15 July 2007

Exchange with Robert Tait, Guardian

15 July 2007

Dear Robert Tait,

In Thursday's article 'Iran's Jews reject cash offer to move to Israel' you state: "Mr Ahmadinejad had earlier said that Israel should be "wiped off the map"."

Why do you choose to perpetuate this discredited lie? Discredited by your own colleague, Jonathan Steele in your own newspaper, The Guardian. Discredited by Prof. Juan Cole at the University of Michigan.

In short, this type of loose use of dubious translations by US corporate news agencies only serve, as your colleague Jonathan Steele stated, "to strengthen western hawks". Is that your intention? Are you in favour of a war of agression on Iran? Or was it pure laziness? Could you please provide some kind of explanation? At very least, why was no balancing statement from the Iranian authorities sought? If the subject had been the UK, the US or Israel I can guarantee you that there would have been some sort of balancing statement.

I attach the relevant links for your perusal, as you really need to do your homework before making these kinds of irresponsible statements. I am also copying this letter to the Guardian Reader's Editor, Jonathan Steele and Prof. Juan Cole.

Ordinary citizens are beginning to get a little fed up with the constant media demonisation of Iran and its leaders so reminiscent of Operation Mass Appeal.

Yours Sincerely


Lost in translation: Experts confirm that Iran's president did not call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map'. Reports that he did serve to strengthen western hawks.

Juan Cole: "As most of my readers know, Ahmadinejad did not use that phrase in Persian. He quoted an old saying of Ayatollah Khomeini calling for 'this occupation regime over Jerusalem" to "vanish from the page of time.' Calling for a regime to vanish is not the same as calling for people to be killed. Ahmadinejad has not to my knowledge called for anyone to be killed."

Bill Scher: The Importance of Cole v. Hitchens

"Wiped Off The Map" - The Rumor of the Century

Caught Red-Handed: Media Backtracks on Iran's 'Threat'

Iranian denials:

Ahmadinejad misunderstood, says Iran

Iran denies wanting to "wipe Israel off the map"

Iran: 'We Won't Use Force'

Iranian FM: It isn't possible to remove a country from the map

"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." Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh CNN, 02 April 2006

Reply from Tait dated 15 July 2007:

In fact the original translation was provided by AFP, which is a French organisation, not a corporate American news agency. Your email implies orattributes motivations on my part which are beneath contempt and which Iwill not dignify with a response.

However, in short I will saying the following: the commmonly accepted translation no more or less implies the mass killing of people than the words spoken in Farsi; Mr Ahmadinejad is not an evil man but if he is"demonised", it is not by the media, but by his own voracious appetite forintemperate statements; this is a sterile and meaningless debate on semantics perpetuated by people with too much time on their hands.

Mr Ahmadinejad's exact words in Farsi: "As the Imam (Khomeini) said, theZionist occupier should be erased from the pages of history.";This has been commonly translated as saying Israel should be wiped off themap. No suprise there. It's a distinction without a difference. You can argue that this can be achieved either through a political process or annihilation and that the president meant the former. But that is a different issue. (However, this argument is weakened by some of his other statements: Example, "the Zionist regime is a rotten tree that could bedestroyed in a single storm").

Moreover, attributing the words to Khomeini is being misrepresented to suggest that Mr Ahmadinejad personally disagreed with it - which is clearly not the case. Rather, he was endorsing them.

My wife is Iranian. She assures me there is no difference in sense or spirit between the literal Farsi words and the commonly-stated English translation. She - along with other Iranians I have talked to - is adamant that the translation is acceptable, accurate and fair. As evidence,President Ahmadinejad has never quibbled with it. Indeed he is proud of it.

In future stories straying onto this area, I am serously considering using the original form of words, followed by the commonly-used translation in order to pre-empt complaints such as yours, which I believe are spurious and as much loaded with value judgements and political motivations that you are so content to attribute to others. The aim here, I think, is to trigger some sort of diversionary debate suggesting Mr Ahmadinejad has been systematically misrepresented by the western media. He hasn't - at least not by the Guardian. He believes passionately that Israel should cease to exist, by whatever means, and that the holocaust did not happen. He has stated these positions unambiguously on numerous occasions and in many different forums. I make no comment on the moral or intellectual merits of these convictions. I simply state, with the confidence borne of having been based in Iran for the past two-and-a-half years, that this is what he believes.

