Wrighting a Wrong

As a blog engaged in the back-and-forth about the Middle East from Gaza to Gefilte, we recognize that sometimes things get lost in translation. Robert Wright’s piece in The Atlantic today is a humbling example of just how this happens.

Last week Commentary reported that Iranian President Ahmadinejad had been "bragging about the slaughter of five Israeli tourists" in Bulgaria and that this bragging "contradicted" the Iranian government's denials of involvement in the Bulgarian bus bombing.

Commentary had gotten this information from The Times of Israel, which reported that Ahmadinejad had "gloated publicly on Thursday over the deaths of Israelis in a terror bombing in Bulgaria, and hinted that Iran was responsible for the attack." The Times of Israel in turn attributed this information to a report in Hebrew on Israel's Channel 2.

Somewhere in this Persian-to-Hebrew-to-English translation, something got lost--or added. Iran may or may not be behind the Bulgarian bombing, but there's no reference to the bombing in Ahmadinejad's speech, and a close appraisal of the speech makes it highly unlikely that Ahmadinejad meant to allude to the bombing.

Nima Shirazi, the blogger who first raised doubts about the Israeli interpretation of Ahmadinejad's remarks, calls the distortion "propaganda." But what seems to me more likely--and, in a way, more unsettling--is that the distortion wasn't intentional, but rather was the result of an essentially unconscious warping that comes naturally to humans.

The point here isn’t whether Iran is behind the Bulgaria attacks; Wright says, “It’s entirely possible that Iran is, in fact, behind the Bulgarian bombing.” The point is: we’re all human. And very few of us Americans speak Farsi.