April 08, 2007

Help me, I'm trapped in an Iranian news agency

Was it an April Fool's joke? A simple translator's mistake? A subtle attempt at sabotage? A call for help? I'm baffled, frankly, but under the headline "Iranian Jews ready to defend national interests", the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) ran a story about the Association of Iranian Jews' renewal of "its commitment to defend the national interests of Iranians" at the time of "the remarkable coincidence of the Passover festival with the advent of the Iranian new year". So far so good, but the reported statement opens with a prepositional phrase whose logical connection to the rest of the statement is beyond bizarre:

"In obedience to the instructions of Jesus, in the new Iranian year, which has been declared year of national unity and Islamic solidarity, Iranian Jews voice their readiness to defend all national interests of Iranians and to observe the guidelines set by Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei) for the sake of strengthening national unity and solidarity in the fight against present-day pharaohs," the message said.

[Hat tip to A. Lipsitz]

[On reflection, I suppose that the "instructions of Jesus" in question might be those in Matthew 5:

[39] But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
[40] And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
[41] And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
[42] Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
[43] Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
[44] But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
[45] That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Do you think?]

[Update -- Lameen Souag writes in with the information that it's probably a translator's mistake:

About "Help me, I'm trapped in an Iranian news agency': the Arabic version of the same press release,
http://www2.irna.com/ar/news/view/line-26/0704013097175636.htm , has "Moses" instead of Jesus:

و ورد في هذا البيان بان اليهود في ايران عبر اتباعهم لارشادات النبي
موسي "ع" يوكدون استعدادهم في الدفاع عن كافه المصالح الوطنيه الايرانيه
في "عام الوحده الوطنيه"...

And it was mentioned in this statement that the Jews of Iran, through their following of the guidances of the Prophet Moses (PBUH), express their readiness to defend all Iranian national interests in the "Year of National Unity"...

Unfortunately, the archives don't allow full search in Persian yet, so I have no idea what the original said.


[Lameen added an afterthought:

It occurs to me that the mistake might actually be visual. موسى (Moses) and عيسى (Jesus), in Persian or Arabic, end with the same two letters and start with similar-looking letters. A careless or hurried translator (or one working from a handwritten copy) might simply misread the word.

That makes more sense than anything else I've come up with. It suggests that the translator is culturally uninformed in a way that seems unexpected for someone who knows both Persian and English. But that's less unexpected than someone in the same position sending an April Fool's prank or a subversive joke out on the IRNA wire.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at April 8, 2007 08:57 PM