Robert Tait

Further reply from Robert Tait dated 16 July 2007:

Maybe you should have read this before you got on your high horse. And don't go looking for a mis-translation. I have the government-provided transcript.

Ahmadinejad speech inflames tension By Angus McDowall in Tehran Published: 15 April 2006

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a new attack on Israel yesterday, calling it "a rotten, dried tree" that could be knocked over by"a single storm".

The inflammatory remarks, similar to those which provoked a barrage of international condemnation in October, are likely to increase tensions after Iran's announcement on Tuesday that it had enriched uranium indefiance of UN Security Council demands.

"Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading towards annihilation," MrAhmadinejad told a Tehran conference on the Palestinian intifada, attended by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well asrepresentatives from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbollah."The existence of the Zionist regime is tantamount to an imposition of an unending and unrestrained threat so that none of the nations and Islamic countries of the region and beyond can feel secure from its threat," headded.

Earlier in the day Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the clerical watchdog,Guardian Council, had told a Friday prayer meeting in Tehran that the US was "a decaying power" which Iran should not fear. Sermons are often usedby leading regime figures as a platform for public statements, often accompanied by calls of "death to America".

Ayatollah Jannati was responding to increased pressure from Washington on the country's nuclear programme. On Thursday, the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran would face "consequences" for defying a Security Council demand that it halt all enrichment activity.

"One thing the Security Council has, and the International Atomic Energy Agency does not have, is the ability to compel, through Chapter Seven resolutions, member states of the UN to obey the will of the international system," she said. Under Chapter Seven the UN can impose sanctions or even military action.

A flying visit to Tehran on Thursday by the IAEA director general Mohammed El Baradei failed to secure a breakthrough in the stand-off, but the Egyptian said he was still hopeful and that both sides were committed to maintaining dialogue. Mr ElBaradei is due to report to the IAEA by the endo f April.

Next week Security Council members will discuss Iran at a meeting in Moscow. Russia was aggrieved by Iran's unexpected breakthrough on uranium enrichment because it undermined its own attempts at a compromise proposal. But it is still uncertain if Moscow will support sanctions.

China, which has also been cool on the use of sanctions against Iran, yesterday said it would send a delegation to Tehran to discuss the nuclear programme and stressed the importance of dialogue in defusing the crisis.

"We hope all parties will adopt a cool-headed approach," said the Vice Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. "Dialogue is better than confrontation."


My reply to Tait, dated 17 July 2007, which he has not yet answered (as at 04 August 2007) :

Dear Robert Tait,

Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. Although you are unlikely to believe me, I do apreciate it as I realise that you must be very busy.

You state that "the original translation was provided by AFP, which is a French organisation, not a corporate American news agency". .

I accept I should have said "Western corporate news agencies" instead of "US corporate news agencies" - a relatively minor point however.

But how then do you explain the NYT claims that they translated the speech themselves? They state specifically that it was their own Nazila Fathi who had translated the article:

"Published: October 30, 2005
This is a translation, by Nazila Fathi in The New York Times Tehran bureau, of the October 26 speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an Islamic Student Associations conference on "The World Without Zionism." The conference was held in Tehran, at the Interior Ministry. The text of the speech was posted online, in Persian, by the Iranian Student News Agency ( http://www.isnagency.com/). Bracketed explanatory material is from Ms. Fathi."

Also, both the BBC and Reuters claim that they translated the speech themselves. In fact, I emailed Reuters to ask them where they had got the translation and Paul Holmes, Editor, Political & General News, wrote back to me saying:

"Reuters has experienced, bilingual staff in our Tehran newsroom and we translated the quote ourselves from the IRNA dispatch in Farsi. We do not rely on IRNA dispatches in English since they arrive with a delay and are frequently shorter than the original Farsi dispatch. The IRNA English service also often paraphrases quotes. " (Paul Holmes, e-mail to David Sketchley 14 June 2006 - I will gladly forward you a copy if you wish).

The original Reuters report entitled "Iran president wants Israel "wiped off the map", was filed by Parisa Hafezi at 22:07 on 26 October 2005.

The BBC is on record as saying that the BBC Monitoring Service translated the speech themselves: "The comment was picked up and translated from the Farsi by the BBC's Monitoring Service."

