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Translating-Jihad: The Holy Spirit Inspires Me to be an Intolerant Bigot

"Don't take away our guns!"

This is a follow-up article to this here.

In his response to our site, Al-Mutarjim (creator of the anti-Muslim website Translating-Jihad) exposed himself to be a religious wing nut, saying:

…This country and its constitution were founded by the hand of God, and that it was His destiny for His children that we should be free to worship Him according to the dictates of our consciences…

Being familiar with the teachings of Christ and the influence of His Holy Spirit, I was able to discern between the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the darkness of these sacred texts of Islam. With this knowledge, I resolved to work to expose this darkness, in order to defend this country and its inhabitants, and also to open the eyes of those already enslaved by Islam…

I know that the Lord has given me a gift to be able to learn Arabic. I do not understand all the purposes of the Lord, but I do believe that He has a purpose for me in this work. So I will press on, and continue to work tirelessly to help the non-Arabic-speaking audience understand what Islam really teaches.

Al-Mutarjim has set himself to the task of exposing the intolerant, violent, and totalitarian faith of Islam. Yet, in fighting the envisioned monster, he has become the monster. Al-Mutarjim is certainly intolerant: one can simply insert the word “Christianity” for “Islam” and see that. For example, he says in his response that “there was something very dark about the teachings of Islam itself…” and called the religion of Islam “violent, intolerant, and totalitarian.” If Al-Mutarjim came across the words of some mufti who said the exact same of Christianity–if this mufti said that “there is something very dark about the teachings of Christianity…” and that Christianity is “violent, intolerant, and totalitarian”–it would be on Al-Mutarjim’s blog the very next day (with the help of Google Translator of course)! In fact, he has already done so! Al-Mutarjim posted a fatwa in which a mufti stated that Christianity is “vain and perverted”. Al-Mutarjim cannot see that he is the mirror image of the Islamic crazies he rants against!

More importantly, however, we don’t really see the point of his site. He has endeavored, in his own words, to translate Arabic texts into English because:

It is common to hear these doctrines expressed candidly by Muslims when they are speaking to other Muslims in Arabic, but it is not so common to hear them expressed freely by Muslims speaking to Western audiences.

Islamophobes believe in this conspiracy theory: those “smooth-speaking Muslim spokesmen” say one thing in English to “gullible” non-Muslim audiences, but meanwhile–when they are amongst their own evil selves–they sing another tune in Arabic. This adds another lair to the conspiracy. It also adds to the novelty of the Islam-basher: “I am going to translate Muslim stuff that they don’t want you to see!” With that as a selling point (“leaked Arabic documents reveal…!!!”), the reader is drawn in to see what is so secretive.  More importantly, this accomplishes the task of making the Mooz-lums seem even more villainous–“you just can’t trust them!”

But the truth is that there is no such conspiracy. To the chagrin of many Muslims, there is no shortage of Islamic crazies saying all sorts of nutty things in the English language. Al-Mutarjim hardly had to go to an Arabic website to find Islamic fundamentalists saying it’s OK to marry off a girl at a young age. Has he never heard of the Saudi Wahhabi fatwa site Islam-qa.com or the even crazier Taliban and Usama bin Ladin-supporting fatwa site Ask-Imam.com? Both websites provide endless ammunition to Islam-bashers, making the need to translate “secretive” Arabic documents hardly necessary. This is all a gimmick invented by Islamophobes. Both English-speaking websites (see here and here) say similar to the Arabic fatwa that Al-Mutarjim “translated” for us. Indeed, even the English section of the IslamOnline website has fatwas that say exactly the same thing as Al-Mutarjim’s selection from the Arabic section. (This becomes apparent once we corrected his false translation.) So again, we wonder: what is the point of his site?

