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On the use of the word 'martyr'

On 20 May 2004, Terry Gross interviewed Al Jezerra producer Samir Khadir during a portion of that day's edition of NPR's Fresh Air. Here's a transcript of part (9:02 - 17:15 of the audio file) of that interview where they discuss the meaning of the Arabic word that is translated into English as 'martyr':

Q. I want to ask you about something I know has been very controversial in the United States, and that is the use of the word 'martyrs' to describe suicide bombers. I know that Al Jezeera uses the word 'martyrs' to describe Palestinians who blow themselves up to attack Israelis. Have you been using the word 'martyrs' for Iraqis also?

A. No, no. You know, there's a theological debate here, and I can't really answer you about that. But bear in mind that the word 'suicide attack' in Arabic — In the Arabic language, 'suicide' means 'infidelity.' It means that you don't believe in God. So we don't use the word 'suicide.' We are bound to use the word 'martyr' and the word 'martyr' in Arabic, it doesn't have the same meaning as 'martyr' in English or any other Latin language. So you have, for example, somebody crossing the street [who is] hit by a car. He's a martyr. This is the true, the full meaning of the word in Arabic.

Q. I don't understand. What does it mean?

A. 'Martyr' means that... A person who is martyred is a person that God has chosen to call him... to Him. I'm sorry this is a debate that transcends my capacity... my intellectual capacity.

Q. Is this a debate that you have at Al Jezeera? Or does everybody at Al...

A. Yes, of course,...

Q. ... Jezeera agree about...?

A. .., every day. Yes. Yes. We talk about that every day in our editorial meetings.

Q. As an editor at Al Jezeera, what's your position on that? What do you argue when the debates begin?

A. I try, personally, I try always to push in the direction of secularism in journalism, which means to leave all the spiritual and theological considerations behind us. But I'm only one, and I have others who support my position, but, you know, since we are a channel preaching democracy, we should at least be a democratic channel.

Q. Are you saying that you lose on that one? [Laughs.] But you defer to the majority?

A. No. Look, we don't vote on these things. There's no vote. There is a consensus.

Q. Right. But are you saying you disagree with the use of the word 'martyr' because it's too theological?

A. Yes, [it's] too theological.

For some perspective on what Mr Khadir's biases might be, here's a transcript of the discussion that followed (18:54 - 20:48 of the audio file) concerning his attitudes toward working in the US, toward working for Fox News specifically and toward the United States itself.

Q. You say in the [film] Control Room [a behind-the-scenes look at Al Jezeera, the popular and controversial Arab news channel] you would take a job at Fox TV if they offered you one. I think that's not about to happen but...

A. No, no. No. No, no. It has nothing to do with whether it happens or not. It was a little taken out of context. The question that was directed to me by Jehane [i.e., Jehane Noujaim co-director of the film who was interviewed earlier in the show] was if I would consider to move to America, to take a job in the United States and I said, "Why not?" and from previous conversations she used to know that I don't really appreciate what Fox News does regarding the war in Iraq. Her answer was, "Even with Fox?" I said, "Why not? Even with Fox, yes!"

Q. Now in the movie the Control Room you say that you hope to send your children to America to study. I think you also say you hope that they'll live in America. Do you have dual feelings about America?

A. No. I don't have dual feelings. I love America. I respect the American way, and American ideals, everything about America, but like any Arab or Middle Eastern human being, I hate American policies, American >em>foreign policy regarding the Middle East, especially regarding the Palestinian question.

Q. So you make a distinction between American foreign policy...

A. Of course.

Q. ... and American values...

A. Of course.

Q. ... and America itself.

A. Yes, of course. And this is what we always try to explain on the screens of Al Jezeera to our audience, that there is a difference between the American people and the American government. Even within the American government, any American government, there are the good and the less good.

N.B. Both of these are my transcriptions from listening to the audio file and any errors or misunderstandings are solely mine.

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