Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The scholarly quality -- or lack thereof -- of the Anti-Islam Movement: Mark Durie's emendation of Keller's Reliance of the Traveller
Recently, I became reacquainted with another factoid in the Blogosphere that recalls the same problems with scholarly quality which I encountered when trying to track down a definitive citation for the famous Thomas Jefferson quote about the Muslim ambassador who justified piracy attacks on Western ships by having recourse to the Koran and the Hadiths (see my essay I Struck Gold!). The more recent factoid involves a quote from a 14th-century manual of Islamic law, popularly known under the oddly New-Ageish title Reliance of the Traveller -- a quote that clearly demonstrates that Islamic law (or at least one branch of it) mandates female circumcision.
As with the Jefferson quote, I keep noticing that various people in the Anti-Islam Movement -- even such luminaries as Robert Spencer and David Littman -- keep using a version of a translation of that manual (translated by Nuh Hah Mim Keller) that another member of the Anti-Islam Movement, Prof. Mark Durie, has significantly emended.
When I saw yet again that Jihad Watch in a recent article was using that supposedly repudiated translation and continuing to ignore Durie's emendation, I called attention to it in a comment, and following that, the publisher of that article, Marisol, who works with Robert Spencer, added an update that included Durie's emendation along with some explanation by him.
However, the matter was not yet settled. On closer inspection of Durie's emendation, I noticed some potential problems. I posted another comment on that same Jihad Watch article, thanking Durie for his participation, asking him about these potential problems, and requesting that he provide an interlinear literal translation of the original Arabic.
Here is the relevant portion of my comment:
"However what the facing Arabic on the same page actually says is: ‘Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) (by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis
of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the bazr ‘clitoris’ [this is called khifadh ‘female circumcision’])’."
I am confused as to why you begin "by cutting off..." with a parenthesis (which is closed at the end of the entire passage). Usually a parenthesis indicates an interpolation not in the original. Your parenthetical portion would then indicate that the original Arabic only literally contained "‘Circumcision is obligatory". What part or parts of the text following those three initial words are also in the original Arabic? If you could clarify this, I would appreciate it greatly. Thanks.
Durie responded to me:
The answer is: The parenthesis is in the Arabic original!
If you scroll back up past the post you responded to, you will see that I gave there a word-for-word gloss on the Arabic text. All the information that you need it there.
Here now is my lengthy response to this curiously unresponsive and, frankly, remarkably unsatisfactory reply by Durie:
Durie responds that "[t]he parenthesis is in the Arabic original!"
Strictly speaking, this cannot be: 14th-century Arabic did not use parentheses.
"If you scroll back up past the post you responded to, you will see that I gave there a word-for-word gloss on the Arabic text. All the information that you need it there."
That word-for-word gloss also raised difficulties for me. Here is that word-for-word gloss which Durie provided:
Obligatory[wajib] (on every one the-male
and-the-female) the-circumcision (and-he cuts-off the-piece-of-skin which
on glans the-penis but-verily circumcision the-female however-he
cuts-off the-clitoris[bazr] [and-it-is-called "khifadh"]
Problems with this word-for-word gloss:
1) As I observed above, 14th-century Arabic did not use parentheses. The insertion of parentheses has two functions: a) either to denote the interpolation of explanatory clarification of meaning which is only implied by the text but is not explicitly there; or b) to denote a sense of semantic meaning which is arguably in the text and which the translator is legitimately denoting with typographical punctuation (such as modern parentheses) not explicitly in the text.
So, let us assume Durie's parentheses are all type (b), as he himself said "The parenthesis is in the Arabic original!" -- by which he must mean not that they are literally visible in the original Arabic, but are legitimately inferred to be there semantically. This can apply to all sorts of typographical punctuation, not only parenthesis marks -- such as the em-dash, the semi-colon, the colon, etc.: all typographical punctuations which pre-modern (and non-Western) languages did not use. An example of this legitimate inference of typographical puctuation would be when someone is transcribing a public speech. First, we could transcribe the speech literally without punctuation, since speakers (with the sole exception of Victor Borge) do not enunciate typographical punctuation when they speak:
When I was a kid I used to climb apple trees in a field behind our house our house was mostly in a suburban area but there was a considerable tract of woodland nearby woodland owned by the local university and it was on one of those summer days oh for those endless summers of childhood when I had a nasty fall from a high limb and landed in the hospital.
It would be perfectly legitimate for a transcriber of this speech to interpolate typographical punctuation -- such as a comma here and there, an em-dash or two, an exclamation mark, and a couple of parentheses -- to render it not only more readable but also to render explicit certain semantic nuances already implicit in the original:
When I was a kid, I used to climb apple trees in a field behind our house -- our house was mostly in a suburban area but there was a considerable tract of woodland nearby (woodland owned by the local university) -- and it was on one of those summer days (oh, for those endless summers of childhood!) when I had a nasty fall from a high limb and landed in the hospital.
With that clarified, let us more closely examine just the parentheses (for now) in Durie's word-for-word gloss, first the first two lines:
Obligatory[wajib] (on every one the-male
and-the-female) the-circumcision (and-he cuts-off the-piece-of-skin which
I can see no reason for using parenthesis marks with the passage "(on every one the-male and-the-female)" for semantic clarification (as I described above). If all the words Durie includes in that parenthesis were in fact in the Arabic original, there is no reason to put parentheses there, for the rendering without them -- "Obligatory[wajib] on every one the-male and-the-female the-circumcision" -- is perfectly understandable for the purposes of a gloss.
Secondly, even if we wanted to insert parentheses there to help the flow of the passage (for it would not technically be incorrect to do so), the first parenthesis seems to be inserted in the wrong place:
Obligatory[wajib] (on every one the-male and-the-female) the-circumcision...
In terms of the semantic function of parenthesis marks (as I discussed above), the more reasonable place to put the parenthesis would be the following:
Obligatory[wajib] on every one (the-male and-the-female) the-circumcision...
Does this reflect sloppiness on Durie's part in typing out his word-for-word gloss? Would he have inserted his parenthesis according to the second example after taking just a little more thought on the matter? Additionally, in his more finished translation, he retains the redundant and superfluous parenthesis, as we noted in his word-for-word gloss:
"Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) by cutting off..."
The second parenthesis
...(and-he cuts-off the-piece-of-skin which on glans the-penis but-verily circumcision the-female however-he cuts-off the-clitoris[bazr] [and-it-is-called "khifadh"]
The second parenthesis is additionally problematic for more than one reason:
a) there is no closing parenthesis; this could probably be rectified by Durie's more finished product of translation where he inserts the closing parenthesis at the very end of the entire passage.
b) assuming the above rectification (and taking the liberty of adding that closing parenthesis as well as an opening contextualization in square brackets), let us examine that second parenthesis:
[Obligatory is]...the-circumcision (and-he cuts-off the-piece-of-skin which on glans the-penis but-verily circumcision the-female however-he cuts-off the-clitoris[bazr] [and-it-is-called "khifadh"])
Immediately, we see one of the problems: here, unlike with the first parenthesis where we argued that the parenthesis marks were superfluous and redundant, the parenthesis marks do not do enough to massage the passage into coherent, or at least grammatical, meaning. I.e., here, whether the parenthesis marks are included or excluded, would make no difference and would not help either way to massage the grammatical mess of the apparently literally rendered original Arabic.
Thirdly, we reasonably assume Durie's inclusion of hyphenation-strings (e.g., "and-he cuts-off") denotes a single Arabic word best rendered, for the purposes of a literal gloss, this way. Given this reasonable assumption,
a) note that in the above example, Durie left out a hyphen between "and-he" and "cuts-off": does this mean there were two separate Arabic words there or is that a typo by Durie? From my limited experience with Arabic, the latter seems more likely.
b) What about the un-hyphenated words "which on glans"? Are we to assume these represent three separate Arabic words? Somehow, this seems unlikely -- though the matter could be easily settled by someone who knows Arabic who would be reasonably compliant with our questions and not begin to show signs of a curious prickliness when presented with reasonable questions. Similarly we have, in the prior parenthesis, "on every one": are we to assume, because Durie has not inserted hyphens between each word, that these represent three separate Arabic words, "on", "every" and "one" (for, the fuller passage indeed includes hyphens elsewhere: "on every one the-male and-the-female")?
c) The passage rendered "the-penis but-verily circumcision" makes sense: "the-penis" could easily be one Arabic word, while "but-verily" could be a second Arabic word, and "circumcision" would be a third Arabic word in the text. However, earlier, Durie rendered "the-circumcision" (which we assume reflects an al- or its equivalent in the original Arabic), but here he only renders "circumcision". Are we to assume the two instances in the original Arabic were different in this respect -- that the first one included the Arabic article "the", while the second instance did not include it?
d) Even taking into account the primitive grammar of the Arabic original, Durie's gloss (which, again, the parentheses do not ameliorate at all) sinks even lower than Cro-Magnon-speak:
Obligatory[wajib] (on every one the-male and-the-female) the-circumcision (and-he cuts-off the-piece-of-skin which on glans the-penis but-verily circumcision the-female however-he cuts-off the-clitoris[bazr] [and-it-is-called "khifadh"])
First, the "and" that begins the second parenthesis is grammatically incoherent. The best damage repair, typographically speaking, for this would be not a parenthesis, but perhaps a semi-colon at the end of "the-circumcision" -- thus (and cleaning out the -- for our purposes of clarity here -- extraneous other punctuation):
Obligatory on every one the-male and-the-female the-circumcision; and-he cuts-off the-piece-of-skin...
(A colon would also work there.)
Secondly, there seems to be a major mistranslation in one specific locution, reflecting an elementary inversion which, again, might reflect a casual negligence on the part of Durie:
"...(and-he cuts-off the-piece-of-skin which on glans the-penis...)"
Massaging this Cro-Magnon-speak into coherence, we get the following:
"...(and he cuts off the piece of skin which on the glans is the penis...)"
This obviously could not be the intent of the original Arabic: in fact, it is the precise reverse of what must be the original intent, which we could render thusly:
"...(and he cuts off the piece of skin which on the penis is the glans...)"
I.e., it seems that Durie, in a moment of carelessness in typing out his word-for-word gloss, got the "penis" and the "glans" (the medical term for the tip or head of the penis) out of their proper semantic sequence in this locution. In his more finished translation, Durie gets the order right:
"...by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male..."
-- but in so doing, makes a separate mistake: In leaving out the "which" which he had included in his word-for-word gloss, Durie creates a meaning here that distinguishes the "piece of skin" that is cut off from the "glans". The "piece of skin", however, is not "on the glans", as Durie's translation clearly denotes: rather, the glans is that "piece of skin" that is cut off! As we clarified above, the "which" of the word-for-word gloss refers to the "on" in order to denote the "glans which is on the penis" (even though as we showed, Durie got the two terms reversed). But in his finished translation, Durie seems to have forgotten all this, and renders a confusing distinction between the "glans" and the "piece of skin", where they should be the same thing.
The final portion
Finally (for now), we have the final portion and the problem of Durie's square brackets:
...but-verily circumcision the-female however-he cuts-off the-clitoris[bazr] [and-it-is-called "khifadh"]
There is no ambiguity about the fact that in scholarly translations and emendations, square brackets (unless explicitly mentioned) represent explanatory text by the translator that is not in the original, or represent specific instances where the translator wishes to point out the original wording. Thus, according to the latter function, the "[bazr]" presents no problems. However, the second one -- the "[and-it-is-called "khifadh"]" -- raises a blatant problem: the "and-it-is-called" part with its hyphenation indicates that Durie is translating some original Arabic there which he put inside square brackets. Did Durie thus intend parentheses, and not square brackets, for this passage? That would be the only way to salvage it. Another example of his carelessness?
A second rendering Durie provided for a more finished translation --
...circumcision of the female is by cutting out the bazr ‘clitoris’ [this is called khifadh ‘female circumcision’])’.
-- doesn't help. First, he fails to employ the more standardized use of square brackets for "bazr" (which we showed above he in fact did do in his other rendering of a more finished translation) and instead has "bazr" first as part of the English then only adds 'clitoris' after it, which is most unusual in scholarly translations.
Secondly, he again uses the square brackets -- which should denote text not explicitly in the original -- for text that clearly implies it is in the original -- [this is called khifadh ...], since he employs the same unusual clarification within those brackets -- ‘female circumcision’ -- that he used for bazr, denoting that the portion not in single quote-marks is in fact part of the original.
All these questions are not merely anal quibbling: they speak to an absence -- in both Durie's word-for-word gloss and his more finished translations -- of the punctilious care which scholars must employ in order to demonstrate that their scholarly product is sound and credible. When numerous little questionable apparent lapses crop up like the ones I adumbrated above (and there are more I did not include), it begins to call into question the quality of Durie's finished product.
Addendum and Corrigendum:
In the comments below, a reader ("randian") points out that the "glans" is distinct from the foreskin. Durie's "piece of skin on the glans" in his more finished translation, then, would at least be more anatomically accurate. Whether the Arabic supports it, however, he has yet to demonstrate.
In my essay above, I had neglected to provide the pdf document where Durie provides the original Arabic, along with his nutshell argument (at the pdf, simply search for "clitoris").
According to Durie there, the translator he rejects (Keller) translates the Arabic as "[circumcision] consists of removing the prepuce from the penis.." and nowhere does Keller mention the "glans".
It is Durie in his own translation who uses "glans" (and though he does not use "prepuce", he uses apparently its equivalent, "the piece of skin on the glans").
The crux of Durie's disagreement with Keller is that Keller is translating the Arabic in such a way as to make both male and female circumsion involving only the cutting off of the "prepuce" -- for men the prepuce over the penis, for women the prepuce over the clitoris. Durie claims the Arabic makes a distinction between the "piece of skin" cut off from the male, vs. the entire clitoris cut out from the female.
In my estimation, Durie has not made an adequate case for his claim. To do so, he needs to provide the following:
1. Provide the Arabic of the passage in question, plus a full scholarly citation of the source he got it from.
2. Provide an interlinear transliteration (distinct from a translation) of that Arabic.
3. Provide a word-by-word literal translation of that Arabic (which also should rectify the discrepancies I noted in my essay).
4. Explain in detail and justify completely the employment of both a) parentheses and b) square brackets in both the interlinear gloss and the more finished translation.
5. Provide evidence from various sources, such as Arabic-English lexicons and scholarly articles where needed, to support his translation of various words -- e.g., "glans" and bazr.
6. Provide independent verification of his translation by at least two other scholars of Arabic.
It aggrieves to think that no one in the Anti-Islam Movement -- even professors of linguistics like Durie -- seems capable of performing such an unremarkably rigorous standard as set forth in points 1-6.
Prof. Durie has emailed me a pdf snapshot of the original Arabic to demonstrate that the original Arabic has, as he had claimed to me, parentheses (as well as brackets).
(Note: I cannot seem to copy or link the pdf document Durie emailed me. Anyone who would like me to forward that email to them by email, just email me at email@example.com)
Two problems immediately leap out at the reader of that pdf snapshot:
1) The four parentheses in the document all lack their appropriate complements: two are closing parentheses without an opening parenthesis, and two are opening parentheses lacking their closing parentheses. (The one pair of square brackets looks fine.)
I can demonstrate the problem using zeros for Arabic text, and parentheses (as well as the two square brackets), to approximate the text Durie emailed to me:
000 00 0000 00 000) 0000 00 0000 000 000) 0000 (0000 000 0000 0000 00 0000 0000 000 ([00000 0000 0] 000 000.
2) As I said before, the reader still cannot help but wonder: how can an 14th century document written by Arabs contain modern Western punctuation like parentheses and square brackets? Did the Muslims invent those too, along with everything else they are purported to have invented?
In his email to me, Durie somewhat cryptically refers to this original Arabic as "Keller's Arabic". Does this mean that Keller himself monkeyed with the text -- added the parentheses and square brackets? Also, Durie in his email to me noted with desiccating dryness that my attempts to render English out of his word-for-word gloss were "not illuminating". Those attempts of mine were merely one small cog in a larger argument -- which he has so far ignored -- presenting the case that his word-for-word gloss had several discrepancies that need to be clarified.
Apparently, such fine-tuning questions do not concern Prof. Durie: he has other more important things to attend to than the punctilious minutiae of scholarly accuracy.