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Wednesday, May 03, 2006


"Wiping Israel off the map"

Last October, The New York Times printed a translation of a transcript of a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, translated by Nazila Fathi in their Tehran bureau. I wrote this at the time:
The Iranian Foreign Ministry responded to the U.N. statement by saying that "Iran is loyal to its commitments based on the U.N. charter and it has never used or threatened to use force against any country," and indeed, a reading of Ahmadinejad's statement suggests quite clearly that the "wiped off the map" is to be taken literally (i.e., that the political boundaries of the region should be redrawn), and not figurately as meaning "wiped off the face of the earth." He explicitly denies that he is talking about "A fight between Judaism and other religions," and explicitly describes the endpoint of the struggle in the Middle East by saying: "It will be over the day a Palestinian government, which belongs to the Palestinian people, comes to power; the day that all refugees return to their homes; a democratic government elected by the people comes to power." There is no talk of "driving the Jews into the sea" or "waging war against Israel" or anything remotely along those lines, merely the expression of support for the goal of a democratic Palestinian state. And for that, he is condemned by the U.N., while real aggressor states like the U.S. and U.K. (not to mention Israel) are among those who do the condemning.
Now along comes Juan Cole to say that my analysis was correct, but also, the translation itself was incorrect!
The actual quote, which comes from an old speech of Khomeini, does not imply military action, or killing anyone at all. The second reason is that it is just an inexact translation. The phrase is almost metaphysical. He quoted Khomeini that "the occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time." It is in fact probably a reference to some phrase in a medieval Persian poem. It is not about tanks.

The phrase he then used as I read it is "The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad)."

Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope -- that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah's government.

Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that "Israel must be wiped off the map" with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.
P.S. - I make no claim of knowing whether Juan Cole's or The New York Times' translation of Ahmadinejad's speech is more accurate, my knowledge of Persian being precisely nil. As I wrote last October, I actually don't think it makes any difference to what was meant. But I thought I'd provide this here for its information value.

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