Tag Archives: misrepresenting

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Filed under arab, arabic, arabist, language

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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Filed under outrages

Where I Agree With President Ahmadinejad

I read Timothy Rutten’s column, Ahmadinejad’s Evil Words Aren’t Just Talk, today in the LA Times and was inspired to write to him. Below is his whole column, with my notes interspersed.

In the good old days, back before the advent of our still-president, adults didn’t use the word “evil” when they wanted to be taken seriously. I remember translating speeches by Saddam Hussein and snickering at his over-the-top rhetoric. Much to my dismay, in the last eight years it has gotten mainstream for people to sling around the word “evil.”

Weirdly, Tim Rutten also disparages rhetoric. Hmmm…

We Americans are accustomed to regarding political rhetoric much as Dr. Johnson did epitaphs. “They are not,” he wrote, “given under oath.”

In other words, we don’t expect public men or women to speak the truth from public platforms. When it comes to our own parochial affairs, there’s probably a bit of weary realism in that. However, this casual expectation of rhetorical hypocrisy has inhibited from the start our ability to recognize and deal with the threat posed by Islamist radicalism.

No need to name names, right? Each individual reading this column can decide for himself where to draw the line at which Muslim is an “Islamic radical” and which one is a normal person like you or me.

Time and again, the spokesmen for these movements have told the world precisely what they intend. Time and again, the scant handful of Americans who bothered to take notice have dismissed what was said as the product of political alienation, as the consequence of economic marginalization, as a hangover of post-colonial insecurity or as tactical bluster.

And there you have the straw man argument. Reminds me of when George W. Bush told us that the Americans opposed to the Iraq invasion thought that Iraqis were incapable of governing themselves.

What some of us do say is that Ahmadinejad is playing to his base, just exactly the way that American politicians play to their base. Remember Hillary Clinton saying, “we would be able to totally obliterate [Iran]”? She didn’t say that to win votes in Iran.

No. These people mean exactly what they say, and they mean it for precisely the reasons they say they do. They genuinely believe in the extreme and often heretical variants of Islam to which they cleave, that faith guides their actions, and their public statements are expressions of that faith.

Again with the unnamed them. And can a variant of Islam be both extreme and heretical? Doesn’t being heretical make it not-Islam? If we assume he is talking about Ahmadinejad, does that mean that Iran’s president is far out of the mainstream of Shi’a Islam?

As for faith guiding their actions, why is that bad when the faith is Islam but good when it’s Christian? George Bush has made no bones that he answers to “a higher father.”

Time and again, though, we willfully have blinded ourselves to this fact, partly because modern minds balk at accepting what is essentially medieval reasoning at face value, and partly because it’s the conveniently amicable thing do to.

That’s how I feel when Bush and Palin talk about taking their orders from God, but much of America seems to love it.

That, plus the simultaneity of a national election and Wall Street crisis, account in large part for the silence that greeted last week’s abominable speech by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the United Nations. In the course of a characteristically rambling diatribe, Ahmadinejad, one of the world’s great public anti-Semites, had this to say:

“The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a minuscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the U.S. in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premier nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.

“This means that the great people of America and various nations of Europe need to obey the demands and wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will.”

Timothy Rutten wants to play this as if Ahmadinejad is talking about the Illuminati, which would be ridiculous. Ahmadinejad is remarkably well-informed about America, though, since he knows about the many Christianist Zionist churches who are extremely, uncritically supportive of Israel, and who wield disproportionate influence in American politics. And I just learned a new term: dominionist.

From Wikipedia:

Dominionism describes, in several distinct ways, a tendency among some conservative politically-active Christians, especially in the United States of America, to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action — aiming either at a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.

Didn’t Obama and McCain feel the need to talk about their faith publicly at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church? Isn’t John McCain proud to have the endorsements of pastor John Hagee? Remember how in 2000 McCain called Jerry Falwell an agent of intolerance, and how in 2006 he went to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University* and schmoozed them? Ahmadinejad seems to be aware of McCain’s earlier endorsement by pastor Rod Parsley, which, to his credit, McCain later repudiated.

From Wikipedia:

Parsley has called upon Christians to wage a “war” against the “false religion” of Islam with the aim of destroying it. Parsley claims that Islam is an “anti-Christ religion” predicated on “deception.” The Muslim prophet Muhammad, he writes, “received revelations from demons and not from the true God.” And he emphasizes this point: “Allah was a demon spirit.”[4]

Parsley supported John Roberts’ nomination for the Supreme Court of the United States. [5] Parsley is also a regional director for the Christian Zionist group Christians United for Israel, founded by fellow televangelist John Hagee.[6]

I wish all our presidential candidates were as well informed about Iran as Ahmadinejad is about the US.

There’s a temptation to dismiss all this as simply “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” nonsense. But consider this other statement of Ahmadinejad’s, made in a TV address in 2006: “Zionists and their protectors are the most detested people in all of humanity, and the hatred is increasing every day. … The worse their crimes, the quicker they will fall.”

He said this in a TV address to whom? And clearly he’s talking about a small group of people, not the entire US and western world.

Or perhaps this, from 2005: “Israel must be wiped off the map. … The establishment of a Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world.”

