Another inconvenient public statement, another convenient “mistranslation” excuse after the fact. The most notorious case is when he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” a phrase his apologists insist he never used and which should in any case be properly understood as merely a call for the end of the state of Israel, not for the wholesale liquidation of its population. Unfortunately, right-wing neocon Bush lapdog media outlets like the New York Times and Reuters stand by their translations. Now, after the international uproar over his comments about gays at Columbia, we get this:
Iran’s president was misrepresented by Western media when he was quoted saying there were no gays in Iran, and actually meant there were not so many as in the United States, a presidential aide said on Wednesday…
“What Ahmadinejad said was not a political answer. He said that, compared to American society, we don’t have many homosexuals,” presidential media adviser Mohammad Kalhor said.
Kalhor told Reuters that because of historical, religious and cultural differences homosexuality was less common in Iran and the Islamic world than in the West.
It’s fun to google around and see how his apologists have tried to spin the quote since. Here, for the record, is what he said according to the official transcript:
In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country. (LAUGHTER) We don’t have that in our country. (AUDIENCE BOOING) In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you that we have it.
This was in response to the question, “Mr. President, another student asks — Iranian women are now denied basic human rights and your government has imposed draconian punishments, including execution on Iranian citizens who are homosexuals. Why are you doing those things?” After Ahmadinejad initially failed to address sexual orientation, the moderator prompted him again by saying, “Mr. President, the question isn’t about criminal and drug smugglers. The question was about sexual preference and women.” Pretty straightforward. Now, here’s Alternate translation #1:
Queerty.com received a detailed comment from a user identified as bigsmiles who claimed to be a Farsi speaker, and who said that what the Iranian president actually said was, “We do not have any execution of gays our country.” Said bigsmiles, “His translator really screwed him.”
Obviously he was not saying, We don’t have any homosexuals whatsoever in Iran—something nobody in the world would believe, not even in Iran. And by implication, he was not telling his audience, I am a plain liar! —something which his audience at Columbia and the American media construed him to be saying.
What he was saying is that homosexuality in the US and homosexuality in Iran are issues which are as far apart from one another as two cultural universes possibly can be. They are so dissimilar that any attempt to relate them and bring them under a common caption would be misleading. “Homosexuality is not an issue in Iran as it is in present-day American society.” This was, apparently what was saying in polite terms.
In other words, the emphasis in the official translation should be placed on the words “like in your country.” That’s a fine multiculti spin, but if it’s true then why didn’t Ahmadinejad’s spokesman say that today? By making it a numbers game, it sounds like he’s making an awkward compromise between Islamist morality that considers homosexuality an unspeakable abomination and the simple scientific fact, accepted internationally, that gays exist in all cultures. It reminds me of the bizarre rhetorical game Ahmadinejad plays so frequently in alternating between his mantra-like invocations of peace, love, justice, and dignity and his withering eliminationist bellicosity about ending “Zionism” as we know it, followed inevitably by the stipulation that he’s speaking of Zionists only and not Jews, whom he loves like brothers and wants to live with in peace, justice, and dignity of course. He’s forever threading the needle between the psychopathic Islamist designs on Israel and the sort of squishy brotherhood nonsense that buys him legitimacy with the international community on which he depends. The one deviation from that pattern is his Holocaust revisionism, which even most European leftists blanch at, but note that even there he’s careful to couch his denialism in western values like free inquiry and historical research. It’s a grand con and this is just the latest example.
Exit question: If the quote about gays was merely mistranslated, how come the line was conspicuously scrubbed entirely from the official Iranian English translation instead of simply being replaced with an accurate translation?