“It’s called courage”

I received this as a comment on a post noting Juan Cole’s theories about the murder of Steven Vincent. It’s from Vincent’s wife, and she thinks, well, I’ll let you read for yourself. I’m posting it here in its entirety, and it’s worth every bit. All emphasis is mine:

I thought you might like to see the email I sent Juan Cole in response to his August 8th post about my husband. Sorry if it runs a little long -

“Was American journalist Steve Vincent killed in Basra as part of an honor killing? He was romantically involved with his Iraqi interpreter, who was shot 4 times. If her clan thought she was shaming them by appearing to be having an affair outside wedlock with an American male, they might well have decided to end it. In Mediterranean culture, a man’s honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men. Where a woman of the family sleeps around, it brings enormous shame on her father, brothers and cousins, and it is not unknown for them to kill her. These sentiments and this sort of behavior tend to be rural and to hold among the uneducated, but are not unknown in urban areas. Vincent did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture and was aggressive about criticizing what he could see of it on the surface, and if he was behaving in the way the Telegraph article describes, he was acting in an extremely dangerous manner.”

Mr. Cole –

(I refuse to call you professor, because that would ennoble you. And please change the name of your blog to “Uninformed Comment”, because that is precisely what the above paragraph is.)

I would like to refute this shameful post against a dead man who can no longer defend himself against your scurrilous accusations, a dead man who also happened to be my husband. Steven Vincent and I were together for 23 years, married for 13 of them, and I think I know him a wee bit better than you do.

For starters, Steven and Nour were not “romantically involved”. If you knew anything at all about the Middle East, as you seem to think you do, then you would know that there is no physical way that he and she could have ever been alone together. Nour (who always made sure to get home before dark, so they were never together at night) could not go to his room; he could not go to her house; there was no hot-sheet motel for them to go to for a couple of hours. They met in public, they went about together in public, they parted in public. They were never alone. She would not let him touch her arm, pay her a compliment, buy her a banana on the street, hyper-aware of how such gestures might be interpreted by the misogynistic cretins who surrounded her daily. So for you brazenly claim that she was “sleeping around,” when there is no earthly way you could possibly know that, suggests to me that you are quite the misogynist as well. Cheap shot, Mr. Cole, against a remarkable woman who does not in any wise deserve it.

This is not to say that Steven did not love Nour – he did. And he was quite upfront about it to me. But it was not sexual love – he loved her for her courage, her bravery, her indomitable spirit in the face of the Muslim thugs who have oppressed their women for years. To him she represented a free and democratic Iraq, and all of the hopes he had for that still-elusive creature. And he loved her for the help she gave him – endangering herself by affiliating with him because she wanted the truth to come out about what was happening in her native city of Basra and the surrounding area. Perhaps you are unaware of the fact that it is possible to love someone in a strictly platonic way, but I assure you, it can happen – even between men and women.

And yes, he was planning to to convert to Islam and marry Nour, but only to take her out of the country to England, where she had a standing job offer, set her up with the friends she had over there, divorce her, and come back to New York. He had gotten her family’s permission to do so (thereby debunking the “honor killing” theory), but more importantly, he had gotten mine. He called one night to say that it had been intimated to him that Nour’s life was essentially going to be worthless after he left; since he was an honorable man (a breed you might want to familiarize yourself with), he then asked what I thought he might do to help her. I told him to get her out of the country and bring her here to New York. However, the only way she could have left Iraq was with a family member or husband. Since her family had no intention of going anywhere, Steven was her only recourse, and it would have been perfectly legal for him to convert, marry her, then take her out of Iraq to give her a chance at a real life. (Now that that avenue is closed to her, I have made inquiries to the State Department about the possibility of my sponsoring her in America. Do you perhaps labor under the misapprehension I am such a spineless cuckold that I would put myself out thusly for the woman you believe my husband was traducing me with? If so, I’m guessing you don’t know much about the Sicilian female temperament.)

As to your claim that “In Mediterranean culture, a man’s honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men”, it may perhaps have escaped your notice that Iraq does not abut, in any way, shape or form, the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is a Mediterranean culture, as are Spain, Greece, Southern France. In none of them is “honor killing” an accepted form of “protecting womanhood”. As to the southerly lands like Morocco and Algeria, they are not, in the general scheme of things, considered Mediterranean cultures – they are considered Arabic, a whole different beast. For you to seemingly be unaware of this, and then to say that my husband “did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture” again begs the question, just where do you get off? If you cannot differentiate between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, how is it you feel qualified to pontificate so pompously?

How often have you been to the Middle East, Mr. Cole? In 2000 Steven and I spent almost a month in Iran on vacation. In 2003 we spent 10 days over Christmas in Jordan. In the last 2 years he had made not one, not two, but three trips to Iraq, and at the time of his death had about 7 months of daily living there under his belt. Can you offer comparables?

