almost Satan’s messenger. They avoid writing his name. Some won’t wear neckties, to avoid making a cross around their neck, or use shoelaces. In math, instead of the plus sign, a cross, they use an upside-down T.”

The late Israeli dissident Israel Shahak claimed that this was more widespread:

Until the early 1970s two different sets of arithmetic books were used in Israel. One for the secular schools, employing an inverted “T” sign. In the early ’70s the religious fanatics “converted” the (Labor) Party to the great danger of the cross in arithmetic, and from that time, in all Hebrew elementary schools (and now many high schools as well) the international plus sign has been forbidden.

An Israel-based commentator on one discussion board defends the practice:

…This wasn’t hatred Christians or Christianity. It was the fact that some parents in the public religious schools felt their children should not be writing a religious symbol (the cross is a religious symbol) of another faith. If the international sign for minus was a pentagram, it would be the same deal. That’s not hatred, it’s taking precaution against using symbology of another faith. So you know what they did ? They lopped off the bottom part of the + sign so it looks like an upside-down T. No hatred, just respect for ones own religion and the concern of some religious families about using religious symbols of another faith.

So where does this leave the Church of the Subgenius and its famous “X-Day” events?

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

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