You state "this is a sterile and meaningless debate on semantics perpetuated by people with too much time on their hands". The exact oposite is true as your colleague Jonathan Steele wrote in his Guardian piece (question: does Mr Steele have too much time on his hands? And Prof. Cole?):

"Does this quibbling over phrases matter? Yes, of course. Within days of the Ahmadinejad speech the then Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was calling for Iran to be expelled from the United Nations. Other foreign leaders have quoted the map phrase. The United States is piling pressure on its allies to be tough with Iran.
Let me give the last word to Juan Cole, with whom I began. "I am entirely aware that Ahmadinejad is hostile to Israel. The question is whether his intentions and capabilities would lead to a military attack, and whether therefore pre-emptive warfare is prescribed. I am saying no, and the boring philology is part of the reason for the no."

You yourself have admitted to other readers: "I think the core of the problem here is the use to which the "off the map" phrase is being put by the right-wing in the US and Israel. For them it has become a sort of negative totem underpinning a specific political agenda. As such, it is becoming a problem for reporters on the ground like me." (E-mail to Tim Holmes).

By your own admission, you are aware that the right-wing in the US and Israel are using this mistranslation as a casus belli for at best regime change, at worst another war of aggression in Iran, plainly interfering in a sovereign state's internal affairs, yet you call this a sterile, meaningless debate. It is exactly this use which I think needs to be challenged, and which irresponsible use of the phrase only strengthens. It has already led to calls for Iran's expulsion from the UN, and on June 20, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the UN to charge Ahmadinejad with the crime of inciting genocide "because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel". It is also being used to support a unilateral attack on Iran.

You state "Mr Ahmadinejad's exact words in Farsi: "As the Imam (Khomeini) said, the Zionist occupier should be erased from the pages of history.";" Exact words? Nonsense. Could you kindly point out where the word "Zionist" appears in the original? Where is your translation of the word "rezhim-e" as in "Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad."

[Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).]

You state: "attributing the words to Khomeini is being misrepresented to suggest that Mr Ahmadinejad personally disagreed with it - which is clearly not the case. Rather, he was endorsing them" This is again nonsense and a straw man. No one, as far as I am aware, has ever suggested this apart from yourself. People have stated that Ahmadinejad was quoting Khomeini merely to put the sentence into context. And it is this taking the phrase out of context which is one of the main problems.

Arash Norouzi explains the context which you ignore:

"While the false "wiped off the map" extract has been repeated infinitely without verification, Ahmadinejad's actual speech itself has been almost entirely ignored. Given the importance placed on the "map" comment, it would be sensible to present his words in their full context to get a fuller understanding of his position. In fact, by looking at the entire speech, there is a clear, logical trajectory leading up to his call for a "world without Zionism". One may disagree with his reasoning, but critical appraisals are infeasible without first knowing what that reasoning is.

In his speech, Ahmadinejad declares that Zionism is the West's apparatus of political oppression against Muslims. He says the "Zionist regime" was imposed on the Islamic world as a strategic bridgehead to ensure domination of the region and its assets. Palestine, he insists, is the frontline of the Islamic world's struggle with American hegemony, and its fate will have repercussions for the entire Middle East.

Ahmadinejad acknowledges that the removal of America's powerful grip on the region via the Zionists may seem unimaginable to some, but reminds the audience that, as Khomeini predicted, other seemingly invincible empires have disappeared and now only exist in history books. He then proceeds to list three such regimes that have collapsed, crumbled or vanished, all within the last 30 years:

(1) The Shah of Iran- the U.S. installed monarch
(2) The Soviet Union
(3) Iran's former arch-enemy, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein

In the first and third examples, Ahmadinejad prefaces their mention with Khomeini's own words foretelling that individual regime's demise. He concludes by referring to Khomeini's unfulfilled wish: "The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time. This statement is very wise". This is the passage that has been isolated, twisted and distorted so famously. By measure of comparison, Ahmadinejad would seem to be calling for regime change, not war."

Consequently there are no implications of mass killing at all. The crucial point is not the wipe away argument, but what is to be wiped away, the "regime". An example: Does the US recognise the " regime" in Cuba? No. Would it like the "regime" in Cuba to cease to exist? Of course. Does this mean the US wants to see Cuba " wiped off the map"? Of course not, although there is no doubt it would like to see Castro and his "regime" " wiped off the map"!
Both your colleague Jonathan Steele and Prof Cole have stated:

"The fact that he compared his desired option - the elimination of "the regime occupying Jerusalem" - with the fall of the Shah's regime in Iran makes it crystal clear that he is talking about regime change, not the end of Israel. As a schoolboy opponent of the Shah in the 1970's he surely did not favour Iran's removal from the page of time. He just wanted the Shah out."

