Tag Archives: MEMRI

All the News That’s Fit to Cherry-Pick

The other day I updated my blogroll and added a link to an article written by Brian Whitaker in The Guardian in 2002, Selective MEMRI. It’s in my blogroll under ‘About MEMRI.’ I thought the article was very informative and would answer the typical questions about MEMRI’s accuracy and agenda.

Yesterday I found another old article, also in The Guardian, that consists of an email debate between the same Brian Whitaker and Yigal Carmon, MEMRI’s president in 2003. It’s pretty interesting.

These are just excerpts.

Yigal:

How does Memri select items for translation? We aim to reflect main trends of thought and when possible general public opinion. We feature the most topical issues on the Middle Eastern or international agenda.

When controversial matters are aired before such a large audience, Memri does not need to fight shy of translating their contents.

Are the examples chosen extreme? While some of the topics covered do seem extreme to the western reader, they are an accurate representation of what appears in the Arab and Farsi media.

Does Memri ignore the Israeli media? Memri was founded in l998 and for the first three years we translated items from the Israel media. However, almost half of Israel’s media is now available in English (the main daily Ha’aretz; Jerusalem Post; Globes; Jerusalem Report; as well as many broadcast and private media outlets), so we have cut down our output.

Brian:

Taking up your point about the Hebrew media, there’s an excellent service in Jerusalem called Israel News Today. It provides summaries of the Hebrew-language newspapers and radio bulletins, and translates articles, too.

If Memri did the same sort of thing in relation to the Arab media, I would have no quarrel. The Guardian and other papers might even pay for the service so that you wouldn’t have to rely on your anonymous benefactors for funding.

My problem with Memri is that it poses as a research institute when it’s basically a propaganda operation. As with all propaganda, that involves a certain amount of dishonesty and deception. The items you translate are chosen largely to suit your political agenda. They are unrepresentative and give an unfair picture of the Arab media as a whole.

This might not be so bad if you told us what your agenda is. But Memri’s website does not mention you or your work for Israeli intelligence. Nor does it mention Memri’s co-founder, Meyrav Wurmser, and her extreme brand of Zionism which maintains that Israeli leftists are a “threat” to their own country. Also, you’re not averse to a bit of cheating to make Arabs look more anti-semitic than they are.

In your Special Dispatch 151, for instance, you translated an interview given by the mufti of Jerusalem to al-Ahram al-Arabi, shortly after the start of the Palestinian uprising.

One question the interviewer asked was: “How do you deal with the Jews who are besieging al-Aqsa and are scattered around it?” Memri translated this as: “How do you feel about the Jews?” – which is a different question. That left you with a reply in Arabic which didn’t fit your newly-concocted question. So you cut out the first part of the mufti’s reply and combined what was left with part of his answer to another question.

Yigal:

I am disappointed to see that your reply continues to question points I have already addressed and that you descend into insulting accusations such as “cheating, deception, dishonest, unfair, concocted”. You offer no justifications for your quite serious attacks.

2) You are right: we do have an agenda. As an institute of research, we want Memri to present translations to people who wish to be informed on the ideas circulating in the Middle East. We aim to reflect reality. If knowledge of this reality should benefit one side or another, then so be it.

3) On checking Special Dispatch 151 (November 2000) we have to admit an error in translation. The question should indeed have read “How do you deal with the Jews?” rather than “How do you feel about the Jews?” As for the claim that we have “cobbled together” one answer from two questions to make “Arabs look more anti-semitic than they are”, the fact is that the following question referred to the same subject. As we have translated several hundred items since then, it is perhaps reassuring that you had to go back so far to find a mistake. I understand that the Guardian is occasionally subject to errors, so perhaps you will be understanding of this one.

Brian:

I have no wish to sound uncivil, but Memri has placed itself in a glasshouse by claiming to represent the views of the Arabic media to the English-speaking world. Given your political background, it’s legitimate to ask whether Memri is a trustworthy vehicle for such an undertaking. The evidence suggests it is not. You now concede an error of translation in the interview with the mufti, but ignore the more serious charge of dishonest editing. Indeed, you persist in misrepresenting the original Arabic question, in which the mufti was asked how he dealt with the Jews besieging the mosque.

Your translator turned this into a question asking how he felt about the Jews (ie in general). Your “corrected” version, once again, fails to recognise that in the Arabic text it was not a general question. It was about a specific group of Jews who were behaving in a hostile manner.

Having misrepresented the original question, you then had to misrepresent the mufti’s answer. There is no excuse for this sort of textual manipulation, and I can only surmise it was done for political reasons – to make his remarks look more anti-semitic than they actually were.

And so on. I recommend it.

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Filed under arab, arabic, arabist, language

An Alarming Video! ZOMG!!!1!