Robert Spencer of the nefariously anti-Muslim website JihadWatch.org has made a living out of documenting the Islamic crazies in order to falsely portray them as representative of all Muslims–which is why we call him the police-blotter “scholar”. Al-Mutarjim has simply used the same strategy using Arabic sources. Because his audience does not read Arabic (and he barely does either), nobody is the wiser to the fact that he is very selectively choosing material. He assiduously avoids reproducing liberal voices from the Arabic-speaking world. But at the end of the day, Al-Mutarjim adds nothing new to the discussion, since we have never denied the presence of the Islamic crazies. Our disagreement with the anti-Islam blogosphere is that they define the entire Muslim community by the crazies, not that the crazies don’t exist (or don’t need to be intellectually opposed).

Response to Staring at the View

Al-Mutarjim has posted a second (and third) response from a blogger who goes by the name of Staring at the View (good thing this blogger didn’t make the mistake of going by the name of “Starred at the View”). We’ll call him SATV for short. SATV tries downplaying Al-Mutarjim’s mistake by saying it’s just the error of using a fatha instead of a kasra. It’s just an error in one vowel! Big deal, right?

The example I gave before–of a Chinese immigrant applying for the position of fifth-grade English teacher–applies here. If the applicant were to say “I work as professional translated”, he wouldn’t get the job. He could certainly protest that “it’s only the difference between two letters!” To a person who doesn’t speak English fluently, the difference between the word “translator” and “translated” seems minuscule. It is, after all, just the difference between -or and -ed. But, to one fluent in English, this mistake is huge! Similarly, the difference between the two vowels (fatha and kasra) is huge in Arabic.

SATV tries to downplay the issue even more, saying:

I can’t tell you how many times I have been listening to an Arabic lecture or interview and heard the speaker self-correct as in, “wal-mutarjam la la, al-mutarjim” – “and the Mutarjam…no, I meant to say the Mutarjim.”

Certainly everyone misspeaks once in awhile. Had Al-Mutarjim simply said “and the Mutarjam…no, I meant to say the Mutarjim”, there would have been no issue. The problem arises in that it wasn’t simply misspeaking or a typo or even “hastily speaking”. It was a consistent error that went on for a year. For Pete’s sake, it was his user name! Show me a fluent Arabic speaker that would keep his user name as Al-Mutarajjam! Show me! The idea that fluent Arabic speakers say Al-Mutarajjam instead of Al-Mutarjim is as false as saying that fluent English speakers say The Translated instead of The Translator.

Furthermore, even if we accept that Arabic speakers might say “and the Mutarjam…no, I meant to say the Mutarjim”, they certainly wouldn’t say “and the Mutarajjam…”.  Al-Mutarjim did not simply make a mistake of one vowel. He used the name Al-Mutarajjam–a word that simply does not exist. It was only after we allowed him leeway in transliteration that we even get to Al-Mutarjam (The Translated). Therefore, it is not true that it is simply a one vowel mistake that Al-Mutarjim made. Rather, it is the error in a vowel as well as the addition of an extra letter–a shadda. Al-Mutarjim didn’t just make the error of writing Al-Mutarjam, but Al-Mutarajjam–which should have been Al-Mutarjim!

SATV issued a second response (or one can count this as Translating-Jihad’s third response, depending on how one is counting), in which he pointed out several English grammar mistakes in our original article. By so doing, SATV is trying to invoke a Sarah Palin-esque defense. When Palin was questioned about her invented word “repudiate”, she and her defenders pointed out other “misspeaks” from leading politicians. For example, Joe Biden made several speaking gaffes, so can’t we call it even? Yet, the truth is that Biden’s slip-ups were in no way comparable to that of Palin’s masterful “refudiate”. Had SATV found a “refudiate” equivalent error in LoonWatch’s writing, then perhaps he would have a case to make.

