“Do not take anything for granted. Not even words.”
October 22, 2017 2:07 PM   Subscribe

In February, Toronto imam Ayman Elkasrawy was accused of hate-preaching against Jews. He was condemned by many, including members of his own faith. In the aftermath, he reached out to the local Jewish community to educate himself and learn from his mistakes. Still, a key question remained unanswered: did he really say what he was accused of saying?
posted by zarq (20 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
The core of the article:
The experts found that the imam’s prayers were not without fault, and many clarified that they do not condone or excuse some of the language he used.

But they also described the initial, widely circulated translation as “mistranslated,” “decontextualized” and “disingenuous.” One said it had the hallmarks of a “propaganda translation.”

The YouTube clip was particularly troubling for Arabic sociolinguist and dialectologist Atiqa Hachimi, an associate professor at the University of Toronto.

This is because the clip was digitally manipulated: the first two seconds were cut and pasted from a different prayer Elkasrawy had made two minutes earlier. A slanted translation then transformed this Quranic verse from “Thou art our Protector. Help us against those who stand against faith” to “Give us victory over the disbelieving people.” ...

As for “Purify the Al-Aqsa mosque from the filth of the Jews,” a more accurate translation is “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it,” according to Nazir Harb Michel, an Arabic sociolinguist and Islamophobia researcher at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
So it does seem that Elkasrawy was slandered in bad faith. At the same time, neutral observers still think that he made troubling statements about Jewish people. So a complex case, but certainly not one that lets him entirely off the hook.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:15 PM on October 22, 2017 [10 favorites]


Yeah, as a Jew this article made me super duper uncomfortable. Not about Elkasrawy himself - he said something hurtful without thinking it through, and then when it was brought to his attention he made a thoughtful and kind-hearted attempt to reach out and educate himself. We should all handle our own errors with such grace, and I have a lot of respect for him.

The article’s repeated insistence on downplaying his statements, though, was really off-putting. Like “oh, well, he didn’t mean like JEWS Jews, and he didn’t mean like FILTH filth” - it felt like the author was hell-bent on insisting that Elkasrawy did nothing wrong when even Elkasrawy himself acknowledges he did something wrong, even if it isn’t the specific flavor of wrong that he was accused of (which isn’t to say the people spreading the bad translation in the first place don’t deserve our scorn and anger - seriously, fuck those guys).

Tl;dr the author feels like the kind of person who, a few drinks in, will insist that they’re not an anti-Semite but has a whole lot of opinions about “globalists”.
posted by Itaxpica at 3:36 PM on October 22, 2017 [25 favorites]


a more accurate translation is “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it,”

yeah, I get that the initial thing he was supposed to have said he didn't, but that more accurate translation isn't exactly great either... Its also really telling that some of the blow back this Iman is getting is from other Muslims, who are condemning him for using outdated overly militaristic prayer.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:37 PM on October 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Tl;dr the author feels like the kind of person who, a few drinks in, will insist that they’re not an anti-Semite but has a whole lot of opinions about “globalists”.

did you notice how the author of the piece illustrated every Jewish person's connection to Israel in the article, even though in this context it doesn't really matter? Like the people who noticed this "gaffe" pointed it out because it was anti-Semitic not anti israel, and yet the author has to connect each person to Israel. gross.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:46 PM on October 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


From the article, my impression of the actual problem with the quoted part of the prayer is that Elkasrawy included "old" language lifted from the Qur’an - roughly equivalent to someone pulling up some fire and brimstone from the Old Testament (complete with smiting etc) - plus some lazy shorthand...
He said “Jews” is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews. But he acknowledges this common usage is problematic.
Um, yes. If you mean "Israel occupiers", say "Israel occupiers", not "Jews". Words matter.

But overall, it was refreshing to read about people reaching across a divide to heal and to seek understanding.

