Margaret Wente and her undeclared MEMRI source

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The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is a pro-Israel organization with headquarters in Washington DC and its Media Centre in Israel. Although the official motto is, "Bridging the Language Gap Between the Middle East and the West,"[1] MEMRI is known for its selective, biased, and out-of-context English translations of Middle East news and opinion material. In fact, its translations are so inaccurate, selective, and incomplete, that any fair-minded and well-informed person could easily conclude MEMRI’s motto should be, "Increasing the Gap Between the Muslim World and the West in Favor of Israel."

This is because MEMRI translators seem to ignore any material, which could promote better understanding between the Muslim World and the West. Apparently, that is not their job… but of course the organization doesn’t say so. Founded in 1998, ostensibly "to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East," MEMRI is instead more than happy to distribute and post on its website any material that disinforms and misinforms the West about Islam and Muslims. Perhaps that bias passes for "informed" debate in its organizational circles, but directional and ethical credibility is sadly lacking here.[2]

MEMRI claims to offer "timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, and Hebrew media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East." But if you think you’re dealing with an independent research organization that presents a balanced spectrum of viewpoints to promote peace in the Middle East, then think again.

Some political writers and journalists, however — including Canadian Margaret Wente — uncritically love what MEMRI offers them, and use its biased interpretations freely, without divulging this source to readers. MEMRI offers such writers easy, pre-digested menu opinions, reflecting what they like to hear about Islam and Muslims.[3]

Take a recent example: the Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera [4] runs a popular American-style talk show called "The Other Direction," in which two guests of strongly opposed views are invited to debate a current subject. The host heats up the atmosphere by egging on guests to provoke one another, often with predictably volatile results.

Given MEMRI’s self-described mandate, you’d think its staff would translate and distribute both sides of any on-air debate concerning important Middle East issues. This would be the professional and ethical way; the debate would then be given a meaningful context.

But that is not what happened when a recent episode (aired Feb. 21) of "The Other Direction" went through MEMRI’s biased filter. The show’s guests included Dr. Mohamed Elkholi, a professor of Islamic studies, and an American woman, Ms. Wafa Sultan, exchanging views on whether Islam or Muslims should be blamed for the state of affairs in the Muslim world today. The professor came prepared with good academic credentials, while Ms. Sultan’s only qualifications — apart from her Syrian MD degree, which she does not use in the U.S. — seemed to be her passionate hatred of Islam, which she categorically blamed for every wrong ever done by Muslims.

A few days after "The Other Direction" aired, MEMRI ignored Prof. Elkholi’s reasoned arguments — supported by references from the Qur’an (Islam’s Holy Book), the teachings of the Prophet, and from Islamic history — translating selectively Ms. Sultan’s angry statements,[5] which attracted the attention of the American Jewish Congress. The AJC promptly invited her to speak at their conference in Israel this summer.[6]

The New York Times also interviewed Ms. Sultan and in an article published March 11, quoted her as saying, "Knowledge has released me from this backward thinking. Somebody has to help free the Muslim people from these wrong beliefs." [7]

That made her an instant heroine to writers like Margaret Wente, who even proposed that Ms. Sultan be given an award. On March 9 she wrote,[9] "If you’re a Muslim, it’s dangerous to be labeled an apostate, even if you live in the West. Ask Salman Rushdie. Or ask Wafa Sultan, an Arab-American woman from Syria who has chosen to go head to head with Islamist clerics on Al-Jazeera. Two weeks ago, in Arabic, she argued, ‘The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions or a clash of civilizations … It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings’." [9]

However, both MEMRI and Wente failed to divulge something else that Ms. Sultan announced on the same Al-Jazeera show: "I am not a Muslim. I am not a Christian. I am not a Jew," she said.

It is abundantly clear from this single incident that neither MEMRI, Margaret Wente, nor the AJC were interested in the real debate. They were out to glean only those details that supported their unfair and undeclared biases. There is only one response to such unethical misrepresentations of the truth — Shame!

Notes:

[1]. http://www.memri.org/

[2]. "Selective Memri" – by Brian Whitaker, The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/elsewhere/journalist/story/0,7792,773258,00.html

[3]. "Repressive MEMRI" – by Juan Cole – http://www.antiwar.com/cole/?articleid=4047
– http://antiwar.com/cole/?articleid=3898
– http://www.juancole.com
– http://www.prwatch.org/forum/showthread.php?s=&threadid=103
– http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/news/breaking_news/10075425.htm?1c
– http://memri.org/bin/media.cgi?ID=106504

[4]. http://www.aljazeera.net

[5]. http://www.memritv.org/Transcript.asp?P1=1050
– http://tinyurl.com/rsvzs

[6]. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-sultan13mar13,0,2410999.story

[7]. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/11/international/middleeast/11sultan.html?ei=5090&en=d13886daba5e586f&ex=
1299733200&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=print

[8]. Honour these feminists – by Margaret Wente – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20060309.
COWENT09/TPStory/National/columnists
– http://www.afghanwomensmission.org/news/index.php?articleID=47

[9]. http://tinyurl.com/rsvzs (Google)

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