Professor Marc Lynch as dragoman?

When an Iraqi insurgent group releases a new videotape or claims responsibility for an attack, Western reporters in Baghdad rarely hear about it firsthand. Nor do they usually get the news from their in-house Iraqi translators.

Instead, a reporter often receives an e-mailed alert from a highly caffeinated terrorism monitor sitting at a computer screen somewhere on the East Coast. Within hours, a constellation of other Middle East analysts has sent out interpretations — some of them conflicting — and a wealth of contextual material.

For reporters, all this freelance sleuthing and interpreting is a welcome new resource. But like the 17th-century dragomans who were the first official translators between the Islamic world and the West, the analysts often disagree among themselves, leaving the journalists with their own interpretive challenges.

”They [Memri] say they highlight liberal voices along with the dangerous radicals, which is fine,” said Marc Lynch, a scholar of Arab politics at Williams College who has criticized Memri on his own blog, Abu Aardvark. ”But what that conceals is the entire middle ground, where most of the political debate goes on in the Arab world.”

I suspect that Mark and Memri have different definitions of “middle ground.”

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