Tag Archives: misrepresentations in press

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

Homegrown or Home-Concocted?

This story has been bugging me since it first broke about a week ago. Not the facts, but the way it was hyped in the press. The first headline I saw included the words “jihad plot.” This kind of sensationalist coverage is something I’ve been frustrated by for years.

Huffington Post has an excellent post by Ahmed Rehad about this latest FBI arrest. Here are some highlights:

At first glance, media headlines gave the impression of a contiguous homegrown “Islamic” terrorist threat, a local outgrowth of the ominous global “Jihadi” network, secretly thriving in our midst but foiled by the FBI at the last minute. It had Islam written all over it, once again implicating American Muslims and spiking fears and suspicion that ours is a problem community, part of a foreign civilization ever at odds with the West, that wants to destroy the United States from within.

But as more facts have begun to emerge, it turns out that the suspects, one of whom is a crack addict and the other with a history of mental illness, once again, are troubled oddballs operating well outside the mainstream of the American Muslim community and its institutions, with no ties and no support from Mosques, Imams, community leaders, members at large, or even real terrorist threats like Al-Qaeda. Once again, however, it turns out that the radicalization “tipping factor”, if you will, was none other than a paid government agent-provocateur.

The suspects are petty career criminals with lengthy criminal records (one of them was arrested 27 times); most of their crimes were committed before they converted to Islam in jail.

Were they perhaps Christians at that time?

The suspects appear to be gullible and naive — hardly the breed of ruthless masterminds that the global terrorist networks like Al Qaeda tend to recruit and deploy. The New York Post called them “a bunch of terror dummies” while the AP describes them as “down-and-out ex-convicts living on the margins in a faded industrial city.”

The sister of another one of the men, James Cromitie, called him “the stupidest man on the planet.” The lawyer of a third man, Laguerre Payen, described his client as “intellectually challenged” stating that he had “a very low borderline IQ.” Indeed, Payen, who was on medication for schizophrenia, was deemed too insane to be deported after a previous assault conviction.

The suspects appear to have a weak — even perverse — understanding of Islam. Salahuddin Muhammad, the Imam of the mosque that one of the men visited, publicly challenged him on his incorrect understanding of Islam stating that the man had “a fundamental lack of knowledge of Islam.”

Media reports reveal that the informant is a man who has had his own troubles with the law and had been coaxed into working as an informant in order to avoid deportation. He would drive up in his expensive car to the Mosque and offer community members free dinners, cash, or jobs to try to lure them into his fictional Pakistani terrorist connections.

Mosque members seemed to suspect that he was a possible agent-provocateur and were creeped out by his aberrant ways and views. But why was he not reported? Imam Muhammad said he wondered whether he should have done anything differently once he had suspicions about the informant who went by “Maqsood.”

“How do you go to the government about the government?” he asked.

Exactly. What are you supposed to do in a situation like that? Who do you contact? Can you possibly think it’s going to go well for you?

But this debate is not so much about the Bronx four, their fates are for the courts to decide. It is, in the end, about understanding the nature of the real terrorist threat against us and raising responsible objections against self-deluding initiatives that seem to seek terror-case quotas by entrapping “intellectually challenged” outcasts and then deceptively marketing their isolated cases as evidence of an imminent and contiguous global threat with homegrown components.

The Times Online had a terrific headline: FBI ‘lured dimwits’ into terror plot.

Highlights:

“This whole operation was a foolish waste of time and money,” claimed Terence Kindlon, a defence lawyer who represented the last terror suspect to be tried in New York state. “It is almost as if the FBI cooked up the plot and found four idiots to install as defendants.”

“One question [about the synagogue case] that has to be answered is: did the informant go in and enlist people who were otherwise not considering trouble ?” said Kevin Luibrand, who represented a Muslim businessman caught up in another FBI sting three years ago. “Did the government induce someone to commit a crime?”

The other question that US security experts were debating was how much had been achieved by assigning more than 100 agents to a year-long investigation of three petty criminals and a mentally ill Haitian immigrant, none of whom had any connection with any known terrorist group. “They were all unsophisticated dimwits,” said Kindlon.

