Bintel Blog reader James Holstun objects to an earlier post of mine in which I quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as having called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Holstun writes:
I know that this is a widespread accusation — it’s on THE WEB, after all, so it must be true! But people who speak Farsi note that this is a tendentious mistranslation of Ahmadinejad’s comments, and I haven’t seen any refutation… See http://democracyrising.us/content/view/736/164/. In the era of pre-emptive attacks, it is appropriate to exercise a little caution in one’s accusations, unless one’s aim is precisely to heat things up and prepare the way for a pre-emptive attack based on a non-existent threat. Ahmadinejad is a Jew-hating scumbag, but that’s not an adequate reason to reduce Tehran to a heap of glowing rubble.
There has, indeed, been a great deal of debate over how to translate Ahmadinejad’s now-infamous remark. University of Michigan historian Juan Cole and others have argued that “wiped off the map” is a mistranslation — a mistranslation, moreover, that is being used to beat the drums of war against Iran. “I smell the whiff of war propaganda,” Cole warned The New York Times.
But if it is a mistranslation, it is one that is not the exclusive province of those who are concerned about the Iranian regime’s intentions and nuclear ambitions. In fact, as the Times’s Ethan Bronner noted, “All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement, including a description of it on his Web site (www.president.ir/eng/), refer to wiping Israel away.” (Bronner’s thorough analysis of the debate over Ahmadinejad’s words can be read in full here.)
In any case, the most likely alternative translation would seem to be that Ahmadinejad actually called for Israel to be “wiped from the pages of time,” which is hardly more comforting.
This whole debate, though, begs the question: Are there more benign interpretations of popular Iranian regime-endorsed chants like “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”?
And while we’re on the topic of insanely belligerent statements, it’s worth mentioning an oft-overlooked (and even more disturbing) one from former Iranian president and present-day powerbroker Hashemi Rafsanjani, widely regarded as a more moderate alternative to Ahmadinejad. At a December 2001 “Jerusalem Day” rally, Rafsanjani said:
If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.
But why worry?
UPDATE: The latest from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s lips: “God willing, in the near future we will witness the destruction of the corrupt occupier regime” — by which he means, of course, Israel.