Similarly, LoonWatch’s petty grammar mistakes in English are in no way comparable to Al-Mutarjim’s epic fail in Arabic. Ours were just typos or–as SATV himself says–a case of “writing hastily”. But can Al-Mutarjim’s error be attributed to “writing hastily”? Not at all. He has been using this user name for a year now. He has posted numerous times on various websites, each time repeating this error. For Pete’s sake, it’s his name that he chose for himself! Therefore, it’s not an equivalent comparison between minor slip-ups in our articles and Al-Mutarjim’s name. On the other hand, if LoonWatch had been written as LoonWach (with the ‘t’ missing), and if we repeated this mistake for over a year whenever we sign off, then that would be equivalent. And in that case, you would be justified in laughing at our English speaking abilities all you want. But even in that case, it’s not really relevant since our site is not an English translation site. If you wished to have your documents translated, wouldn’t you steer far away from a company that got its name dead wrong!?

We didn’t write an article pointing out the minor mistakes in Al-Mutarjim’s translations (which are plentiful), because those are certainly different than getting his name completely wrong for a year! It is even more comical when that name was meant to be The Translator. Surely SATV appreciates the humor in that.

Naturally, if someone cannot speak a language properly, that doesn’t mean they have nothing worthy to say. SATV is claiming that this is what we are saying. To bolster his case, he provides an example, which he likens to us:

I came across a scathing review by a Muslim Arabic-speaking professor of a State Department diplomat who had delivered a lecture in Arabic. The criticism was not directed at the ideology of the diplomat, nor the content of his lecture. What aroused the ire of the professor was that the speaker had misprounced an Arabic word; he had pronounced it with a fatha (the short “a” vowel), when it should have been a kesra (the short “i” vowel). “What could he possibly have to say of value,” fulminated the professor, “When he cannot even speak Arabic properly?”

Yet, his example of the diplomat is hardly analogous to that of Al-Mutarjim. The diplomat was simply giving a talk in Arabic; he was not claiming to be a professional Arabic translator. Had Robert Spencer made the mistake of writing Al-Mutarajjam instead of Al-Mutarjim, we might have passingly mentioned the error, but we certainly wouldn’t have made such a big deal of it. The reason it is a big deal here is only because Al-Mutarjim claims to be a professional Arabic translator. More than that, his very name is The Translator! Had the diplomat in the example claimed that he was a professional Arabic translator–and if he had said in Arabic that he was a professional Arabic translated (instead of translator)–then everyone would be quite justified in having a good laugh at him. The fact that SATV doesn’t see the difference between these two very different situations is telling.

Furthermore, the diplomat made one mistake–we all do from time to time. But going around saying you are The Translated–using it as your user name–is truly something quite funny! Again, imagine a Chinese immigrant advertising his translation skills, using the pseudonym of The Translated. That’s totally different than a Chinese professor of science mistakenly slipping on an English word or two when speaking of science–something that has no relation to translation.

In any case, we were hardly trying to prove that Al-Mutarjim has nothing worthy of saying simply because he got the word “Al-Mutarjim” wrong. What we are trying to say is that he is not a qualified Arabic translator, which is what his whole website is geared around. What we here at LoonWatch were trying to prove was that Al-Mutarjim–like the whole list of Islamophobes we cited (including Al-Mutarjim’s hero, Robert Spencer)–is not academically qualified. These are not scholars, experts, or academics. No real scholar, expert, or academic would rely on Al-Mutarjim for translation.

Al-Mutarjim has nothing to do with academia. And his response to us reveals something even worse: he learned about Islam not through academic sources but through Robert Spencer’s joke of a book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)–and of course, “self-study”. Why is it that not a single one of these leading Islamophobes studied Islam in a proper academic environment? Why do academic scholars reach far more sober conclusions about Islam than the childish ones reached by these wikipedia educated “Islam experts”? Why do they use Bat Ye’or’s instead of real scholars?

There is another interesting nugget from SATV’s response to us, as follows:

…Loonwatch then mocked the fact that after he recognized his grammatical faux pas he went back and corrected it. Hello? Is anybody home? That is what makes America great. When we make mistakes we correct them.