We need more Bernie Farbers and fewer Ezra Levants. And some more Ayman Elkasrawys, of all faiths.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:00 PM on October 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


did you notice how the author of the piece illustrated every Jewish person's connection to Israel in the article, even though in this context it doesn't really matter?

No, I did not notice that. Having re-read the article, I still don't.

Care to highlight all these irrelevant-in-the-context Israeli connections I'm apparently missing? I'm only seeing two such connections at all (there are more than two Jewish people mentioned in the article), and they're both very relevant.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:51 PM on October 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


He said “Jews” is widely used in the Arabic-speaking world to mean “Israeli forces” or “Israeli occupiers,” not as a sweeping reference to all ethnic and religious Jews. But he acknowledges this common usage is problematic.

Problematic is an understatement. Violence by Muslims against Jews in France and elsewhere is the result of this kind of talk.
posted by ocschwar at 5:14 PM on October 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


The article’s repeated insistence on downplaying his statements,

I'm also Jewish. This wasn't my impression. They quoted quite a few people who explained why and how his statement was anti-Semitic. Including a professor who noted that historically, Jews have been killed thanks to such statements.

The video was manipulated to make it sound like Elkasrawy said something in a different, far more damning context. What he said was already damning and anti-Semitic, which the article made quite clear.

But knowing that the person who brought the news to light (Halevi) likely:
A) manipulated the video to make the statements seem even worse than they were
B) chose the most damning translations for the words in question
C) is potentially biased on the issue to the extent that they pushed a narrative that Canadian Muslim mosques are hotbeds of anti-Semitism
...and that another person in the article presented as an expert analyst (Kedar) has an association with known Islamophobe and fearmongerer Pamela Geller

...are things that are very relevant to anyone who is trying to determine the truth of what happened.
posted by zarq at 5:30 PM on October 22, 2017 [18 favorites]


Knowing what I now do about Rebel Media's support of the far right, including actual indisputable antisemites I'm not willing to engage with anything they promote. That being said, I agree with the people here who think Elkasrawy’s defenders are downplaying his remarks excessively. Allegations that Jews desecrate al-Aksa mosque have been used to trigger pogroms since at least 1929, and the allegation continues to provoke murderous attacks. It's pretty much the equivalent of a blood libel.

I think Professor Hachimi's refutation of the video was disingenuous. She justified her interpretation by pointing to a brief clip of (what is apparently) a struggle between Israeli police and someone else on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and calls it a desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque. We don't actually know who the police are arresting, but it's certainly not taking place in the mosque. As The Star correctly says, the mosque is one of the buildings on the compound; but it's a big compound and it's not treated as especially holy: it's open to visitors and I've seen videos of kids playing football there. So she's hyping up an incident of which we know little or nothing, giving it a false context, and using it to justify a hate crime. If the matter were less serious I'd say it was ironic.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:38 PM on October 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Allegations that Jews desecrate al-Aksa mosque have been used to trigger pogroms since at least 1929, and the allegation continues to provoke murderous attacks. It's pretty much the equivalent of a blood libel.

This comparison seems a bit excessive to me. It seems like the attack definitely has the potential to become an excuse to justify antisemitic violence, but unlike the blood libel, there actually seems to be some pretty good evidence of occupation of this particular mosque by the Israeli state. Sure it is often a matter of interpretation (is it occupation or security?), but it's real, quite, quite unlike the historical origin and antisemitic use of the blood libel. Just like it is unhelpful to call every attack against jews a "holocaust", it is unhelpful to make this comparison.
posted by ipsative at 8:30 PM on October 22, 2017


ipsative did you not see that these allegations of desecration date back to 1929, long before Jews had any control over Israel? I think that historically these claims are very similar to blood libel.

