Writing last month in The New York Times, Libya’s longtime tyrant and veteran terror-sponsor Muammar Qaddafi proposed a one-state compromise for Israel and the Palestinians, which he dubbed “Isratine.”
For Qaddafi to be preening as an elder statesman, and for the Times to publish his vaporings, all struck me as so over-the-top outrageous that in my Forbes.com column last week, “Freedom Beats a Global Retreat,” I noted “It’s tempting to dismiss such stuff as unintended self-parody — whether on the part of Qaddafi, the Times, or both.”
Turns out I was much too kind. I’ve just received a note from Youssef Ibrahim, free-lance writer, risk consultant and astute observer (he has worked over the years for The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, among others, and you can find his columns for Pajamas Media here). Youssef, a native Arabic speaker, points out that the media, and in particular the Times, which has some Arabic speakers on the staff, “totally missed the pun in Qaddafi’s designation of Isratine.”
Youssef explains that in Arabic, “tine” means “mud,” or, “in more evident colloquial Arabic a piece of excrement, dirt, garbage, refuse.” (I checked with another native Arabic speaker, who confirms this, and notes that Qaddafi loves to unload on the wide-eyed Western media this kind of derogatory pun).
And while the Times may have missed the sick joke in its own Op-ed columns, the Arab media did not. Apparently it’s a retread from Qaddafi’s repertoire. Youssef notes that Qaddafi has used the “tine” suffix before, attaching it as a dismissive insult to various other words (“socialism-tine,” “capitalism-tine”) and that “Isratine” first came up a couple of years ago. It has been widely commented upon — as comedy — by Arab pundits. So…. in the Arab world it’s bathroom humor, in the Times it’s an elder statesman’s Op-ed?