"Calling for a regime to vanish is not the same as calling for people to be killed. Ahmadinejad has not to my knowledge called for anyone to be killed. If Ahmadinejad is a genocidal maniac who just wants to kill Jews, then why are there 20,000 Jews in Iran with a member of parliament in Tehran? Couldn't he start at home if that was what he is really about? "

I believe that in fact you know this as you wrote back in December: "Mr Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and has said its inhabitants should go to Europe or Alaska", even though you state to me "He believes passionately that Israel should cease to exist, by whatever means"

You are not being consistent. Why should he suggest the inhabitants move to Europe if he wanted to annihilate them?

Prof Juan Cole sums it all up thus: "He is hostile to Israel. He'd like to see regime change (apparently via a referendum on the shape of the government ruling over geographical Palestine, in which all "original" residents of any religion would get a vote). Calling for a referendum on the dissolution of a government is not calling for genocide. Ahmadinejad also says he has no objection to a Jewish state in and of itself, he just thinks it should be located in, say, German territory set apart for the purpose, rather than displacing Palestinians from their homes. He may be saying unrealistic things; he is not advocating killing Jews qua Jews, or genocide...(Ahmadinejad) compares his call for an end to the Zionist regime ruling over Jerusalem to the Western call for the dissolution of the old Soviet Union. Was Ronald Reagan inciting to genocide when he called for an end of the Soviet regime?"

Finally, you state "The aim here, I think, is to trigger some sort of diversionary debate suggesting Mr Ahmadinejad has been systematically misrepresented by the western media."

Yet the historical record shows that misrepresenting our 'enemies' leaders is just one part of a process designed to 'prepare public opinion' for war. Another part is falsifying a WMD crisis. Please watch the video linked to here:

And an irresponsible media which repeats this spin without challenge or scrutiny contributes to the misrepresentation and thus to the war.

You quoted an article in your second e-mail to me "Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a new attack on Israel yesterday, calling it "a rotten, dried tree" that could be knocked over by "a single storm".

Again, taken alone, out of context you can make any statement sound threatening, thus misrepresenting the essence of what was being said. However taken in context we see that, in fact, it is quite the opposite (take note of the last sentence):

""Peace and harmonious relations can only be based on towhid, human dignity and justice. Oppressions and aggressions are not compatible with human dignity and justice.

The Zionist regime is a clear example of oppression and its fundamental nature represents actual and permanent threat. The very purpose behind the establishment of this regime was to put in place a permanent threat in the region. Therefore, the continued existence of this regime is premised on the persistence of this threat. It will have no existence without threat and aggression and it is not inherently capable to survive in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Even if it manages to remain in one square meter of the Palestinian land, it will continue to be a threat to the region.

"Take a good look at the bullying powers of the world. When it comes to supporting the Zionist regime, they recognize no red line and boundaries for justice, human rights and human dignity. The usurper Zionist regime is the meeting point of the injustices and brutalities of the corrupt bullying powers.

"Only a government chosen by the people can resolve the problem of Palestine and the people of the region. The right to govern belongs to all people of Palestine and they must decide the governing model of their choice and elect their own officials.

"For this purpose, there must be an opportunity for all genuine Palestinians; be they Muslims, Christians, or Jews, residing in Palestine or in Diaspora, to participate in a referendum to decide the political system of their choice and elect their leaders.

"In other words, the only rational way which is compatible with the generally recognized international norms is holding of a referendum for all genuine Palestinians. " The supporters of the Zionist regime prefer to remain silent in face of this reasonable proposition. But I tell them that regardless of what they desire, the Zionist regime is falling apart .

"The young tree of resistance in Palestine is blooming and blooms of faith and desire for freedom are flowering. "The Zionist regime is a decaying and crumbling tree that will fall with a storm .

Today even the inhabitants of the occupied Palestine, especially the African and Asian settlers are living in ain, poverty and discontent. "I tell the governments supporting the Zionist regime to open the doors to the prisons in the occupied Palestine and allow the refugees and displaced Palestinians to return to their homeland and summon the usurpers of the Palestinian lands.

"If you still consider yourself indebted to them, then find a proper place for them in your own territories, if not call upon them to return to their countries of origin to live like their forefathers."

My only concern is that another illegal war is on the cards, I am doing what little I can to prevent it.

Yours Sincerely