Across the Bay

Thursday, July 01, 2004

One Step Ahead

Lee Smith wrote a very sharp piece for Slate chastising journalists for not using their heads when interviewing Islamic experts on the topic of beheadings and Islam.

"If the press recognizes that most Muslims don't want to behead infidels, then infidels should be given the benefit of the doubt as well. Of course we won't kill our Muslim friends and neighbors, but we really wish the Muslims who are lending their expertise to our infidel press would tell the truth. Otherwise, this conversation between cultures isn't going to work. We are surely destined for a very violent clash of civilizations if one dialogue partner will lie about something that is written down for anyone —even American journalists if they make the effort —to read."

Smith puts forward a similar thesis to my earlier piece on dragomans:

"[A]nother lesson, one Said probably did not intend, was lost on many Western writers. Since Islamists have typically understood Western writers and researchers to be in league with the enemy, it is logical to assume that Islamists will
generally not cooperate with them unless it is to their own advantage. In fact, Islamists and others will often use Western journalists and academics to carry their message.

Indeed, like Smith says, there are verifiable facts and dragomans shouldn't be able to get away with their nonsense (e.g. Buthaina Shaaban's hilarious madrassa episode, quoted so often on this blog!)

N.B. One anal linguistic detail in Smith's piece that I couldn't not comment on (because that's the kind of guy I am!!!) is the Assyrian etymology he provides. The verb in Assyrian/Babylonian (collectively refered to as Akkadian) is ragāmu doesn't include in its semantic range as primary the meaning "to translate". It primarily means "to shout, to speak" and "to prosecute, raise claim". Still, the form targumānu (also in Amarna Akkadian) -- the original form of the loan word dragoman -- is attested with the meaning "interpreter." However, I. J. Gelb contested the relation of the form to the root *rgm, and saw little reason to consider the form of Akkadian origin ("The Word for Dragoman in the Ancient Near East" Glossa II [1968] 93-104.) Stephen Kaufman in his The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic wrote: "Although it is almost certainly foreign, perhaps Hittite, in origin, the word could have entered Aramaic through Akkadian but may not have. The -ān nominalizing suffix is at home in both Akkadian and West Semitic." p. 107. So it could be that my and Smith's etymology are both wrong, and that the word came from Anatolia all along! To be sure, the widespread use of the form and its cognates in Aramaic (targmānâ) and Hebrew (mĕtargēm) and later in Arabic (tarja/umān and mutarjim) with that specific meaning ("interpreter") suggests a rather complex history.

Now please don't use this boring technical footnote as an excuse to never check out this site again! Hey... are you still awake?!