“Did they really need all those men in ninja suits with M16 rifles to arrest four idiots?” wondered Kindlon, a former marine sergeant whose main concern is that real terrorists may be plotting undisturbed while domestic US agencies focus on fantasists. “Somewhere, someone in Al-Qaeda must be laughing.”

Concern about the FBI’s tactics heightened after Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, imam at the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque in Newburgh, revealed that when Hussain first came to the mosque and started talking about jihad (holy war) – apparently to identify radical elements for his FBI handlers – several members immediately concluded that he must be a government agent.

The FBI is known to have infiltrated mosques, and many anti-terrorist experts believe a mosque is the last place a serious Islamic terrorist would plot an attack. “Anyone with any smarts knew to stay away from [Hussain],” said Muhammad. Yet nobody will accuse Cromitie and his cohorts of being smart.

Meanwhile, the white guy who manufactured ricin and took it to Vegas was assessed to be no threat, the white guy who was building a dirty bomb at home (who is admittedly dead now) was assessed as not a threat, and the white boys who planned to assassinate President Obama were laughed out of the newspapers.

Described by the authorities as neo-Nazis, Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman allegedly planned a deadly rampage through southern states, beheading 14 of their victims in a brutal homage to skinhead culture before ultimately gunning down the man who hopes to become America’s first black president.

I surely hope the FBI is as serious about infiltrating white groups as it groups of swarthy folks.

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Filed under domestic terrorism, Islamic relations

Why Doesn’t the Media Mention These Guys’ Religion?

Is there something about Christianity that leads fathers to rape their daughters?
Josef Fritzl
An unnamed Italian father and son, both of whom abused their daughters and the son abused his sister.
ColombianArcedio Alvarez
An unnamed United States citizen. They don’t give his name, and inexplicably, they don’t give his religion. It’s a safe bet, in that case, that he isn’t Muslim.

Arcedio Alvarez is said to have abused his daughter, now in her 30s, since she was nine years old.

ROME, Italy (CNN) — Police in Italy say they have arrested a grandfather and his son for allegedly sexually abusing the elder man’s daughter for more than a 25 years, in a case likened to Austria’s Josef Fritzl.

The 41-year-old son, identified by police only by the pseudonym Giovanni, was arrested February 16; his 64-year-old father was arrested March 16, Turin Police Inspector Iolanda Seri told CNN Saturday.

Both men were imprisoned, and were charged with sexual abuse of their daughter and sister, who is now 34 and has been identified by the pseudonym Laura. Both men have denied wrongdoing.

Giovanni is also charged with sexually abusing the eldest of his own four daughters, who are aged 21, 20, 11 and 6, Seri said.

The Fritzl case emerged in April 2008 when a 42-year-old woman, Elisabeth Fritzl (born 6 April 1966), stated to police in the town of Amstetten in Austria that she had been held captive for 24 years in a concealed part of the basement of the family home by her father, Josef Fritzl (born 9 April 1935), and that he had physically assaulted, sexually abused, and raped her numerous times during her imprisonment. The incestuous relationship forced upon her by her father had resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage.

Three of the children had been imprisoned along with their mother for the whole of their lives: daughter Kerstin, aged 19, and sons Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5. One child, named Michael, had died of respiratory problems three days after birth, deprived of all medical help; his body was incinerated by Josef Fritzl on his property.

A Missouri man has been arraigned on second-degree murder and other charges involving three children he allegedly fathered with his teenage daughter.

The bodies of two babies were found in coolers on the rural property where the family had lived. Authorities said the body of a third infant was found in Oklahoma.

Of course I’m not serious. The Christian culture these men grew up in and lived in is very unlikely to be the cause of their imprisoning their daughters, raping them repeatedly, and killing the offspring.

I just wish the western media would use the same common sense when reporting on crimes committed by Muslims.

Now that I think about it, there is that well-known biblical story of Lot. Let’s see, he retired to a secluded cave with his two virgin daughters, had sex with them, and they bore children for him. Maybe there is some truth to these cases of incest being inspired by Christianity.

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