“‘When I use a word’, said Humpty Dumpty, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean…'”

I have never heard of Marie Dhumières but her recent piece contains boilerplate CiF tropes about the root cause of the West’s conflict with radical Islam, and I suspect we’ll be hearing more from her.

We are informed by Ms. Dhumières that her column was inspired by her curiosity regarding the English translations used in film about the Israeli attacks on Gaza in Cast Lead.

The film Ms. Dhumières refers to is called “To Shoot an Elephant,” and was produced by what was clearly a journalistic dream team – which consisted of members of the Free Gaza Movement and “activists” from the International Solidarity Movement.

Dhumières reflects: “I couldn’t help thinking that, when translated literally into English, [certain] expressions [heard in the film make Arabs sound] like fundamentalists – in the eyes of those who have a tendency to jump to quick conclusions…”

Such suggestions, that the West is too quick to jump to conclusions based on an inadequate understanding of the cultural context, or poor translation,  brought to mind this report from Harry’s Place, about abuse hurled at Danny Ayalon, the then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister, by a Muslim student at Oxford University.

According to the Muslim student, Mr Ayalon misconstrued what he meant. Although Mr Ayalon heard “Itbah al Yahud” (slaughter the Jews) shouted at him in Arabic, in fact he got it all wrong.   No, what was actually shouted, according to Noor Rashid, who shouted it, was “Khaybar ya Yahud” (so beloved of the sing-along sailors of the Mavi Marmara) which was meant to remind Mr. Ayalon of the massacre of the Jews of Khaybar by Mohammed in the seventh century.

However, those readers who are tempted to say, “Well, that’s all right then” should pause for thought, and read the following excerpt from the Harry’s Place article :

“Whether the word was “Khaybar” or “Itbah”, the meaning was essentially the same. Except the “Khaybar” version brings in Mohammed to endorse the killing and enslavement of Jews by Muslims.

In other words, Noor Rashid has admitted to shouting something even worse than “Kill the Jews”.

Mr Rashid said: “My version went: ‘Khaybar, O Jews, we will win’. This is in classical, Koranic Arabic and I doubt that apart from picking up on the word ‘Jew’, that even the Arabic speakers in the room would have understood the phrase. As you can see, I made no reference to killing Jews. It carries absolutely no derogatory or secondary meanings.”

Indeed. The message it carries is not derogatory. It is worse than that. “Khaybar ya Yahood” is a religiously backed threat to repeat a slaughter of Jews.”

This is another illustration was of what Alan A of Harry’s Place calls the classical Koranic Arabic defence,” by which some radicals purposely spew vitriol in Arabic (and not English) precisely because they assume general ignorance of the language.

The Western media’s willingness to fall for such deceptions can be illustrated by the reaction to Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar ‘s interview with Arabic language Lebanese TV channel Future News, on 15 June 2010.

In the interview Al-Zahar describes his vision of long-term conflict with the Israeli “enemy” and he says, “Our ultimate plan is Palestine in its entirety.”

The Economist reported as follows on 16 July 2010 in the course of a story about Gaza:

“Mr Masha’al [the Damascus-based leader of Hamas] has reiterated many times in the past few years that he accepts two states either side of the boundary drawn before the Israel-Arab war of 1967.”

However, This is what al-Zahar really said, in Arabic, on 15 June 2010:

“We have liberated Gaza, but have we recognised Israel? Have we given up our lands occupied in 1948?  We demand the liberation of the West Bank, and the establishment of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as its capital – but without…recognising the Israeli enemy on a single inch of land….

“Our ultimate plan [however] is Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political [or rhetorical] tactics.  We will not recognise the Israeli enemy…”

The synopsis on the website of the film which inspired Ms. Dhumières CiF essay, commenting on the team of filmmakers in Gaza, summed up their “documentary” reporting standards thusly:

“Were they journalists? Were they activists? Who cares! They became witnesses. Being a journalist or being whatsoever depends on how you feel.”

Such ethos are indicative of a dangerous blurring of the distinction between professionalism and political advocacy – one which seems to have inspired many journalistic careers.

Because, really, how best to interpret “kill the Jews” really just depends on “how you feel.”

(Title from Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll)

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