The tape of Osama bin Laden that was aired on Al-Jazeera(1) on Friday, October 29th included a specific threat to "each U.S. state," designed to influence the outcome of the upcoming election against George W. Bush. The U.S. media in general mistranslated the words "ay wilaya" (which means "each U.S. state")(2) to mean a "country" or "nation" other than the U.S., while in fact the threat was directed specifically at each individual U.S. state. This suggests some knowledge by bin Laden of the U.S. electoral college system. In a section of his speech in which he harshly criticized George W. Bush, bin Laden stated: "Any U.S. state that does not toy with our security automatically guarantees its own security."I do not know if this translation is accurate. I googled a bit and couldn't find any major media that have picked this up.
It is on several dozen right-leaning blogs, however, so I fully expect this to be in the news cycle soon. Volokh has a link from the NY Post...as one of my commenters pointed out.
I'm waiting for Abu Aardvark or Juan Cole to weigh in on this, though I did find this from the Aardvark in late August 2003, when he was still on blogspot:
For me, the problem isn't that MEMRI is run by Israelis - it's that their agenda, more or less explicitly, is to highlight the worst and ugliest of the Arab media. They generally don't mistranslate - I haven't seen any instances of that - but their selections and emphases give a misleading picture of the state of Arab public debate.Do a search, and you can find more Aardvark critique of MEMRI.
[Update: Abu Aardvark spikes MEMRI's translation.]
I stand behind my initial reactions to the tape. OBL must know that his threats cause Americans to rally behind Bush. It's awfully difficult to see how this is any kind of argument that he wants Bush to lose or wants Kerry to win.
Yet, that's exactly what Republicans and numerous TV talking heads have been saying all weekend. The right-leaning/Republican spin machine is truly awesome to behold isn't it? Consider this story from the AP: "Thompson: Bin Laden wants Kerry elected."
A new videotape of Osama bin Laden was meant to help elect Sen. John Kerry president, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says.Yet, in the same story, Thompson acknowledges that the opposite is actually true. The tape helps Bush:
The former Wisconsin governor said the admitted mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks wants voters to elect someone other but President Bush. Bin Laden’s message was ‘‘obvious to anybody that looks at it,’’ Thompson said Saturday...
Thompson said he believes bin Laden’s videotape would help Bush attract undecided voters.On Saturday, some Bush campaign advisor said the same thing, though in more gloating terms:
‘‘I’ve come to the conclusion this has got to help George Bush, because if you are undecided and you see a sworn enemy of America - somebody bragging about what he was able to accomplish to hurt our country and kill thousands of Americans, and have the audacity to brag about it,’’ Thompson said.
"We want people to think 'terrorism' for the last four days," said a Bush-Cheney campaign official. "And anything that raises the issue in people's minds is good for us."A Houston Chronicle columnist used the new talking point openly.
A senior GOP strategist added, "anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush."
He called it "a little gift," saying it helps the President but doesn't guarantee his reelection.
Even Senator John McCain said of the tape, "It's very helpful to the president."