Mistranslating Ahmadinejad: to the Australian

Posted on August 29, 2006

[I posted this article to the Australian. As a post script, it is not a myth that Ahmadinejad leads a conservative style government with fairly dubious democratic practices. Nonetheless, I think the letter is justified in its condemnation of media misinformation.]

To the Editor (of the Australian):

I am writing to address an issue which underlies many headlines in current days. That is the perceived threat of Iran, specifically to Israel. I myself was perplexed by the reported statement of Ahmadinejad “Israel should be wiped off the map”, especially in conjunction with suspicions that Iran aims at developing nuclear weapons.

However independent translations of Ahmadinejad’s speech in question have just come to my attention. It seems that a lack of proper investigation, media copycatting and sensationalism have led to this widespread misconception. While Bush has said “the threat from Iran of course is its stated goal of wiping Israel off the map”, an independent translation reveals that Ahmadinejad was referring to a statement made by a previous Iranian leader about Saddam’s regime in Iraq. Nothing like the term “wipe off the map” was used. In fact the implication of the speech was that regime change was desired for Israel, not harm to its people as implied by the media in general.

Another instance of popular mistranslation regards the “new wave of attacks” from Palestine towards Israel. An independent translation has this as “I have no doubt that the new movement taking place in our dear Palestine is a spiritual movement which is spanning the entire Islamic world and which will soon remove this stain of disgrace from the Islamic world”. What happened is that firstly “movement” was translated as “wave” and then “[of attacks]” was inserted to imply vicious meaning to an otherwise ambiguous statement. This has now become the Iranian foreign policy we are familiar with. The stain of disgrace is implied by media to be “Israel” itself, but in fact Ahmadinejad’s speech is not clear on this, though he appears to be referring to political division amongst Muslims.

Similar tampering has misconstrued Ahmadinejad as a holocaust denier. In fact he has only implied that the holocaust has become ‘mythic’ in the way it is used to stoke Israeli nationalism and aggression. “Mythic” and “fairytale” might be close literal translations of one word but the implications are vastly different, especially considering today’s delicate Middle Eastern relations. In current context, part of the justification for Hezbollah’s “terrorist” status comes from the fact that it is supplied weaponry by Iran. With talk of preemptive strikes against Iran abound, the sensationalist media ought to be more responsible.