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November 01, 2004



Here's the FReep thread.


Rodger and I had the same idea. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to ask you what they were twisting.


I came here from kausfiles.com. He linked to you as a dissenter from the MEMRI cite, which I found intriguing and curious. I wanted to see differing opinion and analysis. I didn't prejudge that a site called Abu-anything would be hopelessly biased.

But I come here and see "MEMRI is lying like always," so you really have nothing new to say, do you? No explanation except battling definitions (what is a Hans Wehr dictionary? Is there a link?) and a reference to Sweden, all of which make everything perfectly obvious to you.

As for English, I bet mine is better than yours, and I don't agree that the implication of the English translation I've read "clearly" states that it is "American policies," I seem to recall "your security is in your own hands," which is a "clear" reference to the election.

Of course we don't know the whole story, since apparently al-J skipped the part where he whined about not enough brutality in Afghanistan. Who knows what else is missing? Indeed the truth is not obvious.

What is obvious to me is that to agree with MEMRI is not in your mission statement. That you are happy with two or three like-minded drones posting their agreement in your comments section.
That I could find more evidence of this on your website, but to judge from the lack of any attempt at scholarship here, it isn't worth the expense of time and spirit.

I guess I should still be curious, and I am, but a site, or should I say a post, like this makes me pretty comfortable that the claim is true. Who knows, somebody respectable may agree with you. If it happens, I suggest you post some links. The Web is good for that.

Just wondering how you got Kaus' attention; a good trick.

Martin Kramer

I think you are underestimating Osama, Abu Aardvark. He is perfectly aware that people hang on his every word, and that his choice of words will be analyzed and reanalyzed by his enemies and supporters. The choice of wilaya here is curious and even archaic, especially in regard to the United States, since Arabic does not share the English-language conflation of state (as sovereign entity) and state (as an American sub-state entity). Fact is, no independent Arab or Muslim state calls itself a wiyala: it means a province, and the wali is a governor whose receives his authority by designation from higher authority. The MEMRI interpretation can't be entirely ruled out, just as it can't be definitely established. The explanation may be simpler, and it may just be Osama's derogatory way of belittling the United States (destined to become a province of the great and future Islamic empire.) But it would not be wholly out of character that Osama would seek to divide U.S. states from one another, just as Al-Qaeda has worked to peel European states off the coalition. It's a ridiculous idea, but then Osama doesn't really understand the U.S. system, and I find it entirely plausible for a Middle Easterner to look at the U.S. electoral map and think that this system is showing its vulnerabilities.

These are the kinds of questions Bernard Lewis raised in his Political Language of Islam. Alas, this sort of thing has gone out of academic fashion--even as it becomes still more important for basic terror forensics.

Moloch Agonistes

For the above person (or more probably, some rational human being who might follow him), "Hans Wehr" refers to the standard English-Arabic dictionary. Alas, it's not online. You have to actually go to a library. Also, you have to be able to read a bit of Arabic. Which surely rules you out.

Anyway, this post is quite right in all the particulars. "Wilaya" (plural "wilayat") is an abstract noun referring to a political entity. A 'state' in the political-theoretical sense. The clause in Bin LAden's speech doesn't refer to the U.S. at all--in fact, as the blogger rightly observes, OBL's implication is exactly opposite. MEMRI is indulging in highly tendentious, not to say distorted translation.

Unfortunately the Web is not a good resource for Arabic translation. It does seem to be a good way of propagating Republican and Likudnik talking points.

Moloch Agonistes

Postscript: the National Review link by Yigal Carmon, president of MEMRI, was illuminating. He repeatedly refers to the word in question as "ay-wilaya." Unfortunately the Arabic direct article is not "ay" but "al" (there are some complicated rules which change this, but only for nouns with initial consonants that do not include 'w'). Presumably someone familiar with the language would know this. This is an embarassing error.

As for Martin Kramer, while his sorrowful, avuncular tone is a good schtick, I must point out that "wilaya" is commonly used in Islamic jurisprudential literature as an abstract and generic reference to state authority. For example, "wilayat al-faqih," 'rule by the cleric.' Meanwhile, it's precisely the tendentious, cherry-picking nature of Lewis's political linguistics that has caused reputable academics (Kramer aside, naturally) to abandon it.

Nur al-Cubicle

dissenter from the MEMRI cite

Notice that Kaus language. One preciously dissents, with the implication that somehow the one of Aardvark's four feet is still in the Memri camp. Well, some of us, in plain language, revile MEMRI, pooh-pooh MEMRI, reject MEMRI, dismiss MEMRI, ridicule MEMRI, rail against MEMRI, vituperate MEMRI and berate MEMRI for black propaganda and disinformation.


"As for English, I bet mine is better than yours"


Ohad Efrati

Abu Aardvark is being pretty dishonest himself. The full definition from Hans Wehr:

"sovereign power, sovereignty; rule, government. administrative district
headed by a vali, vilayet (formerly under the Ottonman Empire); provence (= division of a country, e.g. Tunisia, Algeria); sovereign state (in a federal

via http://talg.blogspot.com/2004/11/i-emailed-pajamahadeen-arabic-language.html

the aardvark

Praktike - Nichevo means to imply by "my English is better than yours" that I am an Arab, and thus not to be trusted. The former is not true, the implication is absurd, the conclusion.. well, I guess we'll all have to decide for ourselves.