Sys Rq, you are right, I reread the article. and you are 100% right. I'm just a little sensitive this week, some other article I read had a very ((())) esqe pointing out of Israel connections unnecessarily and I'm a little tired of it. I also don't like how this article seems to go to great lengths to try and defend what this man said, even when he himself and multiple Muslim sources agrees he was out of line. I think Itaxpica has a good point about this author possibly having a good rant about globalists in their spare time.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:00 PM on October 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think Professor Hachimi's refutation of the video was disingenuous. She justified her interpretation by pointing to a brief clip of (what is apparently) a struggle between Israeli police and someone else on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and calls it a desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque. We don't actually know who the police are arresting, but it's certainly not taking place in the mosque.

This is not true. The Palestinians reportedly barricaded themselves inside the mosque (not just the compound but the mosque itself,) before they were arrested. It's unclear whether they were arrested inside the mosque or outside its walls but the mosque itself was involved in the conflict.

Some background for anyone who is not familiar with the geography of the site and the details of what happened on June 25th and 26th, 2016: The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is 35 acres in East Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem's Old City. It's made up of four quarters: An Armenian Quarter, a Jewish Quarter, a Christian Quarter and a Muslim Quarter. Some Muslims refer to it as "The Noble Sanctuary."

The Al-Aqsa mosque is located here, as is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and David's Citadel. Each of these specific sites have some religious significance to one or more of the three Abrahamic religions, which is why the entire compound has been granted special status by the United Nations. It's administered by the UN, has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO and belongs to the international community.

So everyone here is crystal clear regarding the significance of the holy site: Muslims have also declared the Mosque to be the third holiest site in Islam. Not the compound itself, but the Mosque it contains. Here's a history of the compound and an explanation of why the mosque has religious significance to Muslims.

The article clearly states that the prayers the imam said were in response to the violence at the compound on June 26th, 2016. There was violence. It was reported on by multiple news outlets. 'The Palestinian Red Crescent said that its medical team took seven Palestinians to an East Jerusalem hospital for treatment of injuries from sponge-tipped bullets, tear gas and beatings.' 'Police said that officers at the Old City site arrested four masked youths “who were disrupting visits on the Temple Mount” by non-Muslims on Saturday, June 25th.' Those masked Palestinian youths protested, then retreated to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The BBC reported that "The Palestinians are understood to have barricaded themselves into the mosque on Saturday" They were arrested by the police on Sunday, June 26th.

The article linked in this post also notes that the account of what happened differs depending on whether you are reading Israeli or Arab media. Which is why I've linked to an article from each as well as a brief from the BBC.

To recap:
There was indeed violence:
Four Palestinian youths protested at the compound, violently.
The Police arrived.
The Palestinians retreated inside the mosque and barricaded themselves in.
Seven Palestinians were reportedly arrested (eventually).

The prayer Imam Elkasrawy said was in response to the news reports which said so. He said this himself.

The video footage that Professor Hachimi looked at and analyzed was actually of two prayers said by Imam Elkasrawy that had been doctored. It was spliced together to make it appear that two different things he said were part of a single prayer. The article explains this in adequate detail and clarity, as does the included 3 minute video. The Professor notes that the decontextualized video which (repeating for emphasis) was doctored and mistranslated turned the two unrelated prayers into something that had a very different meaning.
posted by zarq at 9:11 PM on October 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


ipsative did you not see that these allegations of desecration date back to 1929, long before Jews had any control over Israel? I think that historically these claims are very similar to blood libel.

Thanks for pointing that out, though I assure you I did read the fragment that I myself quoted. The crucial difference is that the facts on which these desecration accusations are based on actually happened/keep happening, there is evidence for it. Not so with the blood libel, and equating them is not helpful and erases Palestinian legitimate concerns.

One is not like the other in very important ways.
posted by ipsative at 9:54 PM on October 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


So, what did Imam Elkasrawy actually say?

I went through the article, and I know what he didn't say. I know quite a bit of background on the controversy. I find I don't quite know what he actually said. Well, beyond it having contained the phrase: “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it”.

