Global Research, January 20, 2007
Title: “Wiped Off The Map—The Rumor of the Century”
Author: Arash Norouzi
Information Clearing House, May 9, 2006
Title: “Full Text: The President of Iran’s Letter To President Bush”
Translated by Le Monde
Student Researchers: Becky Bazell
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips, Ph.D.
Across the world a media story has spread that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has threatened to destroy Israel, by saying that, “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Contrary to general belief, this statement was actually a misinterpretation. However, it was the Islamic Republic News Service in Iran that first mistranslated the quote. Iran’s Foreign Minister attempted to clarify the statement, but the quote ended up having a life of its own in the corporate media.
Amid heated wrangling over Iran’s nuclear program and the threat of preemptive strikes by the US, the quote has been continually used to reinforce the idea that Iran is being run by extremists seeking the total destruction of Israel.
So what did Ahmadinejad actually say? To quote his exact words in Farsi:
“Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.”
Rezhim-e is the word “regime,” pronounced just like the English word with an extra “eh” sound at the end. Ahmadinejad did not refer to Israel the country or Israel the landmass, but the Israeli regime. This is a vastly significant distinction, as one cannot wipe a regime off the map. Ahmadinejad did not even refer to Israel by name, he instead used the specific phrase “rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods” (regime occupying Jerusalem).
A similar statement by Ahmadinejad in December 2006, “As the Soviet Union disappeared, the Zionist regime will also vanish and humanity will be liberated,” has also been misinterpreted.
In May of 2006 President Ahmadinejad published an open letter to President Bush clearly asking for peace and the mutual respect of human rights. He warns that Western media, through contrived and deceptive information, has intensified the climate of fear that leads to attacks on innocent peoples. The letter was not reported in the US news media. Ahmadinejad began the letter writing, “Mr. George Bush, For some time now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena. Can one be a follower of Jesus Christ (PBUH), the great Messenger of God, Feel obliged to respect human rights, Present liberalism as a civilization model, Announce one’s opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and WMDs, Make “War on Terror” his slogan, And finally, Work towards the establishment of a unified international community—a community which Christ and the virtuous of the Earth will one day govern, But at the same time, have countries attacked; The lives, reputations and possessions of people destroyed and on the slight chance of the … of a … criminals in a village city, or convoy for example the entire village, city or convey set ablaze.”
Ahmadinejad declared 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. This position is viewed as threatening to many in the West. While threats and counter-threats escalates tensions in the Persian Gulf, I believe it is important for the media to publish both sides of issues and be as accurate as possible by seeking to build understanding rather than fear and anger.
UPDATE BY Arash Norouzi
In May 2007, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution calling on the U.N. Security Council to charge Ahmadinejad with the crime of inciting genocide “because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel”—a violation of the U.N.’s 1948 Genocide Convention—specifically citing the false “wiped off the map” quote from October 2005. It also called for the U.N. to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, with the “potential means to the end of carrying out President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel.”
This misquote has become a key component of the push for war with Iran, a war that would make Iraq look like the cakewalk it was predicted to be. Attacking Iran would result in massive death and destruction, affect world oil supplies, provoke terrorism, could initiate the next World War, and might even include the use of nuclear weapons for the first time since WWII. In this heated atmosphere, an accurate narrative is essential in averting the next cataclysmic Mideast intervention. When President Bush emphasizes the importance of taking the words of America’s enemies seriously, that process begins with first determining just what exactly those words are.
Yet my article is about more than just clarifying a mistranslated statement. It’s about the media, propaganda, plagiarism, language, false assumptions ...Functioning much like a puzzle, it engages readers by allowing them to deconstruct the quote and its meaning themselves. This self-verification process adds a compelling aspect in which credibility becomes largely obsolete. The article’s ’punchline’ demonstrates undeniably that members of the mainstream media knowingly spread this rumor, and readers are challenged to check for themselves by comparing linked sources proving this claim.
The idea is not merely to contest a single misquote, but to also promote skepticism about all pre-war intelligence. If this quote is false, then it’s logical to assume that other accusations against Iran could be wrong too—just as they were with Iraq.
The overwhelming ubiquity of this misquote has deterred others from correcting what they probably view as a lost cause. Yet my article alone has been viewed by millions, translated into at least half a dozen languages, garnered radio interviews, inspired videos on YouTube, and become the subject of an entire article in The Bangkok Post. It got the attention of people at the BBC, Washington Post, IAEA, State Department, United Nations, and the Islamic Republic itself. It’s been quoted by numerous journalists, authors and academics, in published letters to the editor, and on call-in TV shows such as on C-SPAN. The Associated Press has now begun citing the “vanish from the page of time” phrase, adding that “independent analysts” have refuted the “map” quote; and Dennis Kucinich was prepared to correct the rumor when asked about the subject on TV recently.
These are hopeful signals that underscore the importance of alternative voices in the media, and their potential effectiveness in influencing the discourse. If the first casualty of war is the truth, then it’s up to the truth tellers—whomever they may be—to enlighten us.