Posted tagged ‘Iran’

Effective passive resistance to dictatorship: Spain and Iran

26 June 2009

In Spain, after 1939, when their Basque ethnic identity was viciously repressed by dictator Francisco Franco, following the disastrous Spanish Civil War, Basque patriots had the presence of mind to offer passive resistance by cultivating geraniums on the balconies of their houses and flats. The red and green of the plants (plus an imaginary white) were an easily identifiable silent symbol of the Basque ‘national’ colours. Decades later, after the death of the dictator in 1975, their ethnic ambitions were rewarded with a comforting semi-autonomy. (The lengthy and murderous rebellion of the ETA terrorist organisation was the result of activism by a tiny unsupported minority.) Spanish Catalans (in the broad Barcelona region) were similarly rewarded for their passive resistance to similar ethnic humiliations and repression – by keeping their proscribed Catalan language alive in the home. For more than three decades, Catalans have thrived in a semi-autonomous and very productive region of Spain.

Many decades later, the free world now welcomes an equivalent, though more risky, expression of defiance to dictatorship and tyranny: the spontaneous response of the people of Iran to the recent disputed elections. The following report from TheTimes of London describes the current precarious – and volatile – situation: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6572101.ece

June 25, 2009
‘Wailing of wolves’ in Iran as cries of Allahu akbar ring from roofs
Martin Fletcher
At about 9pm each day Nushin, a young housewife, performs the same curious ritual. She climbs up the stairs to the roof of her Tehran home and begins shouting into the night. Allahu akbar,” she cries, and sometimes “Death to the dictator”.
She is not alone. Across the darkened city, from rooftops and through open windows, thousands of others do the same to form one great chorus of protest — a collective wail of anger against a reviled regime that no amount of riot police and Basiji militia can stop. “It sounds like the wailing of wolves,” said one Tehrani.
And each night, as the street demonstrations are crushed with overwhelming force and the regime cracks down on all other forms of dissent, it grows steadily louder and more insistent, not just in Tehran but in other densely populated cities of the Islamic Republic.
“It’s the way we reassure ourselves that we are still here and we are still together,” says Nushin, a woman who has never dared to rebel before.
“This is what people did before the revolution and I hope it warns the regime about what could happen if it doesn’t change its way.
“And because I’m a religious person the sound resonating in the neighbourhood makes me feel better. Even my little daughter joins me, and I can see how she feels that she is part of something bigger. It is our unique way of civil disobedience and what’s interesting is that it increases every time they do something that makes people angrier.”
Ever resourceful, the opposition has developed other ways of showing dissent short of wearing green or taking to the streets. They honk their horns, and they drive their cars and motorbikes with their headlights on. But the hour of chanting is anonymous, safe and almost impossible for the security forces to stop. Who could arrest someone for shouting their praise of God? Hossein, a young engineer, is another nightly participant. “The first time I did it, it was in protest to the theft of my vote, the insult that the President had made towards us,” he told The Times. But after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, ruled out any compromise in his sermon last Friday, “it has become much more than that. It is the people’s way of saying that they are still together and will stay that way until they reach their goal. It has become a way of getting out our anger when we can’t protest and to keep it going . . . It makes me happy to hear others, it reminds me that I’m not alone.”
In many ways this has been a high-tech rebellion, with the opposition using video clips shot with mobile phones, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the internet to generate outrage around the world. But the rooftop protests are the precise opposite and a deliberate and resonant throwback to an earlier age.
It is what Iranians did before the revolution of 1979. From their roofs, they would shout Allahu akbar” to support Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei in his battle against the tyranny of the former Shah. That a later generation should now be using the very same weapon against the regime that Khomeini helped to establish is an irony lost on no one.

Mistranslations and Misinterpretations are unfortunate but with Media assistance, volatile. Introduction.

28 April 2008

First, a clarification of a common misunderstanding (especially rife in the American media):

Translators translate written documents, usually with time to revise or correct their work before it is seen by others. Accuracy at all levels, especially those of vocabulary and style, is of prime importance. Film and video/DVD subtitlers, for example, are specialised translators who need adequate time to prepare and technically present their work, which will be seen on the screen by audiences. Furthermore, because a permanent written record of translations will be available for examination and comparison with the original written form in the source language, translation is not only a highly responsible job but needs the expensive backing of a substantial indemnity insurance policy.

Interpreters, on the other hand, offer a spoken service, performing ‘live’ (at various levels) by offering a spoken ‘translation’ from one language to another. They need, apart from a thorough knowledge of two languages at the highest level, a good speaking voice, quick wittedness and strong self-control. (This does not imply that we translators are dull-witted or even dull. The jobs are simply different and suit people with different temperaments and gifts.)

