Monday, October 29, 2007

IMproPeR Translationing


Bottom/USian media

in an ultimate mode of reading, interpretations that do not conclude in committed practice partake of rejection of the truth. Commitment, Ambiguity, and Reading Scripture

The word, ‘ilm that is most commonly used to denote ‘knowledge’ in Arabic, Hill reminds us, included a wide range of fields as astronomy, mechanics, theology, philosophy, logic and metaphysics.

This practice of not differentiating between seemingly separate fields is best
understood in the context of the Islamic view of the interconnectedness of all things that exist and wherein the quest for knowledge is a contemplation on and discovery of this essential unity of things. It is this essential unity and coherence of all things in the world, referred to in Islamic philosophy as
tawhid, which makes it almost impossible to articulate and maintain the distinctions between the sciences and other areas of inquiry and experience. According to Avicenna, a significant philosopher-scientist and an important Islamic proponent of this view, "(T)here is a natural hierarchy of knowledge from the physics of matter to the metaphysics of cosmological speculation,
yet all knowledge terminates in the Divine. All phenomena are creations of
Allah, His theophanies, and nature is a vast unity to be studied by believers
as the visible sign of the Godhead. Nature is like an oasis in the bleak
solitude of the desert; the tiny blades of grass as well as the most
magnificent flowers bespeak of the gardener's loving hand. All nature is
such a garden, the cosmic garden of God. Its study is a sacred act." Nadarajan, Gunalan

Let's analyze what Ahmadinejad said. His exact words in Farsi were as follows: "Emam goft een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzegar mahv shavad."

The correct translation of the statement is as follows: "Imam said this occupying regime in Jerusalem must vanish from the page of times." Sam Sedaei


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess it's all in the topos you're predisposed to. Depending on your background, which would you perceive as more threatening? If you're theatrically inclined, being wiped - er, vanished - from the stage of time; or, if literarily inclined, from the page of time; or, if geopolitically inclined, from the map.

That the US flunky who did the translation chose a metaphor most suited to his particular inclination isn't really a distortion, it's just a spatial distraction from the gist of a statement in which a man expresses the wish that his enemy, an enemy whose rituals of solidarity invoke the phrase "never forget," be removed from the annals of time, whatever topos gives them form.

Somehow, that's not real comforting.


10/31/2007 10:35 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

You read the entire piece, I'm sure. The guy is not saying eliminate Israel. The other guy, the blogger, either. There's a mare's nest in having Bushites "translating" the subtleties of middle eastern speech for a national audience of infants plus a few newcons who already know everything the Iranians will ever say.

11/02/2007 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the entire piece, a couple times. I reread your blog post several times because it was so indirectly presented that I was not sure at the end if your intention was to present Sam Sedai as a fool or or as a judicious interpreter. Certainly his explanation that "disappear" can not indicate an external agency behind a disappearance predisposed me to believe the former, as I'm old enough to remember the importation of "the disappeared" into our lexicon.

I read AKMA's post and other associated postings. I read other things too.

The "mistranslation" did not originate with Bushites.

All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement, including a description of it on his Web site (, refer to wiping Israel away. 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.

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.

Ahmad Zeidabadi, a professor of political science in Tehran whose specialty is Iran-Israel relations, explained: "It seems that in the early days of the revolution the word 'map' was used because it appeared to be the best meaningful translation for what he said. The words 'sahneh roozgar' are metaphorical and do not refer to anything specific. Maybe it was interpreted as 'book of countries,' and the closest thing to that was a map. Since then, we have often heard 'Israel bayad az naghshe jographya mahv gardad' — Israel must be wiped off the geographical map. Hard-liners have used it in their speeches."

The final translation issue is Mr. Ahmadinejad's use of "occupying regime of Jerusalem" rather than "Israel."

To some analysts, this means he is calling for regime change, not war, and therefore it need not be regarded as a call for military action. Professor Cole, for example, says: "I am entirely aware that Ahmadinejad is hostile to Israel. The question is whether his intentions and capabilities would lead to a military attack, and whether therefore pre-emptive warfare is prescribed. I am saying no, and the boring philology is part of the reason for the no."

But to others, "occupying regime" signals more than opposition to a certain government; the phrase indicates the depth of the Iranian president's rejection of a Jewish state in the Middle East because he refuses even to utter the name Israel. He has said that the Palestinian issue "does not lend itself to a partial territorial solution" and has called Israel "a stain" on Islam that must be erased. By contrast, Mr. Ahmadinejad's predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, said that if the Palestinians accepted Israel's existence, Iran would go along.


11/03/2007 11:36 AM  

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