Wiping away the facts

David Aaronovitch in The Times today on complacency and the dangers of dismissing zealots. He’s talking about Holocaust denier President Ahmadinejad (among other things).

He takes The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele to task who last week said that all the reporting of Ahmadinejad’s “wiped off the map” speech was pure mistranslation. Phew.

“The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that ‘this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,’ just as the shah’s regime in Iran had vanished.

“He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The ‘page of time’ phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon,” Steele wrote.

So that’s okay then except…well it’s not. The fact is that Ahmadinejad did say equivalent words and the translation is easy to track down.

According to the Herald Tribune translators in Tehran working for the president’s office and the Foreign Ministry disagree with Steele and others. All official translations of Ahmadinejad’s statement, including a description of it on his website,, refer to wiping Israel away.

“Sohrab Mahdavi, one of the most prominent Iranian translators, and Siamak Namazi, managing director of a Tehran consulting firm, who is bilingual, both say “wipe off” or “wipe away” is more accurate than “vanish” because the Persian verb is active and transitive.

“The second translation issue concerns the word “map.” Khomeini’s words were abstract: “Sahneh roozgar.” Sahneh means scene or stage, and roozgar means time. The phrase was widely interpreted as “map,” and for years, no one objected,” the paper reports.

Even if this wasn’t the case (if there was some mistranslation) equivocating about interpretation is unimportant. You only have to look, Aaronovitch rightly says, at the body of work that Ahmadinejad has already given us to realise that Iranian president isn’t some crackerjack nut to be lightly dismissed or worse: ignored out of hand.

“The problem with Steele’s analysis is that the official Iranian translations of President A’s words refer to ‘wiping Israel away’ (a distinction here between ‘away’ and ‘off the map’ seems unimportant). Ahmadinejad has also said that Israel is a ‘stain’ that must be erased, that Israel is a ‘rotten tree’ that would be destroyed by a coming ‘storm’ and suggested that ‘Germany and Austria can provide the . . . (Zionist) regime with two or three provinces… and the issue will be resolved’. Finally.

“The Iranian President has famously described the Holocaust as a ‘myth’ peddled by Zionists, has cracked down on dissidents, bloggers, improperly dressed women, feminists, satellite TV and student activists. In April it was reported that a group calling itself the Committee for the Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Campaign was openly recruiting in Tehran for jihadis who would fight in Palestine, struggle against British and American forces, or just kill Salman Rushdie. “

wardytron adds:

Aaronovitch’s article wasn’t strictly limited to what Brendan in the comments calls “condemning Iran every week from now until Christmas or the invasion/attack: whichever comes first”, which as you all know is a project of ours here at Harry’s Place; he also – David Aaronovitch, I mean, not Brendan – mentions the wife of “radical” cleric Abdullah al-Faisal, who in 2003 told him that the Jews controlled the media, and that Rupert Murdoch was also a Jew and the son of Robert Maxwell, who was seven when Murdoch was born.

One of Faisal’s followers was London bomber Mohammad Siddique Khan, among whose casualties in the Edgware Road bomb was John Tulloch, who has written a book about his experience. According to Aaronovitch:

The book ends with a “letter” to Siddique Khan. Khan, Tulloch suggests, is analytically right in that, “much of your brothers’ blood has been spilled by and in the West over many years”. But tactically very wrong. “I don’t need you to tell me,” he says indignantly, “. . . that what you call my Government (which, by the way, I didn’t vote for) has been complicit in atrocities against your people and others in different parts of the world.”

Unlike John Tulloch, another 7/7 survivor, Holly Finch, did vote for the Labour Party. On this thread by her on the Guardian’s Comment Is Free site someone quotes Siddique Khan defending the bombings on the grounds that “I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters”. His “brothers and sisters” that died that day included Shahera Islam, Gamze Gunoral, Slimane Ihab, Anthony Fatayi-Williams and Ateeque Sharifi. Sharifi had fled from Taliban-run Afghanistan, where too much blood had been spilled by the likes of Osama bin Laden, described by Khan as one of “those whom I love like the prophets”.

I can’t for the life of me understand how killing Muslims in London somehow avenges or protects Muslims anywhere else, but it’s not much easier to understand when John Tulloch says “Far more than feeling angry with the bombers or angry about what has happened to me, I feel angry with the political leaders”.