How much Arabic do you speak, Mr. Cole? Steven had been learning Arabic for the last two years, and was able to converse simply but effectively with the people he came into contact with. He had many expatriate friends in the Muslim world from whom he was always learning. As I sit here writing this at what was his desk, I can look at the literally dozens of books he devoured about Islam and the Middle East – each one thick with Post-It notes and personal observations he made in the pages – as he sought to comprehend and absorb the complexities of the culture and the religion he felt, and cared, so deeply about. If you would like a list of them, please email me back and I will be happy to send you a comprehensive accounting.

Yes, Steven was aggressive in criticizing what he saw around him and did not like. It’s called courage, and it happens to be a tradition in the history of this country. Without this tradition there would have been no Revolutionary War, no Civil War, no civil rights movement, no a lot of things that America can be proud of. He had made many friends in Iraq, and was afraid for them if the religious fundamentalists were given the country to run under shari’a. You may dismiss that as naive, simplistic, foolish, but I say to you, as you sit safely in your ivory tower in Michigan with nothing threatening your comfy, tenured existence, that you should be ashamed at the depths to which you have sunk by libeling Steven and Nour. They were on the front lines, risking all, in an attempt to call attention to the growing storm threatening to overwhelm a fragile and fledgling experiment in democracy, trying to get the world to see that all was not right in Iraq. And for their efforts, Steven is dead and Nour is recuperating with three bullet wound in her back. Yes, that’s right – the “honorable” men who abducted them, after binding them, holding them captive and beating them, set them free, told them to run – and then shot them both in the back. I’ve seen the autopsy report.

You did not know him – you did not have that honor, and you will never have the chance, thanks to the murderous goons for whom you have appointed yourself an apologist. He was a brilliant, erudite, witty, charming, kind, generous, silly, funny, decent, honorable and complex man, who loved a good cigar, Bombay Sapphire gin martinis, Marvel Silver Age comic books, Frank Sinatra, opera and grossing me out with bathroom humor. And if he was acting in a dangerous manner, he had a very good excuse – he was utterly exhausted. He had been in Basra for 3 months under incredibly stressful conditions, working every day, and towards the end enduring heat of 135 degrees, often without air conditioning, which could not have helped his mental condition or judgment. He was yearning to come home, as his emails to me made crystal clear. But on August 2nd, two days before my birthday, he made the fatal mistake of walking one block – one – from his hotel to the money exchange, rather than take a cab, and now will never come back to me. I got a bouquet of flowers from him on August 4th, which he had ordered before he died, and the card said he was sorry to miss my birthday, but the flowers would stand in his stead until he made it home. They are drying now in the kitchen, the final gift from my soulmate.

I did not see your blog until tonight. I was busy doing other things – fighting the government to get Steven’s body returned from Basra days after I was told he would be sent home, planning the funeral, buying a cemetery plot, choosing the clothes to bury him in, writing the prayer card, fending off the media, dealing with his aging parents, waking and then burying him – but I could not let the calumnies you posted so freely against two total strangers go unchallenged.

You strike me as a typical professor – self-opinionated, arrogant, so sure of the rightness of your position that you won’t even begin to consider someone else’s. I would suggest that you ought to be ashamed of yourself for your breathtaking presumption in eviscerating Steven in death and disparaging Nour in life, but, like any typical professor, I have no doubt that you are utterly shameless.

Sincerely,

Lisa Ramaci-Vincent

Donations can be made to Spirit of America in honor of Steven Vincent by following the link on this page.

UPDATE: I posted a few thoughts on this here.

UPDATE 2: Juan Cole replied. Well, he really only reposted his original article and then told us about how he was right all along, but that’s probably as close to a reply as Mrs. Ramaci-Vincent is going to get. Links and more here.

UPDATE 3: If you haven’t read Steven Vincent’s book IN THE RED ZONE: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq, you probably should.

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Comments

  • Tina says:

    Ms. Vincent pretty effectively eviscerated Cole. (Forget the Mr. stuff, he doesn’t deserve any title of respect.) He’s a professor, huh? Of what? We need a bit of that 60′s student activism to get rid of idiots like Cole.

  • Judgemental says:

    Bayheim, I would rather quote Teddy Roosevelt than espouse the chimera of Neville Chamberlin, the antithesis of ‘the simple-minded and the long-defeated’. Suave, privileged Neville was highly intelligent, well educated and came within a hair’s breadth of allowing democratic civilization to slide into the abyss. He only remained the anti-thesis of the ‘long defeated’ through the Subsequent leadership of Winston Churchill, and the cost of untold millions of lives. Give me the arrogant, untutered but responsible and decent ‘ruffians that step into the breech and try to ‘do SOMETHING’, rather than the sophisticate nay-sayers dispassionately commenting on the deplorable situation while carnage reigns.