Okay, I want to specify that I disagree with Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel of the map, but I believe he meant the state, not its people. Here’s a rebuttal from an Israeli cabinet minister:

”We must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map” Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit, AP, New York Times, 10th Feb 2008

Back to Mr Rutten:

By “world oppressor,” Ahmadinejad means the United States. He happens to belong to a Shiite sect that believes it can hasten the coming of the Mahdi, the Islamic savior, by the creation of chaos in the world. And like his brethren among the Sunni jihadists, he means what he says.

The parallels with Christians are scary. The American Christians who so strongly back Israel do so because they believe Israel has to exist in order for Armageddon to come about, and they fervently hope that it will be soon. I’m confident that there are more American Christians in the US hoping and praying for Armageddon than there are Iranian Muslims doing the same.

Read this Time magazine article. From it:

In a 2006 poll conducted by Pew Research Center, 35% of all Americans say that the creation of Israel is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy about Jesus’ second coming. And also that Armageddon is just around the corner.

Oh yeah, and also this, from the same article:

Other Jews, in Israel and in the U.S., are less comfortable in the embrace of the American Evangelicals. They cite a verse from Revelations claiming that Jesus will return only after two-thirds of the Jews are killed and the rest are converted to Christianity. “They are not supporting us out of love,” says one opponent, Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifshitz from the anti-missionary group Yad La’achim, “but because they believe that if we convert out of Judaism to Christianity, it will bring on the Apocalypse.” And that, he says, is “a danger to the people of Israel.”

One pastor in Jerusalem from a mainstream church expressed skepticism about the motives of the Christian Zionists — and of the cynicism of Israelis who play along. “It’s the worst kind of anti-Semitism,” says the cleric, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the issue. “At the end, these Evangelicals say that all the Jews will be dead except those who become Christians. But in the meantime, the Israelis are happy to fill their hotels with them and use their help to get American weapons.”

Back to Mr Rutten:

Mary Halbeck, one of the West’s foremost scholars of jihadism and its religious origins, describes Islamist extremists as “committed to the destruction of the entire secular world because they believe this is a necessary first step to create an Islamic utopia on Earth.” Their “view of the enemies of Islam means that their depiction in the Koran and hadith [commentaries on the Koran] is valid today in every detail. The Jews in particular have specific negative characteristics. … They are notorious for their betrayal and treachery; they have incurred God’s curse and wrath; they were changed into monkeys and pigs.”

Mary Halbeck–a quick Google search turns up just Timothy Rutten’s article, which is the first hit, and of the 1,330 other hits, none of the other nine on the first page are about a woman named Mary Halbeck.

Anyway, according to her, it’s just the Islamic extremists who hold those views. That makes sense. Logically, we would then strive to improve our relationships with those states that don’t hold those extreme views and at the same time do our best to persecute Islamic extremists such as al-Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden and the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

This is what the men who brought the hell of 9/11 to America believed. This is what Ahmadinejad believes and what he simply awaits the opportunity to act on.

It almost seems as if Rutten is conflating the Sunni organization, al-Qaeda, with the Shi’a government of Iran. Those two go together like oil and water. I don’t deny that it’s possible that they ultimately have the same ends, but “they want to take over the world” wasn’t believable when we were talking about Hitler, and it’s not believable now.

When the delegates to the U.N. General Assembly applauded Ahmadinejad’s speech last week, and the American media passed over it in silence, this is the sentiment to which they gave their respective explicit and tacit approval.

Shame on them; shame on us.

For a change, the media were concentrating on something important last week: the possible imminent collapse of our economy. It takes a certain kind of person to characterize that as sympathizing with al-Qaeda.

It makes me heartsick to see the way our government keeps treating the people of Iran, who have very much in common with us. Please see this Daily Show clip where Jon Stewart talks with Hooman Majd, the author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.”


*For more on Liberty University, this WaPo article from 2007:

Goodling is one of 150 graduates of Regent University who have served in this administration, as Regent’s Web site proudly proclaims. Pretty impressive for a 29-year-old school. The university says that “approximately one out of every six Regent alumni is employed in some form of government work.” And that’s precisely what its founder desired. The school’s motto is “Christian Leadership to Change the World.” Former attorney general John Ashcroft teaches at Regent, and graduates have obtained senior positions in the Bush administration. The express goal is not only to tear down the wall between church and state in America but also to enmesh the two.

Jeffrey A. Brauch, the law school’s dean, urges that students reflect upon “the critical role the Christian faith should play in our legal system.” Jason Eige (Class of ’99), senior assistant to Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, puts it pithily in the alumni newsletter: “Your Résumé Is God’s Instrument.”

This legal worldview meshed perfectly with that of Ashcroft — a devout Pentecostal who forbade use of the word “pride,” as well as the phrase “no higher calling than public service,” on documents bearing his signature. No surprise that, as he began transforming the Justice Department, the Goodlings looked good to him.

No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God’s work with the president’s. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, such as Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.

I also highly recommend reading Matt Taibbi’s account of his weeks undercover at pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone megachurch in Texas, Jesus Made me Puke. Blurb:

The whole idea behind Christian Zionism is to align America with the nation of Israel so as to “hurry God up” in his efforts to bring about Armageddon. As Hagee tells it, only after Israel is involved in a final showdown involving a satanic army (in most interpretations, a force of Arabs led by Russians) will Christ reappear. On that happy day, Hagee and his True Believers will be whisked up to Heaven by God, while the rest of us nonbelievers are left behind on Earth to suck eggs and generally suffer various tortures.

Update: A friend pointed out that McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement, and Hagee withdrew it, in May of 2008.


Filed under off-topic, religious conflict