Two different people sent me a link to the same video recently, breathlessly titled, “An Alarming Video Every Westerner Should See.” In one case the video was posted on an obnoxious right-wing site and in the other case on a Christianist site. The video itself is a product of MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, which cherry picks the most outlandish media coming out of the Arab world, edits it for effect, translates it mostly accurately, and hopes it will frighten American voters. Although you’d think that since Israel is part of the Middle East, MEMRI would sometimes translate and disseminate rantings of delusion Israeli figures, it doesn’t. Just Arab ones.

Mantiq al-Tayr, though, is there to pick up the slack and point a finger at Israeli whackaloonery. See this post on his blog about Israeli politician and anti-Christite (needless to say anti-Arab and -Muslim) Obadiah Shofer.

Mr. Shoher does not think that Jews should just engage in suicide attacks. Rather, he believes they should be much more on the offensive. Among the tactics he endorses is the murder of POWs. He acknowledges that Israel has killed “a lot” of Arab POW’s and he approves.

The MEMRI clip is just under nine minutes long. It starts out in the middle of a press conference, with a guy wearing Arab garb talking casually and matter-of-factly about how four pounds of anthrax could kill 330,000 Americans in an hour. I have no idea if this is true, but true or not, it’s certainly not the same as saying, “I demand that someone kill 330,000 Americans with anthrax!” But the title has already alerted me that EVERY WESTERNER SHOULD SEE this, so I’m already primed to tremble with fear at the sight of a bearded Arab guy standing in front of a backdrop with terrifying Arabic writing on it.

(Also, it’s just 22 seconds into the MEMRI clip at this point and I’ve already found terms I would have translated differently.)

Wait a minute, he just smiled while talking and gesticulating about anthrax, and then he said, “What a horrifying idea.” Isn’t he supposed to be scaring us? That’s not scary. But then he says if someone did that, that person would cry out with joy. Well, yes, I suppose he would, because if he did such a thing, he must have done it on purpose.

Then he goes into a digression about how al-Qaeda isn’t backwoods yokels living in caves, but has laboratories and produces weapons, as Hezbollah does. The MEMRI edits out something.

After MEMRI’s edit, the speaker says the so-called terrorists are the best people. He gets a round of applause. You’re familiar with the saying, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” He name drops Mulla Omar, who he says is a spiritual guy. Then he makes fun of politicians. Then MEMRI edits out something.

Then he says there are more than 300,000 white militia members in the US who wish to attack Washington. Again, I don’t know if his numbers are right, but domestic terrorism is certainly serious and we ought to pay some attention to it. Huh, for some reason MEMRI edits something out again.

Now he’s saying that the white militia racists want to bomb a nuclear facility in the US. This is alarming! Let’s round up those white militia guys before they can harm us! Ah, but then he jokingly wishes those guys well, and the audience laughs. The nerve! No American would ever make a joke about bombing any place where Arabs live. Then he makes another similar joke, and this time he even has a nasal, smirky laugh almost identical to ex-president Bush’s. The audience laughs again, but this time it sounds more like a courtesy laugh.

Then he says that God says in the Qur’an that hostility between “us” and “them” (MEMRI inserts ‘the Jews’ so you know it’s all about them) is eternal. I don’t doubt the guy’s knowledge of the Qur’an, because I’m confident he’s studied it a lot more than I have, but I couldn’t find such a passage and neither did the guy I go to with all my Qur’anic questions. Then he says something about cutting out tongues, and that definitely isn’t in the Qur’an.

Then he admits that he is a takfiri, meaning he’s an extremist who holds with accusing other Muslims of unbelief. He’s like that guy at church who thinks that everyone who goes to a different church is a bad Christian. Also, most of the people going to his own church. Also, his minister. And his wife, probably, too. Anyway, then MEMRI edits something out again.

Then he says we should support the resistance, the brave resistance to this campaign. But what resistance, what campaign? MEMRI has edited out all of that part. More on that later.

He says “we” should pressure journalists to present the facts correctly. Pressure them with phone calls saying we’ll take measures. I guess given that this guy’s eyebrows are somewhat similar to those of that guy Jafar in the Disney Aladdin movie, his eyebrows lend a certain scariness to this innocuous words. “I shall write a sternly-worded letter, and if you don’t capitulate, I shall write again.”

Then he urges the audience to pressure Arab journalists not to speak against the resistance, and they should pressure these journalists by any means necessary.

And then for some reason, the video ends right after he says that Hamas’s leaders are mujahidin, i.e. Muslims who are fighting the good fight. Where we would call someone a crusader for justice (or better cafeteria lunches, whatever), Muslims call the same person a mujahid.

So what questions are we left with? 1- Who is this guy? and 2- what opposition and what campaign?