  • Ajmal Kamal says:

    By consciously deciding to participate in a war Vincent allowed himself to become fair game for the other side. His death is much less deplorable than that of an Iraqi civilian killed in a war he did not choose to fight. In his last article in the NYT, Vincent showed the ‘democratizing urge’ for what it was: those chosen by the people of Basra (in the elections held by the American and British occupational forces) should not be allowed to have any say in the matters, because an ignorant ex-art critic does not like their ways! As for the saving a damsel bit, only Vincent wife can be so foolish as to swallow it. There is no restriction whatsoever on a woman wanting to leave Iraq on her own. There is none on any Iraqi or other woman trying to enter England legally unaccompanied by any paper husband. Even if we believe that Vicent’s intention was what his widow says it was, this does not change the perception of those who, for whatever reason, felt enraged by an imperialist American being friendly with an Iraqi woman. When Prof. Cole points this fact out, he is not justifying the act of Vincent killers; he is just showing Vincent’s stupidity to fail to see this simple fact.

  • AK says:

    By consciously deciding to participate in a war Vincent allowed himself to become fair game for the other side. His death is much less deplorable than that of an Iraqi civilian killed in a war he did not choose to fight. In his last article in the NYT, Vincent showed the ‘democratizing urge’ for what it was: those chosen by the people of Basra (in the elections held by the American and British occupational forces) should not be allowed to have any say in the matters, because an ignorant ex-art critic does not like their ways! As for the ‘saving a damsel’ bit, only Vincent’s wife could have been so foolish as to swallow it. There is no restriction whatsoever on a woman wanting to leave Iraq on her own. There is none on any Iraqi or other woman trying to enter England legally unaccompanied by any paper husband. Even if we believe that Vicent’s intention was what his widow says it was, this does not change the perception of those who, for whatever reason, felt enraged by an imperialist American being friendly with an Iraqi woman. When Prof. Cole points this fact out, he is not justifying the act of Vincent’s killers; he is just showing Vincent’s stupidity to fail to see this simple fact.

  • Democracy says:

    I just started to read the book of Steve Vincent. This book will make history, I believe. Steve decribes things in his book that many will not understand for 10 years. But then they will understand or at least I hope so. It took the world more then 10 years to understand what Hitler was doing with Europe. But finally they understood. France was not capable to save itself from Hitler. The USA took over that job and done it well. I recommend this book to anybody who lives in a democratic country, likes to go out at night and likes the opportunities a democratic country brings. I also recommend this book to the peace activists who have a girlfriend and do not have a problem when a male friend speaks to their girlfriend without asking for permission first. My utmost condolences to his wife and all his friends who supported him. Going from art to war for _your_ cause. What a great Man you are and will always be! My mind is with your cause and will always be.

  • Michelle Mal says:

    Let’s call a spade a spade he was not very talented and the fact that he died was partly because he was boning the locals (despite being married) and hello he was in Iraq, what do you expect they will give him necklaces made of flowers?. Dozens of other journalists (real ones even) have been killed in Iraq it is a dangerous place. Next please.

  • Anonymous says:

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  • Kitty Lushington says:

    All, My sincere condolences to you Lisa for your loss. But HANG ON A MINUTE other bloggers. You are screaming murder at some one who doesn’t impress me much but who is essentially repeating what other reputable journalists who met Steven and stayed with him in his hotel in Basra have written. Besides, it doesn’t matter if Nour and Steven were having a platonic relationship – I’m afraid to say that such a concept doesn’t exist in Islamic society and the possibility remains that men not necessarily related to Nour have enforced local society codes. But (with all respect Lisa) most people here are writing in support of you rather than the the pursuit of truth. This is noble but not good journalism. Only Steven had the whole picture. And since we are so are a little obessed with credentials on this page (I though the point of blogging was to let ordinairy people speak their minds?) I am a fluent Arabist, I lived in Basra for nearly a year and I knew Nour well. Kitty

  • Dave says:

    Has anyone seen the picture of Steve Vincent wearing a Prophet Ali T-Shirt? Or read his Web log about confronting a Shia in a restaurant who was staring disapprovingly at Noor? Or read his Web log about how he taunted a Basran policeman with homosexual innuendo during a press outing? Whatever you think about his writing and his ideas, there is no doubt that he was personally conducting himself in a dangerous and irresponsible manner. We’ll never know why Vincent was killed. The family and friends would prefer we think he was a noble martyr for his ideas, while the British would prefer we think he was killed because he was an adulterer. Based on everything I’ve heard, I think it was a combination. My guess is that he had bcome a well known character to the radicals for his outrageous public behavior and he had been on their hit list for a long time. I think they let him live awhile because they didn’t want to rock the boat too much by killing an American. The Times article was the last straw and they gave the go ahead to take him out. He had gone from being a minor nuisance to a major one.

  • nick says:

    Several commenters seem to have missed Juan Cole’s attribution of the report to Britain’s Conservative Telegraph newspaper. He didn’t originate any rumours; he actually followed that report quite closely. You can see the report at link

  • lwert says:

    The wife ‘refutes’ the fact they weren’t romantically involved because there were no motels for them to go to, etc. Hmmm… seems like plenty of people can get romantically involved without first going to a motel. I really don’t know if they were romantically involved or not — does the wife? Anyway, this thing aboyt no motels is a very weak response, although she comes off very strong, and like a know it all about it. What is so bad about being romantically involved, anyway?

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