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maandag 5 november 2007

MEMRI: bringing the Arab world closer to the West or US/Israeli propaganda?

For those of you who would like to get a glimpse of what is being talked about in the press of the Middle East the website of the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI) gives you that chance. "Founded in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization." "MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East."

On their site you can find written translations of selected newsitems and interviews, as well as subtitled fragments of television shows and newsreports (on MEMRITV). Besides this, analysis and special reports of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends are being offered. A division is provided so that you can browse by subject matter or country. Translations have been made in English, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish and Japanese. In addition, companion blogs have been created for more specific subjects: economy, Turkish media, Arab music, movies and literature, and a general news blog.

Next to the general media coverage, MEMRI also keeps an eye open for islamist extremists with the Islamist Websites Monitor Project. Along the same lines, but more in order to inform the public that not all muslisms are terrorist maniacs, and that those who are, interpret the Qu'ran only in a way that suits their political needs, Terrorism Has No Religion has put up a campaign. They want to "expose the fallacy of the distorted and politicized Islamic teachings used by ungodly extremists to sanctify and justify terrorism.It has become crucial to inform the Muslim and Arab people - particularly the Iraqi people - about the deceptions terrorists employ in distorting the peaceful teachings of Islam. These terrorists, who claim to follow the Islamic Faith, are in truth only drowning in an abyss of mistaken beliefs."

There has been some criticism on the institute. Some claim that in fact MEMRI is, in fact, mere propaganda, aimed at putting the Arab world in a bad light. Only newsitems that give Muslims a negative image are being shown and gross "mistakes" in translations are known to be made. An example of a distortion of reality can be found in the story of Mr. Finkelstein, an outspoken critic of Israeli policies and the U.S. pro-Israel lobby: "In 2006, he gave a TV interview in Lebanon on the way the Nazi Holocaust is used to silence critics of Israel. Finkelstein later wrote on his Web site: “MEMRI recently posted what it alleged was an interview I did with Lebanese television on the Nazi Holocaust. The MEMRI posting was designed to prove that I was a Holocaust denier.” Far from being a Holocaust denier, Finkelstein’s own parents were Holocaust survivors, a fact he has often spoken about. But MEMRI was able to create the opposite impression, as Finkelstein demonstrated on his Web site, by editing out large chunks of the actual interview. When some comments by the moderator were included, it appeared that Finkelstein’s interview was about nitpicking the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust rather than about Israel/Palestine."

More insight can be found in its founders: Yigal Carmon is a reserve colonel in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), who served as acting head of the civil administration in the West Bank from 1977 to 1982, counterterrorism adviser to premiers Shamir and Menachem Begin from 1988 to 1993, and senior member of the Israeli delegation to peace negotiations with Syria in Madrid and Washington. Meyrav Wurmser, "an Israeli-born analyst of Mideast affairs, ... who has taught at Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Naval Academy, is a central figure in the right-wing's web of Middle East policy institutes."

All of the above has led critics to believe that MEMRI's sole object is to disseminate negative images of the Arab world, and provide a justification of the American and Israeli actions in the Middle East. In response to these allegations Carmon replied: "You are right: we do have an agenda. As an institute of research, we want MEMRI to present translations to people who wish to be informed on the ideas circulating in the Middle East. We aim to reflect reality. If knowledge of this reality should benefit one side or another, then so be it." But, "Whatever the agenda, the research has to be scientific." "Memri has never claimed to 'represent the view of the Arabic media', but rather to reflect, through our translations, general trends which are widespread and topical."

I'll let you decide for yourselves what you think of this initiative. However it can not be denied that some of the ideas propagated by religious nuts in that area (and everywhere else in the world of course) are disconcerting (e.g. the children's show Pioneers of Tomorrow, don't indoctrinate kids, let them figure it out for themselves). I, for one, am glad that there exists a site like this, because I don't understand Arabic and at least part of the information on the Arab world that doesn't come from the regular media can be found there. Nonetheless, it is important to remain critical. There is a whole lot of internet out there, meaning it is a good thing not to base your opinion on only one source of information. Apart from CNN and BBC there are also the English version of Al-Jazeera, Middle-East Online and Arab Media (to state the obvious), and specifically for our subject: MEMRI Watch ("a small collective of translators and analysts who are bothered by the output of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) for various reasons. ... Our primary concern will be to highlight instances of mistranslation and doctoring, as well as address the wider strategy of MEMRI, which is in line with its unwritten agenda. Thus we aim to balance the discussion, rather than engaging in a full and balanced discussion.").

About women, this guy is right though ;-):

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