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March 14, 2014

The New York Times Gets It Wrong Again


The Times is often wrong in its coverage of Middle East news. In the March 11 issue, Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren
(“Jordanian Judge Killed by Israeli Soldiers at Border Crossing”) quoted what Col. Yaron Beit-On, who oversees Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley, told reporters concerning what seemed to have been either a terrorist jihadist incident or a man gone berserk:

“He shouted, ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,’” or “God is great,” Colonel Beit-On said. “When the soldiers understood they had no way to handle him, they used a gun and they shot him. They were in danger.”

Rudoren’s rendering is problematic. First, the sentence leads readers to believe that the IDF colonel provided the translation of the Arabic phrase (“God is great).” This is unlikely since Israeli authorities don’t normally attempt a translation such as this. An IDF official Web site reported the incident without the attempt at translation:

The terrorist attacked IDF forces with a pole, tried to steal a soldier's weapon, and then attempted to strangle another soldier at the scene. A preliminary IDF investigation concluded that a terrorist attacked Israeli soldiers Monday at the Allenby Bridge crossing on Israel's border with Jordan. The terrorist charged forces with a metal pole while shouting "Allahu Akbar," and then attempted to seize one soldier's weapon.

Likewise, an Israeli report quoting from a Kol Israel (Voice of Israel public radio) broadcast about what the IDF said about the incident, lacked a translation of the Arabic phrase:

"[He] was on his way to carry out a terror attack." He struck out at the soldiers with a metal rod, shouted "Allahu akbar" and attempted to snatch a weapon from one of them, they said.

Therefore, for the sake of accuracy, Rudoren should have put her translation either within parentheses or brackets.

But this is not the only problem with the Times article. The translation itself is problematic. "Allahu akbar," is commonly mistranslated as "God is great." However, the phrase is accurately translated as "Allah is greater." The word for "great" is "kebir" (not "akbar") in Arabic – "akbar" means greater/greatest. Thus, the "Allahu akbar" cry is meant to convey the meaning that Allah is greater than any non-Muslim object of worship.

The generic word for "god" in Arabic is "ilah" while the proper name (or unique name) for Islam's god is "Allah." Thus, the god being referred to is the god defined in the Koran and Hadith (sayings of the prophet) which is different than the god defined in either the Hebrew Bible or the Christian New Testament.

Lane’s Lexicon, the respected Arabic-English dictionary states,

“Allahu Akbar” refers to Allah being “greater”.

Why does all this matter? The upshot of all this is that a jihadist's intention in uttering the war cry is to affirm that Allah is greater than anything or anyone - or any other god - greater than the God of the Jews and Christians. This Islamist "truth" helps to inspire and justify the terrorist attack about to be carried out. The mistranslation of the jihadist war cry does the non-Muslim, non Arabic-speaking public no favor by obscuring the truth. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the resulting politically correct mistruth avoids aggravating the sensibilities of some Muslims and others to the detriment of journalistic accuracy.

Posted by MK at March 14, 2014 07:10 PM


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