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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lost in Translation? (part 2)

It's turning into quite a little conspiracy theory, the notion that Middle Eastern Islamists are being traduced by translators.

Harry's Place brings us an argument about a remark by Ken Livingstone's mate Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Did he say, as per MEMRI's translation, 'The Jews throughout the world - despite their well-known stinginess, miserliness, and selfishness, and despite their worship of gold...' or did he merely say 'despite what is said about their stinginess, miserliness, selfishness and worship of gold...'?

I have as little Arabic as the HP crew, unfortunately. I do know that MEMRI, with its mission to wash the Middle East's dirty laundry where westerners can see it, is cordially loathed by western Islamists and their fellow travellers. So the desire of 'Islamophobia Watch' to discredit it is predictable. I'm also enough of a linguist to know that translation is not an exact science (if it was, computer translations wouldn't be so side-splittingly awful). Where language A forces a clear distinction, language B may allow ambiguity. I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case here. Maybe something like 'their reputation for stinginess etc.' would come close - leaving it open whether the reputation is deserved or undeserved.

What seems clear is that if Qaradawi had intended to be unambiguously understood as saying 'people say Jews are stingy, miserly, selfish gold-worshippers, but of course we all know that that's just an ignorant, offensive racist stereotype', it would have completely destroyed the point of his rhetorical comparison between tight-fisted Jews who nevertheless cough up for Israel and generous Muslims who don't do enough for the 'sacred cause' of the Palestinians. It's also fairly clear that Qaradawi is canny enough to ensure that when he tells a Middle Eastern audience what it wants to hear he doesn't quite commit himself to anything that his friends in the west won't be able to explain away.

3 comments:

Neal said...

Cyrus,

You write: It's also fairly clear that Qaradawi is canny enough to ensure that when he tells a Middle Eastern audience what it wants to hear he doesn't quite commit himself to anything that his friends in the west won't be able to explain away.

Even when people like Qaradawi speak without equivocation - and, I suspect, this is actually one of those times -, their friends in the West provide potent apologia by which such words are taken not to mean quite what they mean. So, it does not much matter what Qaradawi says, other than for the historical record and for those interested in honest analysis. In the politics of some in the West, people like Qaradawi say what their backers say is said without regard to what is actually said.

Which is to say, there is no great mystery about the views of Qaradawi. The real goal is to understand why many in the West refuse the meaning by means of deception. And that is a topic for a major book.

Cyrus said...

I'm not sure it really needs a book length answer, Neal. People in the West 'refuse the meaning' because they want to believe that Middle Eastern 'anti-Zionism' is a progressive anti-imperialist movement and not a reactionary, racist one.

We saw another example of Qaradawi's game when he suggested the 'lurking Zionist enemy' was behind the Samarra mosque bombing (see http://christianaidwatch.blogspot.com/2006/03/qaradawi-zionists-behind-mosque.html). Pure Protocols stuff, but by using the 'Z' word instead of the 'J' word he helps his western friends stay unembarrassed.

Neal said...

Cyrus,

You write: People in the West 'refuse the meaning' because they want to believe that Middle Eastern 'anti-Zionism' is a progressive anti-imperialist movement and not a reactionary, racist one.

I agree entirely with the quoted point. I just do not quite understand how that came to be. And, I note that such is not quite that way in the US, which is where I live. To a class of university professor, such is the case. But the equation has not taken hold among opinion makers or politicians, etc., etc.

I recall that the USSR was once pro-Israeli only to turn quickly toward the Arabs. The Soviets then spewed a lot of propaganda which, at the time, did not seem to have much resonance other than among hard core supporters of the USSR. It is only later that such position took root.

In this regard, Bat Ye'or's thesis on the matter is interesting, namely, that such was the result of design by those who wanted the EU to be a rival to the US. Such people, under the guise of creating a political dialogue with the Arab nations, agreed to create to foster, for the immigrants, a view of the Arab Islamic regions that showed such civilization in an apologistic light. And that included adjusting how universities taught and what newspapers printed. (I note this last point with the recent EU idea of outlawing speech that criticizes religion which, I trust, is really only code-word for not mentioning Islam with reference to anything unkind, such as terrorism and Jihad. It should be interesting to see how thoroughly they succeed in eliminating reference to Jihad ever being anything other than a ritual bath.)

The professorship, supposed leftist but, in fact, merely anti-West, may see money in siding with the Arabs. Such is noted by a Maronite professor, Walid Phares, who notes that 90% of money for US Middle East Studies Programs comes from the Saudis. He considers the matter to be akin to the position adopted by researchers who receive money for research from big tobacco, big oil, etc., etc. Which is to say, those who take such money find ways to say only nice things about the source of the money and tend to take the side, whatever they really believe, of their benefactors in regard to any dispute involving the source of the money. I cannot say whether the same applies in Europe but, to me, such seems rather likely.

I note that Bruce Bawer notes that the press in Europe is not free the way it is in the US. Which is to say, opinion is manipulated far more by governments to advance the government's political goals than in the US. And, part of that goal is to advance the Arab cause which is seen as important to European nations.

I still think that a definitive book needs to be written on the topic at hand. Of course, what you assert is true but it is not the cause, only a symptom. At least that is my view.