Folklore and other adventures in English
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 3, 2009
Sometimes I have trouble finding a really good topic for my daily post. Thanks to Naharnet, today was not one of them.
One of Naharnet’s (the English-language, rabidly-March 14 news and commentary website whose more moderate views and charming linguistic gaffes make it much more fun than Now Lebanon) morning leads is a piece on the criticism that Syria’s representative to the Arab League yesterday heaped on the launch of the United Nations-overseen special tribunal, whose mission is to investigate Rafiq Hariri’s and assorted other political assassinations, and – if possible – bring the perpetrators to justice.
I personally have grave doubts that the tribunal will do anything more substantive than waste dozens of millions of dollars, in the way that so many UN projects seem to do. But its been an ongoing bone of contention, particularly since Lebanon’s pro-tribunal folks have made no bones about their desire (and expectation) to see Syrians charged, found guilty, and punished. Forget justice: what they want is an international stamp of approval on their prejudices.
So: that’s the back story, with commentary. And here is the article:
Syria has criticized the March 1 launch of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, describing it as “folklore.” The daily Al Mustaqbal said on Tuesday that an argument erupted between Syrian and Lebanese representatives at a meeting of the Arab League at the level of delegates in Cairo.
It quoted Arab diplomatic sources as saying that the quarrel developed after Syrian ambassador to Cairo Youssef al-Ahmad objected to a “Solidarity with Lebanon” clause which included the phrase “welcomed the establishment of the tribunal” and “Arab confidence in the fairness of the court.”
“No such thing as launch of the court has taken place,” al-Ahmad has reportedly told the meeting that was held in Cairo on Sunday, claiming that the supposed launch of the tribunal was just a facade for the media.
“What has happened was folklore,” Ahmad was quoted by an Arab diplomatic source as saying, in reference to the launch of the tribunal in The Hague on Sunday.
What on earth does that mean? Some of you may be thinking: well, perhaps its just a bad translation. But in fact the “folklore” is used as a transliterated foreign term in Arabic: فولكلور.
Does Mr. Ahmad mean that there was singing and dancing, rather than a proper launch? Too much debke, too little ribbon-cutting?
Here’s how he sees the tribunal in its non-folkloric guise:
“The international tribunal is still a gymnasium; and the proof is that U.N. Security General Ban Ki-moon has personally said that the court will be launched in 2010 when the courtroom is ready,” he added.
Erm. A gymnasium? Another word that also exists in transliterated form in Arabic: الجمنازيوم ? Or perhaps he means it literally, as in “qa3at riyadiyya” – a sporting hall?
What am I missing here? I think the use of these two terms is nothing short of bizarre, but they must be applicable than I understand. Why? Because rather than responding to al-Ahmad by saying something like: “What on Earth are you trying to say?” the Lebanese representative to the Arab League, Ali Halabi, used the same word:
Lebanon’s representative Ali Halabi hit back, saying “you should not underestimate the launch of the international tribunal.”
“It is a major event in Lebanon’s history. It’s not true that it is mere folklore,” Halabi argued.
So minor events are folkloric; major ones are historic and may involve the launch of a tribunal. As for setting the gymnasium reference in its proper cultural context, I look to all of you for help.