The issue is that he tried to cover up his mistake, as we painstakingly show with our snapshots of his ever changing site. Admitting and correcting mistakes might be what “makes America great”, but covering up mistakes is only American in the sense of trying to crush Wikileaks to hide the truth from getting out. First, Al-Mutarjim tried to deny the importance of his error, by saying “so what?” On the other hand, he went back and deleted all evidence of his mistake. He quickly removed the comments critiquing his name, and disabled comments altogether from his website. If he was simply correcting a mistake, why did he remove all the comments criticizing his name!? Is this what “makes America great”?

Even now, Al-Mutarjim pretends that it was someone other than Dawood who pointed out his mistake. Yet, somehow magically the timing worked out that exactly after Dawood pointed it out on LoonWatch, suddenly Al-Mutarjim changed his user name, his website, his contact address, his About section, removed and disabled comments, etc. (In fact, after we published our featured piece on his site, he changed his About page once again, removing altogether the troublesome “About the Name” section.) All of this cover-up, denial, and lying is hardly something laudable–it’s dishonest, deceitful, and fraudulent. These are not good qualities to have in a translator.  Al-Mutarjim’s translations are exactly that: dishonest, deceitful, and fraudulent–as we clearly saw here.

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  • Dawood

    SATV: Hello, and welcome!

    As for the comments issue, I do hope you (Blogger?) solve the problem, as you obviously have other readers affected, not just me.

    First of all, I’m glad you concede the subtatniative points of our articles, although I notice your own site has its own “rebuttal” going on in the comments section.

    Second, you state:

    Secondly, I believe that much of your response to Translating-Jihad was also quite good. I won’t speak for him, but I agreed with much of your grammatical analysis. Where I disagree is your assumption that people critical of Islam deliberately mistranslate Arabic.

    It’s Arabic grammar; it’s how the language works. I’m glad there’s no issues there! And as for it being an assumption, I would put it to you and others that it is not so. The article focused on one specific site and one specific translator – Al-Mutarajjam and Translating Jihad. People can be as critical regarding Islam as they like. If they make a strong point backed up with evidence, then no problem. If the critique is not performed to a proper rigorous standard, however – and especially when it involves something like translation – then it is a legitimate avenue of response. As is critiquing those who make use of such translations to further their own cause.

    Further, I believe that the title of the Translating-Jihad article and the selective rendering of the fatwa itself was done for a specific purpose and to illicit a specific response. The facts clearly speak for themselves on the matter. Numerous times in the actual fatwa the Mufti said it’s “not permissible”, and so forth, in clear Arabic. Check the link to the original and see for yourself as you obviously have at least some Arabic. How many times does he say “not permissible”, or other similar phrases (using “منع” for example)?

    Thirdly, thank you for your correction of my “yastarfir Allah”.

    No problem. I agree that allowing non-Arabic speakers to “see” and understand the use of Islamic/Arabic words is sometimes useful, and is indeed “fun”, as you put it. The issue was not me being a “purist”, but that you mixed up the prefix (from 1st person female to 3rd person male), and also transcribed one of the letters wrong. I personally wouldn’t care if you used Arab SMS slang like 3 for the ‘ayn, 6 for the taa etc., as long as the correct structures were used!

    The bottom line, of course, is that you think Muhammad was a Prophet of God, and I do not. There we will continue to disagree

    More realistic in causing disagreement than anything remotely connected to professed (or lack of professed) religion is the animosity and desire seen on your site (and more specifically Translating Jihad) to smear Islam as a whole religious and intellectual tradition, plus all Muslims in general, through focusing only on extremists to the detriment of anyone else. No doubt there are Muslim “loons” saying all types of crazy things; let their words speak for themselves and they will dig their own graves. There’s no need to be deceitful about it. Many Muslims also hate this type of orientation to their religious tradition, and instead of working together as peers and colleagues, all Muslims are put on the defensive by such tactics and generalisations. But that is the whole “taqiyya”, “kitman” etc. coming into play, no doubt.

    I would hope that our dialogue can continue on matters more substantative than grammar mistakes.

    As this particular series of articles focused on mistranslation and deceit in presenting a published Arabic fatwa, then language will, of course, be the main issue at hand.