If the argument is that the controversy was the result of a mistranslation of words taken out of context, an accurate translation in context would seem the logical place to start, no?
posted by Grimgrin at 9:56 PM on October 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is 35 acres in East Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and Jerusalem's Old City. It's made up of four quarters: An Armenian Quarter, a Jewish Quarter, a Christian Quarter and a Muslim Quarter. Some Muslims refer to it as "The Noble Sanctuary."

The Al-Aqsa mosque is located here, as is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and David's Citadel.


No; that's the Old City itself. The Temple Mount is basically the levelled top of a hill that makes up the SE corner of the Old City, and it only has three major structures on it: the al-Aqsa mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Dome of the Chain.

Also, I should probably mention that the "third holiest Muslim site" thing is not uncontentious: as I understand it that Shi'ite Muslims have their own preferences while some influential Sunni Muslims reject the idea of any sites other than Mecca and Medina being ranked. That doesn't change the facts here, of course: it's obviously very significant to Elkasrawy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:19 PM on October 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


The crucial difference is that the facts on which these desecration accusations are based on actually happened/keep happening, there is evidence for it. Not so with the blood libel [...]

Accusations that Jews are "desecrating al-Aqsa" are like blood libels in that they are pretexts for otherwise-unjustified violence against Jews. The truth of the accusation has never been important, neither in Europe nor the Middle East, and the fact that some European attacks on Jews were occasioned by actual events (e.g., a Jew allegedly blasphemed) doesn't make them justifiable.

In this case the accusations that lead to violence against Jews include things like "Jews plan to turn al-Aqsa into a synagogue", "Jews are undermining al-Aqsa so that it will collapse", and "Jews are cursing al-Aqsa", but they also include things like "The government wishes to install metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount". That accusation was absolutely true, but there's no way it could have reasonably justified the Halamish massacre earlier this year. So that's what I mean by the comparison: the accusations fulfill the same sociological purpose.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:02 PM on October 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


[One deleted. Please go ahead and express your opposing view in a reasonable manner. To everyone: Please resist temptation to throw around incendiary language and accusations. Also, if we're going to have a big throwdown in here about charges the reporter is antisemitic or alt right or whatever is being suggested, please provide something to back that up a bit? She's the newspaper's "Identity and Inequality Reporter," so this would be a significant ethical problem, and warrants some sort of evidence.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:40 PM on October 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


I was impressed by the depth of the investigative reporting and research that went into this piece. I came away with a much more nuanced understanding of the story.

I know what my view is on what happened. I also quickly recognized that the article could be interpreted in different ways, depending on the reader's own views on this topic. In this case, I'm inclined to say that that's a sign of good news reporting.
posted by booksarelame at 2:57 PM on October 23, 2017


I had no problems with the report either. I was pleased that Ms Yang distinguished between the al-Aqsa mosque and the Temple Mount compound, and that she correctly described the compound (and not just its western wall) as being Judaism's holiest site. Many reporters get this wrong.

That being said, even the alternative translation, “Cleanse Al-Aqsa mosque from the Jews’ desecration of it,” is racist incitement. Even if it were factually accurate – I understand that the police on the Temple Mount are specifically not Jewish, and the police do not appear to have entered the mosque at that time – it's still a bigoted and inflammatory thing to say. I don't think he was treated unfairly, and I'm concerned that he has returned to preaching at Masjid Toronto.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:13 PM on October 23, 2017


I'm concerned that [Elkasrawy] has returned to preaching at Masjid Toronto.

I think most people are onside that the offending statement, even in the abriged translation, is as you state, a racist incitement.

Having read the story - how Elkasrawy criticized his own statement, how he sought forgiveness and understanding, the insights gained by him about how such a usage made it into his prayer - what specifically is your concern about him returning to preaching?

I'd have thought that a repentant and counselled (and possibly former) anti-Semite is better than one not yet revealed.

I have a high and still growing respect for Bernie Farber, and if he found that Elkasrawy was of good character, that would be enough for me. But I'm not a member of either faith/ethnicity.
posted by Artful Codger at 4:17 PM on October 24, 2017 [2 favorites]


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