On a daily basis, on TV and radio, the voiceover comments we hear in English when (for example) a non-English-speaking politician or celebrity is being filmed for the daily (or hourly) News are usually (but not necessarily) done by an interpreter, on the spot (and often in the spotlight). Face to face interviews of any sort (including those most commonly seen on News programmes), need instant interpretation, whether in a private meeting or an international conference. For more ‘leisurely’ documentaries, subtitled or voiceover translations of interviews in a foreign language may be the result of either interpretation or translation, depending on the circumstances. (As a slightly cynical rule of thumb, the more often the English-speaking interviewer nods his or her head in the TV interview without comment in the foreign language while the foreigner is answering the media interviewer’s English question (which has been interpreted by someone else before the interviewee answers), the more likely that the segments of the foreign language will have been translated and subtitled or voice-overed by a local qualified translator or interpreter during or after the interview.)

Both of these professions are demanding, but the interpreter obviously has the more unenviable and stressful (but better paid) job, even in a medical or court assignment for a single client. It is indeed a very great responsibility to bear. When the work is at the most intense and public level (for example, in international diplomacy, in politics or in commerce), the consequences of a momentary lapse, even by a very seasoned professional, can be catastrophic, therefore the pressure and remuneration are correspondingly heavier. (In such exalted interactions, the further hazard of an interpreter (or a translator) being used as a scapegoat by unscrupulous or desperate politicians and Heads of State who have made an error or a misjudgement will be dealt with in a later essay in this series.)

*

For now, two international incidents resulting from unfortunate interpreting or translating lapses will highlight the worst hazards, especially in our anxious world which now has to cope with insatiable media appetites and instant international communications (not to mention the general lack of comprehension of what translation and interpreting really entail).

1.

On 26 October, 2005, the President of Iran gave a speech at a student conference in Iran. He was reported in the English language press as having said that “Israel must be wiped off the map.” In an already tense atmosphere, international shock was deep, peace was threatened and the reverberations can still be felt from time to time when the translation is repeated. But it appears that the alarming translation was incorrect.

The Iranian journalist-author of a (balanced) biography of Ahmadinejad, Naji Kasra, takes this blood-curdling English statement and explains (p. 140) that the President’s intent could not have been genocidal because the Persian words used by Ahmadinejad (quoting from the late Ayatollah Khomeini) were “Een rejimeh eshghalgareh Quds bayad az safeyeh rouzegar mahv shavad.” The writer translates these, literally, as “This Jerusalem-occupying regime must disappear from the page(s) of time.” [Bold type added.] Kasra adds further linguistic commentary on the Persian sentence, stating that ‘shavad’ means “must become” and ‘mahv’, “the crucial word […] can mean ‘disappeared’,’obliterated’, ‘vanished’” and “that it does not uniquely imply violence.” The word (mahv), he explains, could also be used for the moon being shrouded by clouds or a man “disappearing into a thick crowd” and “does not imply action on the part of a third party”. For those reasons, Naji rejects the translation “must be wiped off” (which he says would be ‘bayad mahv kard’) and its ultra-violent associations, while admitting that the pronouncement was indeed extremely hostile.

(From: Naji, Kasra, Ahmadinejad. The Secret History of Iran’s Radical Leader, London & New York, I. B. Taurus, 2008, pp. 139-141)

ADDENDUM: For a more detailed report on the context and complex international reverberations of this mistranslation – and of its unfortunate origin at the “Islamic Republic News Agency” – see http://www.mohammadmossadegh.com/news/rumor-of-the-century.

2. (As a salutary ideological counterbalance)

Melanie Phillips, the prominent and sometimes controversial British correspondent for The Guardian, published a short report on 29 February 2008: ‘The Mother of all Mistranslations’. The subheading was ‘Israel warns of Gaza ‘holocaust’.’ The report began: “Israeli leaders are warning of an imminent conflagration in Gaza after Palestinian militants aimed rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon. The deputy defence minister said the stepped-up rocket fire would trigger what he called a ‘bigger holocaust’ in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.”

Phillips continued: “This reported remark by deputy defence minister Matan Vilnai caused widespread shock and absolute horror. For an Israeli minister to use the word ‘holocaust’ to describe a limited war of Israeli self-defence, when for Jews of all people the ‘Holocaust’ means one thing: genocide – and this at a time when the calumny of the ‘Jews as Nazis’ is rampant around the world, putting Israel and the Jewish people at risk – was simply beyond belief.”

“It was indeed without any credibility – because Vilnai never said it. It was an appalling mistranslation by Reuters, the source of the BBC story.”

Her explanation was simple: “Reuters had translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.”

Phillips underlined the serious consequences of such a basic translating error: “But this grotesque mistranslation has given Hamas a propaganda gift which they lost no time exploiting. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai’s comments: ‘We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people.’ At a time when the rockets continue to rain down on the southern Negev and Israel is being forced to contemplate stepping up its incursions into Gaza because of the truly genocidal assault upon its citizens by Hamas, such a mistranslation is more than an unfortunate slip. In the present explosive atmosphere, it can lead directly to an enormous escalation of violence by the Palestinians.”

(http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/530786/the-mother-of-all-mistranslations.thtml)