Posted by: sean | May 8, 2006

Farsi translation

An article in the Post reports today that Iranian President Ahmadinejad sent a letter to President Bush in order to propose “new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation in the world.” It mentions the quote put forth by the Times that Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Since this comment was reported on, it has been used as a reason why Iran should not have nuclear weapons. I’ve been somewhat skeptical about the translation, and as it turns out, there is some disagreement about what was actually said. This disagreement has pitted Christopher Hitchens against Juan Cole, the latter being the only one of the two who actually speaks Farsi. A good summary of the online fight can be found here.

The actual sentence in question seems to be this: “een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.” I don’t speak Farsi, but several of my colleagues are Iranian, and I’ve sent them the text to see what they think about it. The only word I can recognize is qods which is Farsi for al Quds, which is Jerusalem in English. Cole’s translation is “the Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem must [vanish from] from the page of time.” As it turns out, the Israeli group Memri offers a translation that is very similar to Cole’s (“eliminated from the pages of history”).

As it turns out, after the comments, the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denied the remarks:

Mottaki also denied during a press conference in Brussels that Tehran wanted to see Israel “wiped off the map.”

“Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned,” he said. “How is it possible to remove a country from the map? He is talking about the regime. We do not recognize legally this regime.”

Another denial came on CNN’s Late Edition from Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh:

SOLTANIEH: The supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran has announced, more than two years, and few cases, the Western media have reflected to public of the world, that if the divine religions — followers of the divine religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims, in that area follow a referendum, democratic referendum, and are one (ph) with homeless Palestinians, Iranian government and Iranian people would respect their decision.

Therefore, these are fabricated news that they are threatening and using this as an excuse for the military aggression or the aggressive policy. […]

BLITZER: I have to wrap this up, but I want to get your response to this issue of Israel because it’s become such a prominent issue in this whole discussion over nuclear plans that Iran may or may not have. This is what the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on October 26 at that World Without Zionism conference.

He said, “Israel must be wiped off the map of the world, and god willing, with the force of god behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionists.”

You understand why people in the West, especially here in the United States, are so concerned about your program, your nuclear program, given those kinds of direct threats against Israel, which happens to be a strong ally of the United States.

SOLTANIEH: I want to very briefly remind you that the policy of Islamic Republic of Iran and according to spirit and letter of our constitution is against any sort of school of thought or regime such as apartheid, Zionism, racism, and this is a matter of principle.

Therefore, what you are talking about as apartheid was disappeared and it could not be accepted by civilized world, this Zionism and aggression of racism is also condemned. […]

BLITZER: Does your support for the removal of Zionism mean you want to see Israel destroyed?

SOLTANIEH: I have already explained to you and reflected to you the policy echoed by our supreme leader.

It means that if in that region, the divine religion followers of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, that all three are very respectful — and we have Jews in Iran, which are peacefully living and they are represented in our parliament, they are fully respected — if they come with the Palestinians, homeless Palestinians, to come and through following the democratic process will decide on a government and live in peace as they were living a thousand years of coexistence of these divine religions, Iran will support because we are looking for and we support peaceful settlement of the whole issue and peaceful coexistence of these divine religions in the Middle East. Let’s hope for the peace.

BLITZER: But should there be a state of Israel?

SOLTANIEH: I think I’ve already answered to you. If Israel is a synonym and will give the indication of Zionism mentality, no.

But if you are going to conclude that we have said the people there have to be removed or we they have to be massacred or so, this is fabricated, unfortunate selective approach to what the mentality and policy of Islamic Republic of Iran is. I have to correct, and I did so.

So it seems that the statements by Ahmadinejad, or at the very least official Iranian policy, is much more nuanced than the Western media would have us believe. Furthermore, it is important to remember that Ahmadinejad does not control Iranian foreign policy. In an interesting article in the New York Review about Iran and the bomb, Christopher de Bellaigue has this to say:

Iran’s enmity toward Israel is more nuanced than Ahmadinejad’s statements suggest. The President’s declarations that Israel should be “wiped off the map,” and that the Holocaust is a “myth,” understandably aroused fears that Iran might be considering an attack on Israel. But Iran’s senior civilian and military officials have insisted that Iran will strike Israel only if Israel strikes first. More significantly, the President and supreme leader have both reiterated Iran’s longstanding demand for a referendum on the status of Israel that would involve all Palestinian refugees. This official position would not seem to be consistent with an ambition to destroy Israel by force, least of all by using nuclear arms, which would endanger the very Palestinians whom the Iranians claim to be protecting. Several senior Iranian officials, including Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who heads a powerful arbitration council in Tehran, have not disguised their irritation with the President’s comments. But Ahmadinejad has benefited from the furor. By raising his prestige among hard-line Islamists around the world, the President has made it harder for his domestic opponents, who include Rafsanjani, to undermine him.

I will post the English translation later this week, once my Iranian colleagues have had the chance to get back to me.



  1. Wow, I’m impressed by your intuition. Yes, we should be skeptical when the Western News Media translates something in Farsi as “WIPE OFF”. It sounds more Californian-beach boy than it does Farsi. Fortunately, “WIPE OUT” wasn’t used.

    Still, it’s clear that Ahmadinejad should serve as a warning signal that the US has lost all moral leadership and that leaders touting the “US-as-Satan Horn” are perhaps not so illegitimate anymore. In other words, what makes leaders like Ahmadinejad, Jiang-Zemin, and Chirac so effective is that they are closing the doors on all types of American opportunism (moral, social, political) – for the right and wrong reasons.

    I think we should expect to see more leaders coming out of the closet and asserting bold anti-US accusations without redress. Some of them will be goofy and hypocritical in the DeGaulle-like sense, while others will be true and sharp as in the recent vindications of imperialism by President Chavez of Venezuela.

    The recent anti-US accusations in the developed world are accumulating as well, as we have seen from Japan, France, Germany, and even Canada.

    A good rule of thumb to follow in terms of general national elections throughout the developed world is the 4 year rule in which the US is situated after the last year (legacy of post world war II). In 2007, for example, most developed countries will vote for their next executive leader (and then 2011), while the US will vote in 2008. Between 2007 and 2008, then, we should expect a very large “anti-American” platform in most developed countries (as always), particularly by oppositional nominees, and this one should be very loud.

    Washington can only handle the war of words.. for now.

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