Classical Arabic or Wadi girl?

I think of buffyspeak, and (I’m,like,) totally not Mohammed.

But one of the distinguishing features is the lack of punctuation, and the fact that you’re expected to hear a voice shifting constantly to represent different speakers. In fact the correct transliteration of (I’m like,) is probably just a pair of opening quote marks.

An entry in Juan Cole’s invaluable blog suggests that classical Arabic is written in unnervingly Buffy style. He is discussing the text of a letter released by the US government to suggest that al-Qaeda is now operating in Iraq.

The problem lies with the translation, which is insufficiently attentive to the rhetorical strategies of the author, and which is trying (admirably) to hew very close to the Arabic text. But Arabic style depends on allusion and implying things much more than Englisn.
Here is my rendering of the passage.

“When the Americans withdraw from these regions, and they have already started doing so, and their place has been taken by these agents [the Shiites], and by those who are fatefully connected to the people of this land, what will our situation be if we fight them [the Shiites] (“and it is necessary to fight them”)? There will only be two possibilities before us.
1. We could fight them. This step is attended with difficulty because of the gap that would open up between us and the people of this land, for [they will say] how could we fight their sons and nephews, and with what justification?– given the [apparent] withdrawal of the Americans, [even though in actuality they are] the ones who [will] guide the reins of affairs via their hidden bases; and [the Shiites will say], “Isn’t it right that that the children of this land are the ones who rule over affairs with experience? This is the advent of democracy!” After this, there will be no excuse [for violence].
2. Or we could pack our things and seek another land, as is the repeated sad story of the arena of jihad . . .”

That is, I believe the author is employing rhetorical devices, such as imagining what the Shiites will say and adopting their “voice” temporarily. Arabic did not classically use punctuation to make these distinctions, depending on style and syntax, and the author does it the old-fashioned way. The phrase “this is democracy, coming,” is not Zarqawi’s sentiment, it is what he imagines the Shiites will be suckered into thinking by those wily Americans, who will still actually be running things. The translation misses these nuances; it is typical of US government translation of Arabic texts in just not being very satisfactory for any but the most basic purposes. Because Doug Feith excluded most real Arabists from the CPA, the few who are there are probably worked to death and under severe pressure.

You have to love the twist at the end, too.

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