Wipe Israel off the Map? Or Lost in Translation?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been criticised for a lot of things – being too conservative, interpreting the law in all sorts of manners and refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. The last is an argument for another day, but let’s start from that basic idea. Whether you recognise the right of a country to exist or not is really a matter of personal opinion, and we don’t punish people for being anti-country X and pro-country Y. Why should we, it’s the 21st century.

The rules are different for a politician. Taking the purest definition of democracy, our politicians are a perfect representation of our views, hopes, cultures, customs, demography and economics. So it’s ever so slightly out of line for a politician to abuse his right as the global representative of his country to go out there and say that Israel should be wiped off the map. Even someone whom the Western world seems to have largely discounted as a credible and reliable politician. You just don’t say things like that, and you most certainly don’t say them when you’re representing a whole nation of people who don’t necessarily agree with you.

This is a YouTube video of the international repercussions of Ahmadinejad’s statement to allegedly “wipe Israel off the map.” I posted this video on Facebook recently and it got lots of comments from my coursemates. I’m posting it here to see what else we can generate from this discussion. The next post will have the debate that followed.

The text right next to the video has been posted below. It provides a literal translation of what was said and shows clearly that there was no mention of eliminating Israel whatsoever.

Farsi: “Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.”

Translation: “The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time”.

Word by word: Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).

Words not used
: Israel, wiped off, wipe out, map, world, Earth, face.

The western phrase, ‘wiped off’ or ‘wiped out’, were not used in the quote, nor was the “state” of Israel. ‘Nagsheh’, the word for map was not there either.”

The huge wave of hate that followed after this statement really is staggering – yes he’s less than what we’d hoped for as a leader of Iran. No, he can’t be controlled or bought. That might be acceptable in another time and place though, not present-day Iran. Let’s also recognise that independence of thought is to be admired, but not when it’s from a country’s leader. And especially not when this leader steps on his peoples’ rights and at the end of the day, only worsens the global image of the Middle East.

Here’s the article the New York Times carried about a year ago on this particular speech. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/04/world/middleeast/04iran.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1&ei=5094&en=0af40a2d3d8b56c2&hp&ex=1149393600&partner=homepage

The University of Michigan’s professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History, Juan Cole has stated that the translation adopted by the media was wrong – what was actually said was that the concept of Zionism should be removed, rather than the state of Israel. And in this day and age, I think we can all agree that fundamental religious beliefs really shouldn’t enter political or daily life – we’re in the wars we’re in because of a difference of ideology rooted in an incompatibility of religious faith.

Jonathan Steele of The Guardian writes that we shouldn’t be so quick to jump on Iran’s back simply because we disagree with its leader – there are other problems to be dealt with first: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/jun/02/comment.usa

So at the end of the day, what should we take away from this? 1. Don’t be so quick to judge and condemn and 2. Hire proper translators

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