Saudis May Ban the Letter ‘X’

Youssef Ibrahim reports that Saudi Arabia is seriously considering a ban on the letter “X” because it too closely resembles the Christian cross.

The new development came with the issuing of another mind-bending fatwa, or religious edict, by the infamous Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — the group of senior Islamic clergy that reigns supreme on all legal, civil, and governance matters in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The commission’s damning of the letter “X” came in response to a Ministry of Trade query about whether it should grant trademark protection to a Saudi businessman for a new service carrying the English name “Explorer.”

“No! Nein! Nyet!” was the commission’s categorical answer.


Well, never mind that none of the so-called scholars manning the upper ranks of the religious outfit can speak or read a word of English. But their 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.”

John Burgess is dismayed but not particularly surprised, noting that these are the same clowns who ordered the”Swiss Embassy relocated from its position at the front of the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh because they did not want to see the Swiss flag—a white cross on a red field—as the first thing one saw upon entering that enclave.” Then again,

This getting oneself worked up over symbols is, alas, not unique to the mutawwa’in. We have our own variation in the US, as demonstrated by various commentators and even Congressmen who took exception to another Congressman’s taking the oath of office on a Quran. All the idiots read too much into the symbols, seeing them as just the first step on some slippery slope, down which lies subjugation to “the other”.

As the comedian George Carlin once quipped, “symbols are for the symbol-minded.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    I call bullshit.

    Thinly sourced; oddly prospective (“WILL Saudi Arabia . . . “); padded out with colorful history immaterial to the nominal factual matter of the story; from our old, fanciful friends at the New York Sun.

    This is another faked-up bit of agitprop a la the “Iranian badges” hoax, and you, James, have fallen for it. All that’s lacking is a Benador Associates contract for Mr. Ibrahim. I suspect that is pending.

  2. It would seem to me the lower case t would be of greater concern than the X, unless they are specifically looking to stop the St. Andrew cross.

  3. John Burgess says:

    And for a sexually repressed society, there should be great concern over ‘V’ and ‘1’, particularly in serif fonts!

    Alas, the story did receive coverage in Saudi papers, including letter by the businessman.

  4. Rodney Dill says:

    Let’s ban “C” ’cause is looks like a crescent moon.

  5. Kent G. Budge says:

    I think y’all are not taking this seriously enough. The unpleasantness in Europe ca. 1939 was brought on by an authoritarian regime that had a deep appreciation of the psychological power of symbols and a masterful grasp of their use.

    In other words, Carlin is an idiot.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Jim: I was a bit skeptical, too, given that the New York Sun ain’t exactly the Times. John Burgess, hardly a Jihad Watch type, had picked up on the story, too, and seems to think it legit.

  7. Jim Henley says:

    I don’t know John Burgess, and I’m sure he’s a fine fellow if you like his work, but he’s going by the same NYSun piece you are. (And seems to have picked it up from “a Jihad Watch type.”)

  8. carpeicthus says:

    Kent: You’re calling Carlin an idiot even though you’re agreeing with him. Carlin would argue that there are few forces more powerful than human stupidity, which gives symbols a great deal of power.

  9. The symbol or symbolism is not realy the issue.
    The real issue, I see, is whether or not the fatwa is real.
    The concept of whether or not our American symbol – Old Glory – should be allowed to be desecrated or not remains, but and it’s a big butt. If an American desecrates the flag, they are not stoned to death or hung, or decap’d.

    The primary issue i look at is the absolute nature of the fatwa. The ‘Do it my way or Die you pig” mentality is why I support the WOT, and why the issue of the CONgress person taking his ‘oath’ on a koran was so important.

    Islam is by definition opposed to the freedoms we enjoy in this country. fatwa that

  10. Cynthia says:

    I think it is important to note that a good number of Arabs find this as silly as we do. A fact that sometimes gets lost in the reporting. They may live in repressive societies, but they aren’t stupid.

  11. John Burgess says:

    Jim Henley: I am indeed a fine fellow!

    The story is not just circular reporting, though it’s not quite as it was published in The Sun.

    You can find a version of the story from 2002 in the Saudi daily Arab News, in an op-ed written by Amr Al-Faisal, a grandson of King Faisal.

  12. Kent G. Budge says:

    Carlin would argue that there are few forces more powerful than human stupidity, which gives symbols a great deal of power.

    That’s hardly clear from the quote. Perhaps one more familiar with Carlin’s ouvre could reach this conclusion; but I haven’t closely followed Carlin, because what little I’ve seen of Carlin has made him seem not worth my time.

  13. Homer says:

    B.S. or no, the underlying issue isn’t the cross, but XXX. You can’t really cone out and say porn is a rampaging problem in Saudi. Helps to censor the Internet, really.