    For example, I would be most interested in comments from your readers on my recent post on “Article 2 in Egypt’s Constitution”.

    I’m sure if any of the Loonwatch readers are interested, they will make themselves known over there. 🙂

  • Hello, Dawood,
    Since this is the first time we are actually communicating – Hello!

    First of all, a few people have complained that comments disappear from staringattheview.blogspot.com. I never delete comments, and do not understand why this happens. Hopefully it will not continue. Your comments, as well those of your many readers, are most welcome.

    Secondly, I would like to commend you on your well-crafted responses to my two postings on Translating-Jihad vs. Loonwatch. I thought that what you said about what I wrote was quite good. For example, I agree with you there is a difference between a diplomat mispronouncing an Arabic word, and a professional translator mistranslating the same. I also agree with you that Arabic speakers who self-correct as they speak is different than retaining a mistranslated word as your screen name.

    Secondly, I believe that much of your response to Translating-Jihad was also quite good. I won’t speak for him, but I agreed with much of your grammatical analysis. Where I disagree is your assumption that people critical of Islam deliberately mistranslate Arabic.

    Thirdly, thank you for your correction of my “yastarfir Allah”. I was thinking of it as “May God forgive me”, and you correctly pointed out that it should be “Astaghfir Allah”, or “I seek the forgiveness of God”. I sometimes use “r” instead of “gh” for “ghayn” because people can have difficulty pronouncing the “gh” which is rare in English. For the same reason, I often transcribe the “ayn” as – a – and not as – ‘a, and use the “s” for both “seen” and “sad”. Please continue to point out any transcription or translation mistakes you find in my postings. Two reasons I add transcribed Arabic words to my postings are 1) I think it’s fun, and 2) it introduces Arabic words and phrases to a non-Arabic speaking audience. This is sometimes difficult – for example in my most recent post on Egypt’s constitution I transcribed the world “opposition” as Muaradah. A purist could find fault with that transcription, but that is not the point.

    The bottom line, of course, is that you think Muhammad was a Prophet of God, and I do not. There we will continue to disagree, but as I noted before I welcome the correction of yourself as well as your readers to mistakes I make in transcription or translation.

    I would hope that our dialogue can continue on matters more substantative than grammar mistakes. For example, I would be most interested in comments from your readers on my recent post on “Article 2 in Egypt’s Constitution”. Do your readers think it should be removed, or kept there? Do they agree with Naji Youssef’s conviction that Article 2 is discriminatory against Egypt’s Copts, or not? I think this discussion can be more beneficial than my complaining that you do not correctly use the English subjunctive, and your complaining that I do not know the difference between the present tense first and third person :).

    SATV

  • Nadir

    Dawood: ‘ala kifak, you know better than me.

  • Dawood

    Nadir: You’re doing more than “just pointing out”, you’re attempting to actively defend or obfuscate the issue, which is Al-Mutarajjam’s (and accomplices) lack of professionalism in regards to their Arabic. Why bring up the issue of “grammatical errors in the Qur’an” in order to change the subject? The fact of the matter is that regardless, the issue pertains to the ability of Al-Mutarajjam and Co. to accurately render the Arabic; Qur’anic grammar is entirely irrelevant. This article has shown that not only did Al-Mutarajjam not do so, he actively edited the text (through the use of ellipsis), in order to make the text support his false-point.

    No matter what is written in response to your queries, even if 7:56 was addressed, you would come back with something; we have seen you do this multiple times on this thread and others.

    I have read many academic texts and never once seen “r” used for the Arabic غ (ghayn). In fact, a comparison of the major academic transliteration systems also shows this. It’s the same too when it comes to perhaps the most widely-used academic transliteration system, that of Brill (http://www.brillonline.nl/public/help?id=transliteration – not made into a URL because of the filter) which publishes the Encyclopaedia of Islam and Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, respectively. Now you’re saying that it is French transliteration of Arabic which does this? Why would that be relevant to a blogger writing in English in the first place, even if it was so? As I said, will we see “inchallah” and other uniquely “French” renderings of Arabic on the SATV site if we search there? Any attempt to link this “transliteration” to academia outside of perhaps France will fail, as the IJMES system and that of Brill is standard.

