Saturday, October 26, 2013

The (unintentional) comedy journalism of Robert Fisk

"As'ad AbuKhalil, who blogs as the Angry Arab, regularly makes fun of these faux-Arabic concoctions. On another occasion, Fisk misquoted a famous Baathist slogan:

"Not for nothing do Syrians shout Um al Arabiya Wahida ('mother of one Arab nation')."
The correct phrase is Ummah Arabiyya Wahida ("One Arab Nation") and Fisk had made the elementary mistake of confusing umm (mother) with ummah (nation/community/people). Apparently unaware of this error, he repeated it in the first paragraph of another column a few months later:
"For Syria – the 'Um al-Arabia wahida', the Mother of One Arab People, as the Baathists would have it – is a tough creature ..."
Of course, it's easy to make mistakes when battling against a tight deadline but when writing his books Fisk might be expected to have a bit more time for fact-checking. Here's Oliver Miles, a former British diplomat, reviewing Fisk's 2005 tome, The Great War for Civilisation, in the Guardian:
"The book contains a deplorable number of mistakes. Some are amusing: my favourite is when King Hussein's stallion unexpectedly 'reared up on her [sic] hind legs'. Christ was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Napoleon's army did not burn Moscow, the Russians did. French: meurt means dies, not blooms. Russian: goodbye is do svidanya, not dos vidanya. Farsi: laleh means tulip, not rose. Arabic: catastrophe is nakba not nakhba (which means elite), and many more.
"Other mistakes undermine the reader's confidence. Muhammad's nephew Ali was murdered in the 7th century, not the 8th century. Baghdad was never an Ummayad city. The Hashemites are not a Gulf tribe but a Hijaz tribe, as far as you can get from the Gulf and still be in Arabia. The US forward base for the Kuwait war, Dhahran, is not 'scarcely 400 miles' from Medina and the Muslim holy places, it is about 700 miles. Britain during the Palestine mandate did not support a Jewish state. The 1939 white paper on Palestine did not 'abandon Balfour's promise' (and he was not 'Lord Balfour' when he made it). The Iraq revolution of 1958 was not Baathist. Britain did not pour military hardware into Saddam's Iraq for 15 years, or call for an uprising against Saddam in 1991. These last two 'mistakes' occasion lengthy Philippics against British policy; others may deserve them, we donot."" (thanks Michele)