Digital World: What 'they' say

Lots of what is written about Israel and Jews in Arabic newspapers, magazines and Web sites is less than complimentary.

By DAVID SHAMAH
May 13, 2008 11:04
Digital World: What 'they' say

al jazeera 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Lots of people believe that a lack of understanding between people(s) is the root of all conflict. Like in a 1960s Star Trek episode (ah, the optimism) - if we could just get on the same page as the people we didn't get along with and really see things from their point of view, conflict would evaporate and the world would sing together in perfect harmony (http://tinyurl.com/6ole7x), or some such crazy notion. It doesn't always work out that way. Even speakers of Esperanto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto), that world language unifier, are known to have differing, irreconcilable opinions at times. Esperanto, by the way, is alive and well, with as many as a million people worldwide speaking it. There's even a site where you can learn it on-line for free (http://en.lernu.net/), with lessons, forums, books, stories and even jokes in Esperanto. Interestingly, the site makes a point of saying that "people of many different ages and cultures use this Web site. Therefore, we ask that you always be tolerant and polite in your communications with other lernu! users." And if the enlightened Esperanto folk can't get along, what choice do the rest of us Neanderthals have? Not much, I guess. But it's still a good idea to get a to know what the other guy - or the other side - is saying. Any Israeli has got to wonder what they're saying in Arabic. For many Israelis, anything in Arabic - in voice or in print - sounds threatening. We think that "they" are always plotting against us, and that everything written in Arabic newspapers is an accusation against us, or even a blood libel. It just looks and sounds so - well, alien. Given the political situation, it's understandable why many Israelis (and Westerners, for that matter) would feel this way. And there's no question that lots of what is written about Israel and Jews in Arabic newspapers, magazines and Web sites is less than complimentary, shall we say. But we're not always on the front pages of their publications - and they have plenty of beefs with others or among themselves that have nothing to do with us. And the entire idea of labeling a large group of hundreds of millions of people as "they" or "them" is ridiculous, anyway. There are hundreds or thousands of subgroups and subcultures among every large (and not so large) group - and the Arabs and/or Muslims are no different. To us, they seem a large, mostly unified mass, with their chief preoccupation the destruction of Israel and/or Western culture that threatens their way of life. Would we still feel that way if we could actually read what they wrote for "internal consumption" - or if we could communicate to them in their own language? Maybe. My job is to ask the big questions, not answer them. The only way to find out is to actually read what they say in the Arab press and on Arabic-language forums and Web sites. No doubt you have read newspaper stories in local papers quoting from this London-based Arabic daily or that Jordanian or Egyptian semi-official weekly. While once you had to know a language well to understand pieces in such publications, the Internet offers several options to enable you to understand those stories, using translation services by Microsoft, Google and others. There Google goes again, opening up the world's information sources to the common person. If you've never given Google's translation engine a whirl (http://translate.google.com/translate-t), you must check it out. Some non-English language pages you come across on Google searches have a link that says "translate this page." This is where they do it. The Google engine can translate to or from 25 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Finnish and some "easier" ones, like Spanish and Italian (no Hebrew, though). You can paste text into the page's translation box (it will even try to figure out what the language is if you aren't sure) and display it in a language you can understand. Or, you can type in a URL, and the page will come up with its contents translated. You might not always get proper sentence structure or grammar, although the translations into English do come out quite readable, from the pages in Arabic and Chinese that I converted. If you really do want to check out the Arabic press, you can use http://tinyurl.com/5h6lnx, which has links to Arabic-language publications throughout the world (including the ones in the US, UK, Canada and Australia). I decided to check out an article at random from an Arabic-language publication in Jaffa, called Al-Sabar. Putting the link (http://www.alsabar-mag.com/ar/article--135) into the Google engine, I got a reasonably understandable translation of the article; it turned out to be about the ongoing feud between Daniel Friedmann and Aharon Barak, translated from a piece by an Israeli writer. There are also several applications that make use of the Google engine to provide translations. One of the best I've come across is the Translate.net application (located at http://translateclient.googlepages.com), a free download that you use as your desktop translator based on not only the Google engine, but on more than two dozen other on-line translation services as well. The program will automatically choose the service, depending on what you're translating; you tell it the subject matter of the translation - business, science, law, banking, etc. - and Translate.net finds the the right service with the right words for you. Also highly recommended is FoxLingo (http://www.concisefreeware.com/foxlingo.php), downloaded over a million times already (three times by me). This one (for Firefox users only, so far) makes use of 35 on-line translators (it handles Hebrew as well), and lets you choose between the translation services, automatically translating a page upon request when you surf to it. FoxLingo lets you make some interesting comparisons, like which service - Google's or Microsoft's Live Translation - is more understandable. All of the 41 "foreign" languages handled by FoxLingo can be translated into English, and many of the key languages for Israelis interested in regional events - Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Russian, as well as Japanese, Korean, Ukrainian and most Western European languages - can be translated in Hebrew as well. There are even applications now that will automatically translate SMS messages between writers of different languages: You write to them in English, and they see it in Spanish. Check out http://www.speaklike.com and http://home.transclick.com/ for some examples. We're not professional translators here - although if you were, you could go to http://www.proz.com/ and sign up to do some professional translations for a fee (or get someone to do some professional translating for you) - but that's a story for another day. The translations offered by the free on-line services and applications (both Translate.net and FoxLingo are free) aren't perfect, but they're enough to give you a good understanding of what your neighbors are reading. What we'll find when we figure out what they're reading is something else. http://digital.newzgeek.com

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