Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Names of Abu Sayyaf: Thinking About Translations

Terrible as it is, the efforts of religious fanatics to convert or kill the rest of the world has been an opportunity for me to learn a little about the Arabic language.

Researching a recent post, I found items about Arabic and Abu Sayyaf that didn't quite relate to the post's topic, but were too interesting to file and forget.

Abu Sayyaf has quite a few names. "Abu Sayyaf," "Jamāʿah Abū Sayyāf," (جماعة أبو سياف written in the Roman alphabet), and "al-Harakat al-Islamiyah." The Wikipedia article says that the name comes from Arabic ابو, abu ("father of") and sayyaf ("Swordsmith").

As usual, translations of the name don't agree. "bearer of the sword" or "Sword of God" or literally "Father of the Sword" in Arabic.

Council on Foreign Relations, renown experts since the Wilson administration, says this about them, "Abu Sayyaf (the phrase means 'bearer of the sword' in Arabic) is a militant organization based in the southern Philippines seeking a separate Islamic state for the country's Muslim minority."

So what? I'm directing the next remarks mostly at American citizens, but the principles apply to many other people.

Unless you read, and speak, Arabic and other languages, you're getting your information about affairs in the Islamic world through a medium that translates statements. And translation involves choosing which word or phrase to use, of many possibilities.

I don't advocate not believing what you read. I do suggest that you think about what can happen in translations as you read.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.