Ahmedinejad misquoted

Comment is free: Lost in translation

Jonathan Steele on how the president of Iran’s notorious “wipe off the map” speech did not in fact contain the offending words at all:

The New York Times’s Ethan Bronner and Nazila Fathi, one of the paper’s Tehran staff, make a more serious case. They consulted several sources in Tehran. “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,” Bronner writes.

The New York Times goes on: “The second translation issue concerns the word ‘map’. Khomeini’s words were abstract: ‘Sahneh roozgar.’ Sahneh means scene or stage, and roozgar means time. The phrase was widely interpreted as ‘map’, and for years, no one objected. In October, when Mr Ahmadinejad quoted Khomeini, he actually misquoted him, saying not ‘Sahneh roozgar’ but ‘Safheh roozgar’, meaning pages of time or history. No one noticed the change, and news agencies used the word ‘map’ again.”

Steele notes that even MEMRI, which “is headed by a former Isareli military intelligence officer and has sometimes been attacked for alleged distortion of Farsi and Arabic quotations for the benefit of Israeli foreign policy”, also accepted that the real speech referred to time rather than place.

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  • UmmZaynab

    Interesting how much translations are manipulated. Just last night we were watching Frontline on Public Television here about the Iraqi insurgency. They translated a statement read by a particular insurgent as saying “expel the infidels” but my husband was listening closely to the actual Arabic and he said that they did not say “infidels” or anything close to it, rather he said “occupying forces”. Anyone who knows Arabic knows that there is a BIG difference between the two.

  • Thersites

    I don’t see that Israel being wiped off the pages of history is any better than Israel vanishing from the map. In fact, “wipe off” suggests that something is goiung to do the wiping, whereas vanishing is a natural historic process.

  • H

    Whether or not it’s “wipe”, “vanish”, “destroy”, “erase” or whatever, nothing changes the fact that Israel also has done it’s fair share of “wiping”, namely the palestinian homeland.

  • Yo - buck up. Israel may/may not have done “its share” of whatever but the ends do not justify the means. Tit-for-tat ain’t gonna cut it and shouldn’t cut it for Muslims. We’re gonna have to do some real soul searching and be willing to say, “enough’s enough. we ain’t gonna roll like that any more”. my $0.02.

    p.s. - i got the .htaccess joint figured out!! now i have better permalinks الحمد لله

  • IRNA translated Ahmadinejad’s statement

    The idea has gained currency lately that Ahmadinejad did not really call for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Two of the better Muslim blogs have posts based on a Jonathan Steele article to that effect. In this connection it is interesting to note t…

  • anonymous

    Whether it’s “wipe off” or “wipe away”, either are are simultaneously required. Israel a new country created in the Palestinian territories needs to be removed from there. The people there should get together and elect one leader, not tolerate the Israeli apatheid regime. Yes, that state needs to be wiped out, wiped off, wiped away, or whatever other wipes.

    For those whose imagination may have been captured by American-Israeli style of wiping, I am not advocating any type of blood shed here (although you can’t always rule that out), but rather a one state solution where a majority elected government is put in place (most likely originating from the Palestinians) and all the citizens of Al-Quds are given equal rights.

    The filthy state of Israel cannot make this happen. Their ideology is too racist/tribal.

  • ummabdulla

    Assalaamu alaikum,

    I have no knowledge of the Persian language, but Juan Cole has discussed this. See http://www.juancole.com/2006/06/steele-on-ahmadinejad-of-arenas-of.html and http://www.juancole.com/2006/05/another-fraud-on-iran-no-legislation.html , where he writes:

    “…This affair is similar to the attribution to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of the statement that ‘Israel must be wiped off the map.’ No such idiom exists in Persian, and Ahmadinejad actually just quoted an old speech of Khomeini in which he said ‘The occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time…’”