Ribbity Blog

baqqa mqarqra
A Frog's-eye view

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Friday, April 25, 2003

Unlike far-left British MP George Galloway, I'm a Marxist. I'm perfectly willing to believe that people's actions are governed by their own materialistic interests. OK, so sometimes it's hard to see the logic: for example, I still can't quite work out why Yaser Arafat chose to bankrupt the Palestinians when their economic success would have made him and his cronies rich men, after they stole all the profitable Palestinian businesses from locals on their "return" from Tunis. But maybe Arafat's financial status it actually benefitted by war (he can claim to be the innocent victim and the Arab world and Europe for more money), so the Marxist reading would still stand.

Now let's look at the Iraqi war. We can assume for the sake of argument that George W. Bush and his Texan friends are keen to get their hands upon Iraq's oil wealth. That would explain why they were so keen to go to war and overthrow Saddam. But what about the anti-war lobby? Why would a far-left socialist like George Galloway join forces with a Conservative-Party supporting capitalist like Burhan al-Chalabi to oppose the overthrow of Iraq's dictator, going so far as to heap praises upon the Butcher of Baghdad as a hero? My Marxist paradigm allows me only one explanation: materialistic interest. Oh, and what a surprise, Mr. Galloway has been accused by Britain's Daily Telegraph of having just such interests.

Marx was a wise old bird.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

I admit it - I've got battle fatigue. I'm just bored of reading Al-Jazeera's nonsense or Al-Bawaba's jokes. I decided to tackle something else.

For several years now I have been making my way through Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishna in Arabic. I decided it was high time to have a look at his Guide of the Perplexed, of which a superb modern Hebrew translation was recently published. The Arabic is difficult, and often full of unfamiliar philosophical terms, but I think the effort will be worth it.

In the meantime, if you fancy a bit of lighter and easier Arabic, how about this edition of Sinbad. This work has interesting memories for me. I remember seeing the film as a tadpole, and, when I was a young frog just starting out on my language studies, I remember seeing a copy of "A Thousand and One Nights" in an important oriental studies library. I didn't think that I'd ever be able to read it. In fact, it's fairly straight-forward. And it beats the fantasies of Al-Jazeera any night of the week.

Friday, April 18, 2003

I have become increasingly suspicious about the Arabic language abilities of Robert Fisk, The Independent's so-called "reporter" on Middle-Eastern Affairs. Recently, during a random sortie on Google, I came across the following comment:

The message to us – the West – is simple and repeated three times. If we want to back George Bush, the "pharaoh of the age" – and "pharaoh" is what Anwar Sadat's killers called the Egyptian president after his murder more than two decades ago – we will pay a price. "What business do your governments have in allying themselves with the gang of criminals in the White House against Muslims...?" I have heard Bin Laden use that Arabic expression ifarbatu al-idjran twice before in conversation with me. "Gang of criminals". Which is what the West has called "al-Qa'ida".

My only problem with this statment is that I can't see how the word "ifarbatu" can have any meaning in Arabic, and don't know of this meaning of "idjran". Now admittedly, there are hundreds of Arabic dialects, so it's possible that this word has escaped my attention, but I expect it's probably a mistake for Arabic "idjram", 'criminality'. Furthermore, it is unlikely that Bin Laden would have used the 'al-' form of the Arabic definite article after a vowel. All in all, very strange.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Various passover songs from Jewish communities around the world are available here. I would particularly recommend listening to this Yemenite rendition of Echad Mi Yodea.

A few notes on the pronunciation: the Het and Ayin are pronounced as pharyngeals (as in Arabic), and Sade as a pharyngealised S (note particularly the word /bo'oraS/, "on the earth"). The segol is pronounced like the pataH, i.e. /a/, and the qamas is pronounced, as in the Ashkenazi tradition, as /o/. An unusual feature of the reading tradition of several cities Yeminite regions is the pronunciation of the Holam vowel /e/ (as the Sere). Finally, note that all the BGDKPT letters have a plosive and spiranted pronunciation i.e. /b/, /g/, /d/, /k/, /p/, /t/, vs. /v/, /gh/ [no English equivalent; like voiced version of /ch/ in 'loch]', /th/ [voiced as in 'this'], /ch/ ['loch'], /f/, /th/ [unvoiced as in 'think'].