Hans Wehr is, as Moloch points out, the standard Arabic-English dictionary. A useful thing to have when discussing Arabic translations, no?

On MEMRI, I have in the past posted rather long explanations and documentation of my disagreements with their methodology. I could re-link them, but I doubt you'd find them any more amusing.

On the issue at hand, I think that it is highly relevant that virtually no Arab or Muslim commentators in the Arab media - another useful thing to have access to in making these kinds of judgements - shares MEMRI's interpretation. You'd think they would be clued in to bin Laden's little game, wouldn't you?

Martin, you're right, it can't be absolutely ruled out. But the weight of the context makes it highly, highly implausible. Bin Laden views world politics in terms of an umma divided artificially into state units, with much less regard for state sovereignty than does modern international law and practice. The wilayet/dawla distinction would be much less significant in that worldview. And the classical definition of the term, one which I expect Lewis would agree with, is very much one of an administrative political unit - and note that Wehr uses "sovereignty" and "sovereign." And it is, as Moloch points out, not uncommon in Islamic political discourse.

the aardvark

I fail to see the dishonesty here - of course 'wilayet' referred to administrative districts in the Ottoman Empire. But the main definition, which you repeat, is exactly what I said.

Martin Kramer

To Moloch Agonistes: Even Muslim jurisprudents have disagreed over the meaning of wilaya--whether it means (sovereign) rule or (non-sovereign) guardianship. The debate split Iran's clerics, and it still divides them.

The fact is that Osama loves not only religious references but archaic usages harking back to the glory days (e.g. the Ottoman empire, when, by the way, a wilaya was a province). In the current issue of The Atlantic, there's an interesting article on how textual analysis is used to separate real Qaeda statements from fakes. It's all about very fine nuances, it takes a lot of experience to do it reliably, and Hans Wehr's dictionary is a very rough guide to the terrain. Of course, studying such texts seriously would be putting knowledge to use in "terroroloy," which academics won't do. Hence, MEMRI into the vacuum.

the aardvark

Martin - I have a hard time seeing MEMRI's rush job here as a shining example of superior "terrorology"! They took one ambiguous but comprehensible word choice, backed it with one reference from a radical website, ignored the vast weight of internal context and the contemporary reception of other Arabs, and used it to produce an inflammatory and irresponsible partisan spin. I don't think that this example really helps your more general - and more valid - point that academics need to be more involved in public policy debates...

the aardvark

Oh, and Martin, this is half right and half wrong: "The fact is that Osama loves not only religious references but archaic usages harking back to the glory days (e.g. the Ottoman empire, when, by the way, a wilaya was a province)."

Classical references yes, but to the Ottoman empire?!? I don't think that many Salafis, much less Wahhabis, see the Ottoman Empire as their reference point. Quite the contrary!

Ohad Efrati

Aardvark omitted the end of Wehr's definition - which coincidentally seemed to support MEMRI. Aardvark's response to Martin Kramer suggests that he admits MEMRI's interpretation is a possibility. You'd never think that from the vitriol spouted in the original message, however.

To really interpret OBL, it's necessary to view the tape, which Carmon and Kramer have done - don't know about everyone else.

The fact that the Arabic media hasn't interpreted OBL that way might have something to do with the fact that al-Jazeera showed only an edited version of the video.

Moloch, on the other hand, accuses Carmon of claiming that "ay" is the definite article - but Carmon clearly does not say that and translates "Ay" as "each".


AA, while you're having fun with Mickey Kaus' blowback, here's one of your favorite themes popping up via Daniel Benjamin in Slate:

"There is evidence that Muslim acceptance of mass casualty terrorist attacks and the targeting of civilians is growing. As the researchers at MEMRI have noted, Yousef al Qaradhawi, one of the star preachers of the Islamic world—and someone who has been called a moderate in the past—recently issued an opinion allowing the kidnapping and killing of American civilians in Iraq as a way of pressuring the United States to leave. Clerics at al Azhar, the Cairo institution considered the greatest seat of Islamic learning, also endorsed killing Americans in Iraq. This may not sound as ominous as the loss of several hundred tons of explosives, but over the long term, the disintegration of religious checks on violence may wind up harming us more."



And while I'm at it, here's the full transcript, which is very interesting indeed:



some one above wronte:
"I seem to recall "your security is in your own hands," which is a "clear" reference to the election."

That is laughable. it is a clear reference to policies.He is not talking about Sweden's elections but its policies.

On to "MEMRI." this group is not an independent think tank, it is a heavily Likud oriented and funded group. It is not some kindof conspiarcy theory, but simply a fact that their board of directors is almost entirly people by people long active in the pro-Israel lobby, becasue that is what MEMRI is, a consituent part of the Pro-Israel lobby.