    I would argue, rather, that such errors as the rendering of a wrong letter (for one of the most commonly used Islamic terms by Muslims no less!), using the wrong prefix on the verb (point to the 3rd person instead of the 1st!), plus the other such errors and the duplicity shown in the article above, when compounded, result in a loss of confidence in Arabic ability. The duplicity on its own would be enough to show a clear agenda; these ‘petty’ mistakes do not help it in any way.

  • Nadir

    Dawood:  I don’t know.  Just pointing out that it’s arguable since there are plenty of examples of the غ being represented with “r” by poets, scholars, etc…, where conjugation is standard across the board.  So it seems like it would be better to focus on the point that can’t be argued, the “y” should have been an “a” – if you want to go that route.

    Either way, it seems to play right into what SATV said on an earlier post – Arabic grammarians will cite grammatcal errors to discredit him, but won’t directly address questions about what appear to be grammatical errors in the Quran (ayah 56 of surat Al A’raf).

  • Mosizzle

    How the hell did he get that wrong? Clearly he doesn’t speak Arabic if he failed to transliterate it properly.

    Funny how he makes yet another blatant mistake in his ‘response’ to Loonwatch.

  • Dawood

    Nadir: I guess if we look through the SATV site, and in the future as well then, we’ll see things like “inchallah” and other Maghribi spellings of Arabic words in their French colloquial?

  • Nadir

    Dawood: I think “r” is often used to depict غ by speakers of the dialects heavily influenced by French, because the غ is so close to the French r, as a quick google search on the phrase “astarfir Allah” seems to confirm, so in my opinion it’s the conjugation mistake you should focus on if you want to go that route.

  • Dawood

    As I commented there previously, but was not let through the filter:

    —–
    I think you mean “Astaghfir Allah”, first of all, as I’ve never come across or heard nay word with the roots r f r, certainly not “yastarfir”. If that’s how you trainsliterate one of the most commonly said Islamic phrases, then God help us all. [It is, in fact, another non-existent word in the Arabic language]

    Also, your structure (beginning with ‘y’ for those who don’t know Arabic) implies the masculine 3rd person, when you clearly said Muslimah (i.e. a female Muslim in the 1st person) in your post.

    Maybe you should edit it and cover over your Arabic mistakes and continue with business as usual, without addressing a single point raised in the LW piece. That way no one will know any better.
    —–

  • Mosizzle

    Staring at the View has produced an unbelievably crap response to Loonwatch. He was unable to respond to a single letter in this article and has instead decided to switch to attacking the Prophet and assumed that all Loonwatchers are Muslims. You can see he is desperate to close this debate and move on, because he was absolutely exposed, yet he still wants to have the final say.

    http://staringattheview.blogspot.com/2011/03/loonwatch-and-defending-muhammad.html

  • AJ

    Mosizzle,

    I don’t base my judgement based upon what people say about themselves, I base it upon what they do. I know that Nadir and Abu Faris are linked but am not sure if they are one and the same, they may not be BUT they clearly are not what they profess to be and have strong ties with “the translated”.

  • AJ

    Nadir – very funny!

  • Dawood

    Nadir: Loonwatch as a site is not responsible for what people post regarding their own thoughts and ideas, just to make that clear.

  • Nadir

    AJ – Sorry, no. Actually, al-mutarjim, myself, Abu Faris are none other than Old Man Withers – and we would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t you snoopy kids. Perhaps you should have run your IP checks first, and made accusations second.

  • Mosizzle

    AJ, I don’t think Abu Faris is “The translated”. He posts at the Spitoon also, a site that Loonwatch linked to before that also says it is fighting anti-Muslim bigotry.

    Abu Faris clearly recognises the existence of Islamohobes and anti-Muslim loons, but for some reason he started attacking LW as well. Maybe he’s calmed down by now.

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