For those people entering this blog to read about the war in Iraq: there's more to life than war, and there's more to the family of semitic languages than Arabic.


In honour of the freeing of Iraqi Kurdistan from Saddam's tyranny, I promised that I would post something in Jewish neo-Aramaic. The following is a short piece from the Passover Haggada in the dialect of Zacho (Turkish-Iraqi border). A ribbit to the first person who can recognise it:

oha laxmet faqiratusa did xillu babawaseni b'ar'et miSSir. kud dile kfina ase axel. kud dili sniqa ase mpasseH. shatta eha axa, shattet asya b'ar'et yisra'el. shatta eha oze, shattet asya b'ar'et yisra'el bnon azadi.

Monday, April 14, 2003

The BBC's website gave me a great laugh today, after they posted this picture with the following caption:

Jack Straw will meet US interim administrator Jay Garner in Kuwait

For one fleeting moment I thought that Jay Garner was preparing for his role as Govenor of Iraq by dressing the part and participating in meetings of the Arab League. I thought, next he'll be calling for the destruction of the infidel and for throwing Israel into the sea. But no, it turns out that the picture is really of Sheikh Dr. Muhammad As-Sabaah, the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister.


Serious questions are going to have to be asked about George Michael's anti-American and anti-war rhetoric following recent discoveries in the compound of an Iraqi secret police station, reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

"It was home to the secret police and Iraqi military intelligence and every time an Iraqi comes within distance they feel sick," said Adba Alz of the Free Iraq Forces (FIF).

He said prisoners had their fingernails pulled. The exposed skin was then attached to the electrical wires. Others were regularly tied and hung upside down then beaten. Some were executed slowly in acid baths. Inmates were forced to sit on bottles with the stem inserted.

"The secret police could find a use for any implement imaginable to torture a victim," Mr Alz, one of more than 700 FIF expatriate Iraqis from the United States, said. [...]

Outside the prison and within the headquarters confines a much more comfortable lifestyle existed for Saddam's favoured few.

There are six - seven storey - apartment blocks, manicured lawns, fountains, movie theatre, a hospital, barber shops, tennis and squash courts, hot tubs and a main frame computer room.

Most are in ruins.

But the apartments are still filled with the personal paraphernalia of the feared secret police. Their pin-up icons include Hollywood actors Harrison Ford and Sharon Stone, along with the British pop star George Michael.

So now it's official: George Michael, Iraqi Torturers' Favourite.


The Iraqi Minister of Information is now an internet folk hero. Don't miss his fans' site, at www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com. Find out how As-Sahaaf reacted to major battles in history, and who is tipped to play him in the Hollywood version.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

I have been asked to explain the meaning of the expression appearing above the words "A Frog's Eye View". Well, in honour of the liberation of Kurdistan from the oppressive rule of Saddam, I decided to post my name in Jewish Neo-Aramaic from Kurdistan. It's quite simple: baqqa is Neo-Aramaic for "frog" and "mqarqra" is Neo-Aramaic for "ribbity".

I will perhaps post some Jewish Neo-Aramaic selections from the Passover Haggada tomorrow.

Shensox bshena (peaceful sleep),



This evening we finally unsealed our sealed room. No more lugging those gas-masks across the country, no more having to leave the tadpoles' door open at nights so they won't suffocate.

We're going to use the plastic to cover our tables and kitchentops for the Passover holiday. From slavery to freedom.

Friday, April 11, 2003

I'm pleased to see that Pakistan's The Daily Times and I are in agreement about the disasterous behaviour of the UN during the entire Iraqi crisis, and particularly the role played in that crisis by Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Annan's embarrassing performances over the last few days have left him on a par only with Muhammed Said As-Sahaaf, former Iraqi Minister of Information, now of whereabouts unknown. Without any expression of shame or regret, Annan dares to appear before the international community and repeat his former mantras as though nothing has changed. The morally and politically corrupt and bankrupt organisation that he heads has become the laughing stock of the free world, but Annan continues to act as though he represents the voice of reason and freedom, and enjoys any legitimacy whatsoever.