I am not one who thinks it is problematic that there is such a lobby. I doen't reprecent a cabal or untoward influence.

But to be accurate the proper way to identify their analysis and "translation" would be: "Pro-Likud, hard line Israel advocacy group MEMRI, says the Osama means: ... "

Nur al-Cubicle

full text in arabic of OBL tape (all 18 minutes) is now posted at al jazeera.

Read from another source, in another language:

"In the text one reads that al Qaeda wants to undertake a war of attrition against the United Staets, leading to its "ruin". Bin Laden adds: It was easy for us to provoke this [Bush] administration. It was enough to send only two mujaheddin to the Far East to hold up a piece of cloth with al Qaeda's name on it to make the American generals rush in."

Very cryptic. I'm hoping to see the transation into English.

Nur al-Cubicle

oops, praktike's got it upthread. missed that.


AJ translates the last bit as "Your security is in your own hands. And every state that doesn't play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security."

So now we're going to have to debate the meaning and context of "state" in English, too.

Martin Kramer

Abu Aardvark: Sure, Ottoman Empire is glory days for Osama. For you Slate readers, a discussion of how he signaled this--again by allusion--is here:


Lewis and others have written about this nostalgia for the Ottomans, which by the way is also part of Muslim Brotherhood discourse. Often it's tied to remorse at the abolition of the caliphate.

It comes back to what I said earlier: you have to forget what you've learned from your own secular sources (e.g., the definition of Islam's "golden age"), and listen to what these people say to one another. I don't say that MEMRI is absolutely right; there are other plausible explanations, both ideological and stylistic. But the people at MEMRI spend a lot of time with this source material, they've caught things that others have missed, and they've built a lot of credibility. Textual analysis of Islamist and terrorist texts should really be the stock-in-trade of trained academics, but since that's too much like old-style philological orientalism (in the service of power, too), they'd rather let others do it. So others do. Don't like MEMRI? Invest the time and put out a credible alternative.

the aardvark

I just got hold of the Al Jazeera transcript... haven't had time to look at it yet.

It's worth noting that at the exact same radical website, the very next post after the now famous post by "Mudhad Alouj" says "contrary to what some think, the words were not intended to help Bush, nor to help Kerry to victory, because both of them will pursue the same foreign policy. The goal was to exploit this short window of time of the election to push the American people into carrying their responsibility to compel their elected government, whoever is its president, to withdraw its troops from the Islamic world, and to sever the deep cooperation with the Zionist entity, because the al Qaeda organization has a list of demands, not a list of names that it wants elected."

Is this the "true" meaning of bin Laden's video? Of course not, any more than is Alouj's interpretation. It's just some guy on a radical website on that internets thingy.

That's why I think that the internal consistency and context of the message, along with how it is received by Arabs and Muslims, are pretty relevant pieces of evidence.

the aardvark

Martin, on MEMRI in general - the problem is not with the textual analysis, it is with the imbalance of presentation which leads to wildly inaccurate impressions. I agree that forming a more balanced and reasonable alternative to MEMRI would be a good thing; something for people with money and time to look into in coming days. But certainly you'd agree that it would be a bad thing if the *only* window into the Islamic world which most Americans could get was a website controlled by Edward Said worshippers. Why is a similarly one sided and unreliable source on the other side not equally disturbing?

Will Echols

It seems to me that the only way the argument that "wilaya" refers in this case to individual states is if you look at it out of context. The speech has structure to it: it is a comparison of the U.S. and its situation first to Sweden, and then to Russia.

Bin Laden's reasoning is clear: Sweden isn't a threat to the "security" of the Islamic community, so it hasn't been attacked; the U.S. (and Russia before it) is, in bin Laden's mind, so it has been attacked. In this context, if one is able to follow a logical argument, it is fairly obvious that he is speaking of a sovereign entity, just as he was earlier in regard to Sweden and Russia.

Second, let's look at Carmon's translation versus the Arabic transcript; it doesn't pass the laugh test. Carmon doesn't translate the speech as saying "each state"; he translates it as saying "any U.S. state." On MEMRI's site, "U.S." is in parenthesis; on NRO it isn't. That's ridiculous: he doesn't mention "al-wilayaat al-mutahida al-amrikiya" (the U.S.) after "wilaya"; he's already put his own spin into the translation.

Moloch, I'm not sure why Carmon refers to "wilaya" as "ay-wilaya," in terms of Arabic; I agree that it makes no sense. There is no definite article (al-) before "wilaya" in the Arabic text of the speech.

Ohad, he didn't translate "ay" as any; if it hadn't been meant to denote the definite article it WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN PLACED IN FRONT OF WILAYA WITH A DASH. As I just mentioned, the direct article isn't in the speech. The word that he translated as "any" is "kul." Al-Jazeera translates it as "every"; which in my very limited experience is a much better translation.

Greg G

Martin, if we are "listen[ing] to what these people say to one another," wouldn't the interpretations of the Muslim world be more important than any outside organization, like MEMRI? If we are listening to what these people say to one another, wouldn't we expect SOME interpreters in that Muslim world to catch this interpretation?

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