Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Ahmadinejad--So Misunderstood

After doubts were cast on the story about Iran wanting to reinstitute colored badges for non-Muslims, there were those who claimed the whole story was a Right Wing fabrication--this in spite of Iran's history of using such badges in the past.

Now some are saying that Ahmadinejad never actually said he wants to destroy Israel, according to an article in The New York Times.

Apparently there are three translation issues:
  • The phrase "wipe off"
  • The word "map"
  • The phrase "occupying regime of Jerusalem" instead "Israel."
On the phrase "wipe off" one expert quoted in the article says the phrase does not even exist:
"Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map because no such idiom exists in Persian," remarked Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan and critic of American policy who has argued that the Iranian president was misquoted. "He did say he hoped its regime, i.e., a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse." Since Iran has not "attacked another country aggressively for over a century," he said in an e-mail exchange, "I smell the whiff of war propaganda."
On the other hand, it may be that Iran really does mean "wipe out" if for no other reason than the fact that Iran seems very intent on saying exactly that:
But translators in Tehran who work for the president's office and the foreign ministry disagree with them. All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement, including a description of it on his Web site (www.president.ir/eng/), refer to wiping Israel away. Sohrab Mahdavi, one of Iran's most prominent translators, and Siamak Namazi, managing director of a Tehran consulting firm, who is bilingual, both say "wipe off" or "wipe away" is more accurate than "vanish" because the Persian verb is active and transitive.
It could be that Mr. Cole is mistaken, but Christopher Hitchens has a post on Juan Cole, When it comes to Iran, he distorts, you decide, that is somewhat less charitable.

As far as the word map goes, according to Ahmad Zeidabadi, a professor of political science in Tehran whose specialty is Iran-Israel relations, there is an issue of interpretation, and the closest word for the phrase--which literally means "pages of time or history"-- was map, which was the translation used during the time of the Iranian Revolution.
Since then, we have often heard 'Israel bayad az naghshe jographya mahv gardad' — Israel must be wiped off the geographical map. Hard-liners have used it in their speeches."
Apparently there is something less agressive about wanting to wipe Israel "off the pages of history" than "off the map."

The last phrase, occupying regime of Jerusalem, is supposed to be just a call for a change in regime, not an all-out call for war. On the other hand, others argue that the use of the phrase--as opposed to using the word Israel--shows the depth of his hatred and non-acceptance of Israel.

How using the phrase "occupying regime of Jerusalem" is supposed to temper the meaning of "wipe off the map" is unclear.

So, does Iran really want to see Israel destroyed. The NYT article seems almost ready to go out on a limb:
When combined with Iran's longstanding support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah of Lebanon, two groups that have killed numerous Israelis, and Mr. Ahmadinejad's refusal to acknowledge the Holocaust, it is hard to argue that, from Israel's point of view, Mr. Ahmadinejad poses no threat.
But in the end, after an investigation of Clintonian proportions into the phrase"wipe Israel off the map", in the interests of even-handedness, the article finishes with the closer:
So did Iran's president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so. Did that amount to a call for war? That remains an open question.
The article ends up stacking the deck about Ahmadinejad's statement, starting off with the question "was it a threat of war"--which it obviously was--but at the end changing the question to whether Ahmadinejad's statement amounts to a "call for war."

The New York Times in action.

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westbankmama said...

Come on Daled, you just don't see the "nuances" in his choice of words...

Jack Steiner said...

Good post.