Thursday, December 30, 2004

MEMRI Watch: The conventional Middle East academic wisdom is that MEMRI's translations are accurate but very selective. I beg to disagree. They are neither accurate nor reliable. First, as I have mentioned earlier, they really specialize in publishing the speeches and statements of pro-Bin Laden and pro-Bush kooks in the region. And those two trends are quite unrepresentative of the general Arab public opinion which largely stands firmly opposed to both. But that is what MEMRI wants to show to its audience: that "we" have the reliable pro-Bush people who can stand up to the other camp (the pro-Bin Laden people). Neither of the two camps has a chance in the Arab world (fortunately). But what is rarely mentioned is that their translations are NOT accurate or precise. Sometimes I notice that they see an old Arabic word or a famous line of poetry, and they guess the meaning, or confuse a proverb with a line of poetry, or vice versa. MEMRI's translators are often confused...and dazed. One time there was a famous line of poetry by Al-Mutanabbi and the MEMRI translator did not recognize it, and misterpreted the whole thing. I do not have the time to spend time on this, but just yesterday I saw that MEMRI produced a summary of Bin Ladin's latest speech on Iraq. Having listened to most of it, and read the full text of the speech, I just wanted to see their translation. From one quick glance, I noticed this. When Bin Laden referred to Saddam's Arab nationalist ideolgoy as "al-qawmiyyah an-natinah" MEMRI translated that as "odious nationalism." Now natinah is obviously a reference to something that stinks, often dead meat or rotten meat. And Arabs said in classical times natana al-lahmu (the meat has gotten stinky). And sometimes MEMRI is not reliable: when Bin Laden said As-Salibbiyyah al-mutasahyinah al-muta`attisha-d-dima', MEMRI translated that as: "bloodthirsty Zionist Crusade" while it should have been "bloodthirsty Zionistic Crusadism." These are quick examples.