Brian Whittaker has done a terrific piece of research journalism to explain how MEMRI pulled the wool over the eyes of the international media in its reporting about a Hamas TV show, in which Mickey Mouse allegedly encourages a young Palestinian girl to profess her readiness to become a suicide bomber. Even the AP, CNN, and progressive bloggers like Matt Yglesias (Jihad TV? C’mon Matt, you can do better than that) were suckered into reporting the story pretty much as MEMRI (or in Matt’s case, Palestinian Media Watch) gave it to them. The trouble is–the program transcript as reported by MEMRI was wrongly translated:
In the Hamas video clip issued by Memri, a Mickey Mouse lookalike asks a young girl what she will do “for the sake of al-Aqsa”. Apparently trying to prompt an answer, the mouse makes a rifle-firing gesture and says “I’ll shoot”.
The child says: “I’m going to draw a picture.”
Memri’s translation ignores this remark and instead quotes the child (wrongly) as saying: “I’ll shoot.”
Pressed further by the mouse – “What are we going to do?” – the girl replies in Arabic: “Bidna nqawim.” The normal translation of this would be “We’re going to [or want to] resist” but Memri’s translation puts a more aggressive spin on it: “We want to fight.”
The mouse continues: “What then?”
According to Memri, the child replies: “We will annihilate the Jews.”
The sound quality on the clip is not very good, but I have listened to it several times (as have a number of native Arabic speakers) and we can hear no word that might correspond to “annihilate”.
What the girl seems to say is: “Bitokhoona al-yahood” – “The Jews will shoot us” or “The Jews are shooting us.”
This is followed by further prompting – “We are going to defend al-Aqsa with our souls and blood, or are we not?”
Again, the girl’s reply is not very clear, but it’s either: “I’ll become a martyr” or “We’ll become martyrs.”
In the context of the conversation, and in line with normal Arab-Islamic usage, martyrdom could simply mean being killed by the Israelis’ shooting. However, Memri’s translation of the sentence – “I will commit martyrdom” turns it into a deliberate act on the girl’s part, and Colonel Carmon has since claimed that it refers to suicide bombers.
When I read about this story first at Matt Yglesias’ blog I wrote a doubting comment at his blog as soon as I noticed his source was Palestinian Media Watch. If you write about the Mideast conflict as long as I have you tend to know which sources are immediately credible and which are only credible if independently verified. And MEMRI is one that I never credit unless verified by a more reliable, and less tendentious source.
If I knew to keep my distance why could not AP, CNN and other publications have invested in the time it would take to ask Arabic speakers to vet MEMRI’s translation? Now, they wouldn’t have egg on their face. Of course, the problem is the damage is now done. MEMRI’s story, though false, has circulated deeply and widely. No amount of clarification from the Brian Whittakers of the world can correct the false impression planted by the anti-Arab propagandists.
On a final note, I completely agree with Brian that it is unpardonable for Hamas to place children in the position they did in questioning the girl on this show. Using children for political purposes is despicable and worthy of condemnation. But if we’re going to condemn this program, let’s do so based on accurate, credible information and not based on someone’s fever dream of Arab anti-Semitism and annihilationsim.
I also note that the AP provided a translation of a speech by the Mickey Mouse character which should also be questioned:
“You and I are laying the foundation for a world led by Islamists,” the character squeaked on a recent episode. “We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers.”
Which is summarized thusly:
Hamas militants have suspended a television program that featured a Mickey Mouse look-alike urging Palestinian children to fight Israel and work for global Islamic domination
AP doesn’t say where this translation comes from? MEMRI? Their own independent sources? Remember what The Who used to warn us? “We won’t be fooled again.” Let the media beware and verify MEMRI stories and translations before running with them.
A big hat tip to Sol Salbe.