The New York Times, true to its Duranty tradition of obfuscating in the face of terror, tells us that the Thug-In-Chief didn’t really mean it, oh no. He was just quoting “ancient” (i.e., Khomeini era) texts and expressing a wish, but of course Iran — as the illustrious Juan Cole assures us — hasn’t attacked anyone in over a century, and therefore it won’t, don’t you see?
EVER since he spoke at an anti-Zionism conference in Tehran last October, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has been known for one statement above all. As translated by news agencies at the time, it was that Israel “should be wiped off the map.” Iran’s nuclear program and sponsorship of militant Muslim groups are rarely mentioned without reference to the infamous map remark.
Here, for example, is R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, recently: “Given the radical nature of Iran under Ahmadinejad and its stated wish to wipe Israel off the map of the world, it is entirely unconvincing that we could or should live with a nuclear Iran.”
But is that what Mr. Ahmadinejad said? And if so, was it a threat of war? For months, a debate among Iran specialists over both questions has been intensifying. It starts as a dispute over translating Persian but quickly turns on whether the United States (with help from Israel) is doing to Iran what some believe it did to Iraq “” building a case for military action predicated on a faulty premise.
“Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map because no such idiom exists in Persian,” remarked Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan and critic of American policy who has argued that the Iranian president was misquoted. “He did say he hoped its regime, i.e., a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse.” Since Iran has not “attacked another country aggressively for over a century,” he said in an e-mail exchange, “I smell the whiff of war propaganda.”
Jonathan Steele, a columnist for the left-leaning Guardian newspaper in London, recently laid out the case this way: “The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that ‘this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,’ just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished. He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The ‘page of time’ phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon.”
Mr. Steele added that neither Khomeini nor Mr. Ahmadinejad suggested that Israel’s “vanishing” was imminent or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about. “But the propaganda damage was done,” he wrote, “and Western hawks bracket the Iranian president with Hitler as though he wants to exterminate Jews.”
If Mr. Steele and Mr. Cole are 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 with them. All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement, including a description of it on his Web site (www.president.ir/eng/), 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.
Then why isn’t this story about the impenetrable, crystalline willful ignorance and dhimmitude of analysts like Cole and Steele?