American Liberation and Muslim Catalog

March 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

The NY Times is now offering Arabic-language translations of some of its articles which I think is a good decision, but reading the Times’s articles in Arabic have made me realize the biases which are embedded in the Times’s reporting. (I am not saying Arabic-language news sources are un-biased, it is just that many times, I agree with the biases of the Arabic reporting.)

This Times article on how young Iraqis are becoming skeptical of religious leaders was made available in Arabic. Here are a few observations from my readings of the original English-language article and the Arabic translation:

  1. The English language article refers to the “American liberation” of Iraq in 2003. The Arabic article translates this directly as “al-tahrir al-amriki.” No respectable Arabic-language news source would ever call the American invasion of Iraq a “liberation.” The only Arabic-language station that would use the term “liberation” would be al-Hurra, which is funded by the U.S. to pump out news on how much of a democracy Iraq is becoming.
  2. When the English-language article mentions an individual who is “Sunni” or “Shiite” it is almost always prefaced with an adjective. For example, this man is a “moderate Shiite” or this person is a “religious Sunni.” The Arabic translation uses the same terminology, but it is awkward, but it seems out of place in the context of this article. It is not uncommon for Arabic-language news sources to label a group “mutatarif” or extremist, but it is normally relevant to the subject matter. If there is ever an article which deals with religious leaders or Iraqi citizens, then it would be rare to see the person’s sect prefaced with an adjective.

The English-language article uses the following descriptors:

a moderate Sunni cleric

a moderate Shiite sheik

a moderate Shiite cleric

a secular Shiite

militant Shiite cleric

a moderate cleric

a non-religious Shiite

From the Times’s article, we are not given any definition on what it means to be a “moderate” Sunni or Shiite. Do “moderate” Muslims support the occupation? Do “moderate” Muslims encourage females to wear hijab?

To call someone a moderate in this context is beyond ridiculous and far from informative and I can only assume that the author (or editor) has other motives when they attach these labels onto individuals. Specifically, these buzz-words are used so that readers can discriminate between good Muslims and bad Muslims. The Times’s definition of “moderate” seems to equate with “reasonable” or “logical,” but it is also the Times’s way of identifying who the U.S. has publicly identified as a non-threat to U.S. interests.

Furthermore, the whole premise of the article is shaky.

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

I am sure that there are many young Iraqis who have rejected public religious figures, but 40 interviews can not be indicative of any huge trend. It seems like the reporter knew exactly the type of article she had in mind and then set out to get filler quotes.

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