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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