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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mistranslating for war

You'd think by now we'd understand by now that our government creates enemies, frequently out of whole cloth. Conveniently for the government, these enemies-to-be generally speak in foreign languages: Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Korean. This makes it relatively simple for the government, with the aid of the lap-dog press, to cherry-pick from the target's speeches to find phrases to be taken out of context and mistranslated in order to make said target seem, of course, to be "worse than Hitler." With very few Americans able to understand the original, the public quickly accepts the misrepresentation as it is repeated countless times by TV and radio pundits, and in articles, opinion pieces and cartoons in the newspapers. Castro, Noriega, Khadafi, Saddam, and now Ahmadinejad--they do it again and again, and the ignorant American public falls for it again and again.

A few days ago, I quoted Juan Cole's translation of the supposed statement by Ahmadinejad that has gotten the most attention--that he allegedly threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." Cole's translation makes it clear that first off Ahmadinejad refers only to the regime in Israel, and that it is expressed more as a hope than a threat. In other words, instead of "Israel should be wiped off the map," Ahmadinejad said basically "We should hope and have faith that one day the government in Israel which is oppressing the Palestinians will fall."

Information Clearing House supports this interpretation, using several translations of Ahmadinejad's speech from last October (which is where the mis-translations originated). I've already given you the gist in terms of the "wipe off the map" BS, but they've got lots of additional detail if you have the time to read the whole article. Beyond that, they examine the other supposed statement by Ahmadinejad frequently used to characterize him as a nutcase--that the Holocaust never happened. Here is how the Iranian press agency translated one of Ahmadinejad's statements concerning the Holocaust:
If the Europeans are telling the truth in their claim that they have killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the World War II--which seems they are right in their claim because they insist on it and arrest and imprison those who oppose it, why the Palestinian nation should pay for the crime. Why have they come to the very heart of the Islamic world and are committing crimes against the dear Palestine using their bombs, rockets, missiles and sanctions. [...] If you have committed the crimes so give a piece of your land somewhere in Europe or America and Canada or Alaska to them to set up their own state there.
This translation seems to be in general agreement with what Ahmadinejad said in his letter to Bush. While perhaps not saying that he believes every detail of the official Holocaust story, he is simply stipulating it as true in order to make an argument.

I'll be curious to read what Juan Cole has to say about this. While he has been actively attacking the mistranslation about "wiping Israel off the map," Cole seems to have accepted the "Holocaust denial" report completely. (He said yesterday that "Ahmadinejad's hostility to Israel and his Holocaust denial and bigotry are beneath contempt.") I have posted a comment on his blog, hoping for an explanation. (I trust him more than I do ICH, but I wonder if he has examined the Holocaust statements in the same detail as he has those about "wiping Israel off the map.")