MEMRI didn’t translate the backdrop for you. It says “Dr. Abdallah al-Nafisi’s Lecture ‘The Arab Before and After Gaza’,” and the date of the lecture was February 2nd, 2009. I know this because the whole, unedited lecture is also online. It’s an hour and sixteen minutes long! And it’s about the brutal, monstrous attack Israel waged on Gaza right before President Obama took the helm, while the younger Bush was still occupying the oval office.

Mr. Nafisi starts out much more solemn than he was later on, in the clip MEMRI made. He’s saying that America has something to do with Israel. Although most Americans don’t know it, the rest of the world does know that America makes it possible for Israel to get away with the destruction and killing that it does. He’s claiming that the west isn’t actually impartial. Heck.

Huh, he points out that the west usually deals with the east by waging war on it and divvying it up amongst themselves. Huh.

Anyway, to skip away from the content of his long lecture, he is Dr. Abdallah Fahd Abd-al-Aziz al-Nafisi. There’s no English-language Wikipedia page on him, but the Arabic-language one says he’s an intellectual and political analyst. So he is neither a politician nor a religious leader. He has no constituency nor congregation. I must confess this really makes me wonder why that right-wing site, that Christianist site, and MEMRI thought every westerner should see that clip.

Wikipedia says he’s a well-known writer who specializes in the struggle and dialogue between Islam and the west. This, even though in this speech he says there is no point in dialogue. People are paradoxical.

Also, he has a doctorate from Churchill College, University of Cambridge and was also a visiting professor at Harvard.

He has 761 fans on Facebook, his own web page (currently down), and is on LinkedIn. (Muntazar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who is serving a year in jail for slinging his shoes at Bush, has 47,897 fans)

At right around minute 30, Dr al-Nafisi says “China is America’s nightmare,” and in a scary voice. MEMRI must be slipping, leaving that out.

Oh hey, this is the part right before the MEMRI clip started. Okay, what he was doing just now was talking about America’s three main fears. Number one was China, and keeping China from becoming a military powerhouse by letting it become an economic powerhouse. Number two is weapons of mass destruction. And this is where the MEMRI clip starts.

In other words, MEMRI took his statement out of context and implied that he meant it in a way completely different from how he meant it. Big surprise.

And that edit before he talked about the white militias? That’s when he said that the United States’s third great fear is domestic terrorism. And then he starts with his examples.

The next of MEMRI’s edits is where al-Nafisi explains that Israel attacked Gaza when it did as a means of grandstanding for its election shortly afterward. He talks about Netanyahu and Livni and what they were willing to do for Israeli votes. He talks about the 2006 war with Hizballah. You know all this stuff. That’s probably why MEMRI edited it out. *rolleyes*

He mentions how both Bush and Obama turned away from doing anything about Israel’s offensive on Gaza.

Now I know al-Nafisi is confused, because he thinks Yehoshafat Harkabi wrote The Arab Mind, when it was really Raphael Patai. al-Nafisi talks a bit about the way Arabs were portrayed in that book, a favorite of neoconservatives who read. al-Nafisi thinks the peace process the US has pursued is a ploy to lull the Arabs into complacency, following Harkabi/Patai’s advice.

So the part MEMRI didn’t include, which precedes the part about eternal hostility with the Jews, is about how the Arab Muslim countries would do well to unite, because there is strength in unity. So what he says about “there is no dialogue,” is referring to what he perceives as the phoney peace dialogue on the part of the west.

And in the end, it finally becomes clear that the opposition he mentioned is “the Islamic opposition,” presumably opposition to normalization of relations with Israel.

My verdict: not an alarming video.

However, here’s a page where Arab liberals denounced al-Nafisi for what he said in this speech.

I’m not sure I exhausted this topic, although I have now exhausted myself. I may have to come back to it later. Have a good one.
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Update: I just took a second look at the web page where Arab liberals denounce al-Nafisi, and it’s also full of misrepresentations of his speech!

Examples:

…which urged the killing of more than 300,000 Americans in an anthrax [attack] and called the 9/11 attacks just ’small change.’

Not what happened. Not what he said.

He made a motion with his hand as though he were holding a razor or a knife, alluding to slaughter!

No he didn’t. I watched the whole damn thing. Never happened.

Here is their ‘Dr.,’ publicly and without fear delivering threats about killing Americans

He never made a threat. Didn’t happen.

Rather, he travels throughout the Arab world giving speeches unabashedly encouraging terrorism, slaughter, and suicide [attacks].

Perhaps, but he wasn’t doing any of that in this speech.

Is dispersing deadly anthrax powder in Washington, as ‘bBin Laden’ Al-Nafisi called for…

He certainly did not.

Anyhow, there’s some good criticism there, despite the inaccuracies. He’s in some ways nearly as offensive as a Limbaugh, and people like that can be toxic. It’s encouraging that al-Nafisi only has 761 fans on Facebook.

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Filed under arab, arabic, domestic terrorism, Islamic relations