Last month, a four-year-old boy in Saudi Arabia made news by shooting his father to death with the man’s pistol. Reading the news online, one must have felt the father was thoughtless to put a loaded gun on the table and start changing his shirt while his young son was around. In fact, the question should have been: what exactly was the father doing with a gun to get to shopping in a so-called peaceful country when his child was accompanying him?
Whatever the story, the thoughtlessness of the father cost him his life. Yet, this was less of a news than what we got lately from the fundamentalist regime: the state has banned both the English language and Gregorian Calendar for all official or business purposes. This, according to the country’s Interior Ministry, was a measure taken to preserve Arabic language and the Islamic (or Hijri) Calendar. Now that is something one can have a good laugh at and, at the same time, quote as an example of how desperate the Saudi regime feels in stopping the influence of the west.
The reason why the Saudi move against English and the calendar used worldwide is so irrational relates the fact that the Saudi government has started exemplifying hypocrisy and arbitrariness very obtrusively. It’s fair enough to respect one’s language, particularly for the reason that one’s holy book was written in it. But fearing English will somehow damage the legacy of Arabic or the Hijra Calendar will be trashed due to the more standardized western one unleashes a swarm of questions, the most curious of which is: will Saudi Arabia also ban the west’s fancy cars that rich Saudis make a big consumer market? After all, the first Muslims, considered saints, didn’t drive cars; they used camels for transportation and trade.
While the fundamentalist Saudis do have a knack for going to extremes of unreason, the hopeful news is that papers may have it wrong. As a blog called Crossroads Arabia explains, the ban on English for official purposes may just be a misinterpretation, while that on Gregorian Calendar makes sense since the Hijri Calender is the kingdom’s official calendar. The blogger was not sure about the alleged ban on English language while answering phone calls and queries, saying it was possible because most people in Saudi Arabia speak English.
This scribe wonders why the Saudi regime has a problem with English or the Gregorian Calendar at all? In many countries, a phone call to an official government or private agency is answered in both English and the country’s national language such that the caller can opt to choose his/her language of the call by pressing a certain number. This makes sure both local and non-local callers get service without any problem. And surely a calendar printed in both Gregorian as well as Hijri dates won’t cause anyone dysentery or induce an allergic reaction. Hopefully, the Saudi and like-minded authorities will consider banning the “either/or” mode of thinking about issues. Just my two cents!