Go home, Kofi, there's a good man. Go and write your memoirs, so we can all have a good giggle.

No doubt you will describe how you brought peace in Europe, saved Africa from starvation, stood up for the rights of oppressed peoples around the world, and spread freedom and democracy in the four corners of the earth.

We'll probably read about your difficult dealings with obstinate states like the US and Israel, the last bastions of reactionary colonialism in the world.

You may even find room to mention some of the internal reforms you managed to achieve within the UN, such as the obliteration of corruption and the directing of resources to truly deserving causes.

In any case, Kofi, I think you should make those memoirs lengthy and comprehensive. You know, the kind of project that will take up all your time and barely allow you time to leave your writing desk. I'm sure we'd all benefit greatly.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Muhammed Ad-Douri, Iraqi ambassador to the UN, declared yesterday "The game is over" and packed his bags to leave. "I hope the peace will prevail. I hope the Iraqi people will have a happy life", he reportedly said, before heading off to catch is plane to France. The radio reports this morning suggested that Ad-Douri had asked Kofi Annan to help him find a suitable escape route, and of course Annan obliged.

So far, only Donald Rumsfeld seems to have responded in a manner befitting normal human behaviour.. "It isn't a game" he is quoted as saying. Even this was a little too soft, coming from the head of the world's policeforce. I would have expected him to a slap a heavy hand on the ambassador's shoulder, and say, in true film noir form, "not so fast, Mr. Ad-Douri".

Let us not be mistaken: in New York, Ad-Douri might have been one of the guys, swung with the swingers, and been seen in all the right places. Back in Baghdad, the only swingers for whom he was responsible were those with a noose around their necks, or those suspended from hooks with their arms tied. Ad-Drouri, with his charm and smile and good English, may have been acceptable to the UN's International Agency for Economic Development, but this facade disguised his true role, which was defending a murderous dictatorship responsible for the massacre of millions of innocent civilians and for the effective imprisonment and torture of millions more.

Ad-Douri should not be allowed to be spirited away from New York to enjoy the good life. There's no point in history being written by the winners if the bad guys are allowed to get away.

H.E. Dr. Mohammed Al Douri
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Permanent Representative on the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations
-Recorded Friday, August 30, 2002
[From the website of the International Agency for Economic Development]

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Thanks to the Command Post, I found this interest reference to PAW, Poets Against The War. (Not that they are not against all wars, just The War.) "Against the headlines of death and deception we read each day," - they are obviously reading the Arabic press again - "the anthology poses an alternative vision compassion and truth" - perhaps an alternative version of truth.

Ah yes, imagine the glorious site of poets reading some of their excellent works standing up for the right for Uday Hussein to rape and murder young Iraqi woman.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. The cruise missile knocks'em both out any day.

Monday, April 07, 2003

This morning I had the happy opportunity to go to a family celebration, and to catch up with a Baghdadi family's views. My cousin's wife, who is in her late 30s, was born in Baghdad, and at such family events I usually end up discussing Arabic with her father, a kind and gentle man who was grew up in that city and left it as when already an adult.

The father told me he simply couldn't understand the Germans and Russians: why were they supporting Saddam Hussein? Saddam had destroyed Iraq, and imprisoned its people. They had no freedom, and were suffering terrible tyranny. He had murdered thousands upon thousands of people: people who were living, breathing, feeling, happy people. They had been treated like animals. How could this be? How could people behave like this? And how could the West support this dreadful man and protect him in this way? Didn't they care anything about the people who were being murdered by Saddam's regime?

He also told me that although he seldom speaks Arabic these days (though I heard him conversing with family members), he listens to the Arabic service of the BBC. Without my prompting him, he said that he also couldn't understand how the British could be broadcasting such lies against their own forces. The BBC service is dominated by Egyptian Muslim fundamentalists, he told me. Can't they find any moderate Arabic-speaking broadcasters who could present fair coverage? He wanted to write to the British government, but, well, he just didn't know how. But how could this be? How could this be?


