Rodger Payne has asked me to respond to a remarkable distortion which MEMRI is trying to peddle to credulous non-Arabic speakers in order to influence the American elections. Apparently it's making the rounds on pro-Bush blogs - I'll have to take Rodger's word for it. Here's a Volokh post on it, here's the NY Post, here's Yigal Carmon in the National Review.Don't fall for it.
To put it as bluntly as possible, MEMRI is being highly disingenuous to claim that Osama bin Laden supposedly was saying that he would attack American states which voted for Bush but not those which voted for Kerry. Aside from the fact that this contradicts the entire thrust of his message, it rests on a remarkably (even for MEMRI) thin foundation.. in other words, not only isn't it the sort of thing you'd expect bin Laden (who sees little principled difference between the candidates) to say, it also isn't what he said. Nor is it how Arabs and Muslims - who presumably don't have the same translation problems as most Americans - understood him.
First, it is worth pointing out that no Arab commentators or newspapers seem to have drawn the same conclusions as MEMRI's linguistic geniuses. In an al Jazeera roundup of 'different interpretations of the bin Laden message' this morning, for example, nobody raises this interpretation. MEMRI refers to a number of radical chatroom discussions, but in the mainstream public discourse - including interviews with leading Islamists such as Montasir al Zayat - everybody makes the same 'mistake' which MEMRI thinks Americans are making. Which suggests that it is not a mistake at all: Americans, just like almost all Arabs and Muslims, understood bin Laden correctly.
What is happening is that MEMRI is cherry-picking a couple of statements on fringe websites to support its own, highly partisan, interpretation. Actually, to be totally clear, they are relying on ONE statement on ONE radical website, which could have been posted by ANYBODY. This is not an authoritative interpretation, nor one which has been accepted anywhere in mainstream Arab or Islamist debates which I have yet seen.
This is what MEMRI always does: not mis-translate, but choose selectively among a wide range of sources to find those which support their agenda - and leave non-Arabic speakers with a highly distorted picture of reality. This is a classic case. Don't be fooled.
MEMRI's argument entirely on bin Laden's use of the word 'wilayet' instead of 'dawla' to refer to 'state.' While MEMRI is correct that in normal usage, wilayet would refer to a sub-unit (such as an American state), its dictionary definition is, in fact, 'sovereign power, sovereign, sovereignty, rule, government' (Hans Wehr dictionary). You decide. And Bin Laden's reference to not attacking Sweden suggests that sovereign states are his reference point, not American states.
MEMRI's claim that bin Laden offered an 'election deal' to Americans is blatantly false. Bin Laden clearly stated that America's security was not in the hands of Bush or Kerry, and that only American policies would make a difference.
In short, MEMRI is, as always, lying for partisan reasons. Truly, they have no shame. Hopefully no reputable outlets will fall for this disgraceful stunt.