Middle East Media Research Institute

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The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is a nonprofit source of translations from the Middle Eastern and Muslim press. "Founded in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization." It states that it "explores the Middle East through the region’s media. MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, Urdu-Pashtu, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East."[1]

There are questions about whether it is selective in choosing to focus on material that reflects badly on Muslims or that advances the policies of the State of Israel. According to The Guardian, "Evidence from MEMRI's website also casts doubt on its non-partisan status. Besides supporting liberal democracy, civil society, and the free market, the institute also emphasises "the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel. That is what its website used to say, but the words about Zionism have now been deleted. The original page, however, can still be found in internet archives." The co-founders are Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence, and Meyrav Wurmser. While it no longer lists its staff, an archived page [2] showed six people, three of whom worked for Israeli intelligence, "one served in the Israeli army's Northern Command Ordnance Corps, one has an academic background [Wurmser], and the sixth is a former stand-up comedian." [3]

In 2002, National Review senior editor Jay Nordlinger wrote,
Carmon and his team are most eager to stress that a major part of their mission is to highlight the "good guys" in the Middle East: the democrats, or near democrats; the liberals, or near liberals — anyone who evinces the slightest interest in reform. If a professor somewhere in the Gulf writes a letter-to-the-editor expressing reasonableness or the hope of change, MEMRI seizes on it, trumpeting it, holding it out as a flower amid the weeds. The institute is useful for "gotcha" — for a kind of ideological and rhetorical whistle-blowing; but it is most interested in encouraging democracy and reform. Carmon dreams of, to borrow language from another region and period, perestroika and glasnost in the Arab world.[4]

RightWeb says that it "cherry-picks" material with a neoconservative bias. After observing that MEMRI is closely aligned with the policies of Israel's Likud Party and opining that it "cleverly cherry-picks the vast Arabic press," Juan Cole added: "I am not suggesting that the MEMRI report was an attempt on behalf of the Likud Party to intervene in the U.S. election. I suspect they just didn't think through the issue and depended on a surface reference to modern standard Arabic" [5] Carmon wrote a letter to Cole threatening to sue him if he didn't "retract the false statements" Cole had allegedly made in his piece. "If you will not do so, we will be forced to pursue legal action against you personally and against the University of Michigan, which the article identifies you as an employee of. We hope this will not be necessary".[6] Carmon took issue with Cole's assertion that MEMRI received $60 million a year and with what he interpreted as Cole's arguments that MEMRI was affiliated with the Likud Party and presented a biased picture of the Middle East." [7] David Frum, however, says that MEMRI is both valuable and short of funds.[8]

Referring to Carmon's letter to Cole, Marc Lynch said
I note that in your letter of complaint you do not actually address the criticism that your service "cherry picks the vast Arab press," instead diverting attention to your Reform Project. I can understand why you choose not to contest Professor Cole's point. Indeed, it is the near-unanimous consensus of all Arabic-speaking experts on the Middle East that your service does exactly what Professor Cole alleges...MEMRI routinely selects articles which show the worst of Arab discourse, even where this represents only a minority of actually expressed opinion, while almost never acknowledging the actual distribution of opinion. As for the Reform Project, it tends to select statements by pro-American reformers who concentrate on criticizing other Arabs, again with little regard for the real debates going on among Arabs. Your selective translations therefore offer a doubly warped perspective on the Arab debates: first, over-emphasizing the presence of radical and noxious voices; and second, over-emphasizing the importance of a small and marginal group of Arabs who share your own prejudices. What you leave out is almost the entire Arab political debate which really matters to Arabs: a lively debate on satellite stations such as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya and in the elite Arab press about reform, international relations, political Islam, democracy, and Arab culture which English-speaking readers would greatly benefit from knowing about. [9]

Both Cole and Lynch challenged specific nuances of translation in a 2004 message from Osama bin Laden. In a 2007 report CNN agreed that Hamas was using child-oriented video for recruiting, but disagreed with MEMRI's translation. MEMRI said the character was saying "We will annihilate the Jews." CNN's Atika Shubert reported "But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says, 'The Jews are killing us.' MEMRI told us it stood by its translation."[10]

References

  1. Middle East Media Research Institute, Middle East Media Research Institute
  2. About MEMRI, Middle East Media Research Institute (from 2002 archive)
  3. Brian Whitaker (12 August 2002), Selective MEMRI, The Guardian
  4. Jay Nordlinger (6 May 2002), Thanks for the MEMRI (.org): An institute, and its website, bring the Arab world to light., National Review
  5. Juancole.com, November 2, 2004, no longer online, cited by RightWeb
  6. Juan Cole (24 November 2004), "Repressive MEMRI", AntiWar.com
  7. Middle East Media Research Institute, RightWeb, 8 March 2007
  8. "David Frum's Diary: A Question for the Sheikh", National Review, 25 August 2005
  9. Marc Lynch, Dear MEMRI, Abu Aardvark (Marc Lynch's blog)
  10. "Your World Today", CNN, 9 May 2007