Did you know that last Thursday 1000 civilians were massacred? You might have thought that such a massacre would be front-page news, would have drawn the condemnation of the United Nations security council, and would have seen world-wide protests demanding an immediate commission of enquiry. But it seems that none of this happens when the perpetrators and victims are black Africans. Then few in the West care. The story didn't even merit a "lead" list on the BBC's news-site, and is even ranked as less important that "More tourists missing in the Sahara", which is the lead Africa story on the BBC news home page.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

I have found yet another example of different reporting in Al-Bawaba's Arabic and English versions of the same issue. The article discusses Iraqi Opposition Leader Ahmed Chalabi's relationship with Jews and Israel. I read the piece a few days ago in Arabic, and have now found that it appears in a rather poor English translation. (It was clearly written in Arabic, and it is also clear that the translator was not sure how to render certain Arabic expressions into English.)

I have not yet had an opportunity to study the differences in detail, but what is immediately obvious is that the final line has been changed. In the original version, the article ends by stating that Israel has been the main beneficiary of this US attack, by allowing the US to redraw the map of the entire region to end the Arab-Israel conflict. However, in the English version the following line has been added: "As usual, the Arabs will pay the price ...". This line is not in the Arabic version. One can only conclude that it is aimed at the non-Arabic reading market, and intended to cast the Arabic world in the light of the eternal victims, a role much loved by pro-Arab propagandists.

I shall compare the two version in greater detail on my way to work and post more on them later in the day.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Baghdad plunged into sooty darkness proclaims the San Francisco Chronicle. Probably the first step in the allied plans to establish a puppet government.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

My thanks to reader Solomon for drawing my attention to the following article by Barbara Amiel on the BBC's Arabic reporting. I don't know whether Amiel knows Arabic, but from what I heard I would agree with her.

Out of interest, I decided to have a look at the BBC's Arabic website. The following article particularly attracted my attention: As-Sahaaf: The Invasion Forces Dropping Snare Bombs to Kill Civilians. The article reports in great detail two press conferences, one by Muhammed Said Assahaaf, Iraqi Minister of Information, and one by Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. Both official's statements are reported at length, but there is no attempt to verify or falsify their claims.

If we are to believe Assahaaf, then:

* The Americans British and the are using ammunition banned by international law.

* The allied forces have been driven out of Najaf to the desert.

*The allies are deliberately destroying the holy Shi'ite tombs of Najaf, by bombardment and by breaking the sound barrier over the city, causing the ancient monuments to crack and crumble.

* The Saladin region suffered five injured, while the Nineveh region had 12 injured and one dead. Anbar: two injured; Babil: 58 injured and one dead; Mathna: 19 inured and 12 dead.

* The invasion forces were unable to cross the Tigris.

* The Iraqis, along with the Arab volunteer forces, have managed to destroy a considerable amount of allied military equipment.

* The Iraqi forces have gained experience in dealing with Cruise missiles, and managed to down a missile. He stressed that the effects of the aerial bombardment on the Iraqi forces were limited and marginal.

*When asked about the rescue of a POW [Lynch] from a hospital in An-Nasiriyya, he denied any knowledge of these developments.

You have to admire the man's nerve. The allied forces are now some 30km from Baghdad and he continues to deny that the allied attacks have had any effect. Not only that, he dares to accuse the allied forces of destroy the tombs of Imam Ali, al-Hussein and al-Abbaas. In fact, these Shi'ite monuments were severely damaged when Saddam crushed the Shi'ite rebellion and had them set alight, even though many of the rebels had sought refuge within them assuming that no Muslim, however cruel, would ever attack such holy sites.

What is disturbing is that the BBC's Arabic service presents us with this information without comment, as though some how, the lies pouring out of Baghdad can be taken in any way seriously, at least as seriously as the BBC journalists' own information on the ground. It is not without reason that the BBC has gained the reputation of being the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation.