The Arabic literature market is full of letters and translations that are simply the product of someone’s imagination. The bulk of these publications were written prior to the time of the internet, which has opened the world for us, making it easy for anyone wishing to investigate the accuracy of any allegation or fact. When Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah party leader, read a letter during his recent address, believing that it was sent by [former US Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger to Lebanese leader Rimon Edah, it was clear that Nasrallah had quoted a false text, a letter that neither Kissinger had written, nor Edah had received. It turned out that my colleague, Professor Salim Nassar, not Henry Kissinger, was the one who wrote the letter, as a means of imagining how the U.S. minister would have thought at the time.
It is true that most of what Nasrallah said in his address that day was full of fallacies and misquotes, but I do not think that he made such a mistake intentionally, because it was so easy to detect, and Nasrallah has previously misquoted other people such as Jacque Chirac, and George Bush. In the modern era, it has become easy to monitor all that is written. Overt correspondence between political officials can be reviewed by browsing official archives, referring to Foreign Ministries, and consulting books written by senior politicians. Regarding the case of Nasrallah, I think he wanted to support his weak statements with strong arguments and evidence. Unfortunately, he was let down by his own staff, who provided him with the wrong information, something that could happen at any political office.
Readers may be surprised to learn about the amount of forgery and falsification that comes with quoting and translating into Arabic. Numerous memoirs and significant political publications have been translated into Arabic, but they have been “adapted”, in a manner that misrepresents the source text. A translator may interfere, by omitting what he regards as inappropriate or inconsistent with his political trends.
It surprised me to learn that some western authors, not only Arabs, when printing a text that has been translated into Arabic, are also keen to omit basic paragraphs, under the pretext that they want their book to appeal to the Arab market. Such a pretext is completely unjustifiable, as omitting basic information is an act of fraud against the reader. For example, an author may seem to criticise Israel, whereas in the English version he might blame Hezbollah or the Palestinian Authority. However, he would opt to omit these paragraphs [in the Arabic version], either to circumvent official censorship, or to avoid damaging his relations with the Arabs around him.
There is also a third category of such selective translation; namely Arab authors who compile history books, relying on selective quotes from western publications. Senior Arab writers, such as Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, are guilty of this, and he may justify his choice on the basis that he chooses only what he regards as appropriate and supportive of his narrative. Yet, as far as historical integrity is concerned, the story remains an incomplete one.
A forth category relates to translated books, which have not gained positive reviews in their native markets, but are then sold in Arab markets as if they were written by reliable sources. In the West, just as in Arab markets, there are respected authors and institutions of great credibility, yet there are also lightweight writers, with a tendency to sensationalise, with no aim other than to ensure quick sales.
Nasrallah being fooled by a letter from ‘Kissinger’ is one of many cases involving false literature, which is abundant in Arab markets, and which fools most of those who read it. Unfortunately, such books and stories shape the modern Arab mentality of many of our intellectuals, who often fail to distinguish between facts and fiction, giving us a somewhat distorted image of the world.