“It’s a joke name, sir”

With his all-seeing eye, Glenn Reynolds has directed readers to an intriguing story out of Pakistan and/or Saudi Arabia:

A high-ranking Pakistani diplomat reportedly cannot be appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia because in Arabic his name translates into a phrase more appropriate for a porn star, referring to the size of male genitals, Foreign Policy reported.
The Arabic translation of Akbar Zeb to “biggest d**k” has overwhelmed Saudi officials who have refused to allow his post there.

In place of any straightforward cue to the story, Glenn substituted a quote from a very funny scene in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” (the scene is below). Glenn linked to the Fox News story with a quote from the scene that leads to its funniest bit: “Biggus Dickus happens to be a personal friend of mind. He comes from one of the noblest families in Wome. He has a wife, you know. Her name is . . . .”

I appreciate Glenn’s recalling the scene; he prompted me to revisit it. Part of the humor in the scene derives from combining funny pseudoRoman names with Pilate’s prohibition against laughing at them. The struggle to suppress laughter in the face of the absurd names would be difficult enough. The addition of Pilate’s speech impediment to the mix makes it impossible. It is a stroke of genius. The Python crew turns us all into helpless centurions (or “centuwions”) who are unable not to laugh. Fortunately, unlike them, we are not at risk of being sent to “gladiator school” as punishment.
Which raises the question of Akbar Zeb: What, precisely, is the problem? Surely Mr. Zeb would be welcome as Pakistan’s ambassador to France, or Great Britain, or the United States, or Israel, for that matter, if only Pakistan would recognize Israel.
What’s the problem with dispatching Mr, Zeb to Saudi Arabia? Like Pilate, Saudi Arabia appears to have a problem with possible jokes about Mr. Zeb’s name. Could the problem be that among the rules of joking in Islam is the one laid down by Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azeez: “Fear joking, for it is folly and generates grudges.” Muhammad himself is quoted as having issued the edict: “Do not laugh too much, for laughing too much deadens the heart.” We see where Mr. Zeb might present a problem in Arabic-speaking countries.
Indeed, it is not just Saudi Arabia that has refused to welcome Mr. Zeb. As the news story notes, David Kenner reports on the Foreign Policy site that, according to the article in the Arab Times that is the source of the story, “Pakistan had previously floated Zeb’s name as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, only to have him rejected for the same reason.”
Kenner can’t help himself. He adds his own interpretive twist to the story: “One can only assume that submitting Zeb’s name to a number of Arabic-speaking countries is some unique form of punishment designed by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry — or the result of a particularly egregious cockup.”

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