Saturday, February 07, 2009

If You Thought the Tax Office Could Kill..

..then you have seen nothing yet! For some, being killed because of taxation is a real threat.

Form D/4a from the Iraqi Ministry of Finance is sending waves of anxiety through the community of Iraqis who work as linguists, translators and interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq. For the “terps,” as many U.S. troops and diplomats call them, the form is a prelude to a disaster. Unless their identities are kept a closely guarded secret, they fear, they and their families will be hunted by insurgents, militias and death squads — many of whom are tied to or work for the Iraqi government — for collaborating with the U.S. military.

It is not the first time in history that interpreters are perceived as traitors to their own country. La Malinche, was born the daughter of a cacique during the rule of the Aztecs in the early 1500s. As the daughter of a cacique, she was considered part of the noble class and allowed the opportunity to attend school. She was sold into slavery, eventually ending up in the hands of Hernan Cortes and the Spaniards during their conquest of the Aztecs. As an interpreter. One could argue that without Doña Marina serving as his interpreter and enabling him to communicate with the Indians, Cortes may not have been able to defeat the Aztecs, or at the very least, not as readily. Several accounts indicate that La Malinche was also responsible for foiling more than one Aztec plan to attack Cortes and the Spanish army. Her various roles as interpreter, Cortes’ mistress, and informant, led to the less desirable labeling of her as “La Chingada” (not a very polite term) by modern Mexicans. Understandably, many Mexicans regard La Malinche as a traitor. Her role as an interpreter has often been sullied by this perception. She has become the embodiment of the famous saying “Traduttore, traidore.”

The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Translation Studies, edited by Mona Baker and Kirsten Malmkjaer, says this: "In the colonial context, we find translators and interpreters, but particularly interpreters, taking on an amazing range of responsibilities which go far beyond linguistic mediation. Interpreters in the colonial context acted as guides, explorers, diplomats, ambassadors and advisers on Indian and local affairs; that is why they were sometimes branded as traitors, because they were indispensable to the colonial authorities".

In his article "Interpreters in conflict zones: what are the real issues?" , AIIC member Eduardo Kahane talks about "US army, NATO, the UN peace keeping forces, the European Union, ministries of foreign affairs, journalists and humanitarian and development NGOs like Médecins du Monde" as well as major companies who use interpreters in areas of conflict: "It does not occur to these organisations to use professionals because a makeshift arrangement with locals is cheaper than taking on the financial responsibility of offering proper pay and conditions, danger money, and life, invalidity and sickness insurance. This is a cost of conflict and war that nobody has quantified because it is not paid in money, but with the lives and sacrifice of local interpreters (their lives are apparently not worth much) and the lives of their families, who likewise bear the brunt of conflict. We must not forget that once the occupying forces and humanitarian agencies have left, the interpreters are vulnerable and without protection because their previous activity marks them out for the warring factions as traitors to the cause or collaborators with their employers or the enemy. "

Over 200 interpreters died in Afghanistan in just 2006. "Using people suffering economic hardship, who are badly informed and not properly covered for the risks they run when working (often kidnapping and death) is similar in more ways than one to using human shields in war, something that has been defined and strictly banned by the Geneva Conventions."

Anyone there listening????

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