Monday, June 12, 2006

Can Dr. Juan Cole Speak Persian?

Columnist Christopher Hitchens calls Zarqawi's death "A Good Day's Work".

And while we're on that subject, remember the Hitchens v. Cole smack-down?

It started when columnist Christopher Hitchens questioned whether Dr. Juan Cole could speak Persian after Cole claimed that Iranian President Ahmedinejad never said "Israel should be wiped of the map".

Well, rather belatedly IMO, the NYT has weighed in on the question.

[Note: you'll have to register - for free - to read it at the NYT site, or read it at this alternate site.]

On the other hand, I was truly surprised that the NYT would actually devote ink to discrediting the mad doctor from Ann Arbor but that is exactly what they did.

If ...Mr. Cole [is] right, not one word of the quotation — Israel should be
wiped off the map — is accurate.

But translators in Tehran who work for the president's office and the foreign ministry disagree... all official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement, including a description of it on his Web site (, refer to wiping Israel away. Sohrab Mahdavi, one of Iran's most prominent 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. In October, when Mr. Ahmadinejad quoted Khomeini, he actually misquoted him, saying not "Sahneh roozgar" but "Safheh roozgar," meaning pages of time or history. No one noticed the change, and news agencies used the word "map" again.

Ahmad Zeidabadi, a professor of political science in Tehran whose specialty is Iran-Israel relations, explained: "It seems that in the early days of the revolution the word 'map' was used because it appeared to be the best meaningful translation for what he said. The words 'sahneh roozgar' are metaphorical and do not refer to nything specific. Maybe it was interpreted as 'book of countries,' and the closest thing to that was a map. Since then, we have often heard 'Israel bayad az naghshe jographya mahv gardad' — Israel must be wiped off the geographical map. Hard-liners have used it in their speeches."
So did Iran's president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so.

And so with a roundhouse to the chin, Jualter Cole goes down, and the match belongs to the happily drunken Hitchens.

Perhaps this public display of clumsiness in Persian is part of the reason Cole was denied that professorship at Yale.

Oh! By the way...the strangest mention of the NYT article at Cole's site.

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