Sunday, August 07, 2005

The London Times Proclaims Women's Rights
Are "Disney World Values"

The London Times has decided that author/blogger Steven Vincent was a "dangerously naive" man, apparently because he believed in freedom and human rights for all, even women:

Death of an idealist

Steven Vincent believed Iraqis wanted to live the American dream. His mistake cost him his life,
reports Tony Allen-Mills

After 10 years scratching a modest living as a freelance journalist specialising in contemporary art, Steven Vincent was tiring of the incestuous Manhattan gallery scene. In his mid-forties, he felt he should be doing something else with his life — perhaps something more topical, more relevant. He just wasn’t sure what.

Then, like so many other New Yorkers, he awoke on September 11, 2001 to television images of the World Trade Center on fire. He rushed to the roof of his shabby apartment building on Manhattan’s lower east side.

He watched as a second plane flew into the north tower. He was close enough to see people on fire jumping out of windows. In those searing moments, according to his wife, “he turned into a war correspondent”.

There are many Americans who changed their lives as a result of the horrors of Osama Bin Laden’s attacks, but few who chose so dramatic and ultimately deadly an alternative as Vincent, whose murder in southern Iraq last week has cast an unflattering spotlight on the laissez-faire policies of British troops in the region.

Abandoning the cocktail-fuelled happenings of SoHo and Tribeca, Vincent headed for Baghdad a few months after the American invasion of 2003. He picked up a couple of freelance assignments for US magazines and began to build a reputation as a dogged and fearless observer of the religious rivalries bedevilling the post-war reconstruction process.

He wrote a well-received book, In the Red Zone, about his early experiences in Iraq, and returned last April to research a second book on the southern city of Basra, where British forces have long been struggling to preserve a difficult peace. Last Sunday he enjoyed his finest moment as The New York Times published one of his articles.

It was a scathing critique of British policy in Basra, including incendiary claims that local police were carrying out assassinations using a so-called “death car . . . a white Toyota Mark II that glides through the city streets, carrying off-duty police officers in the pay of extremist religious groups to their next assignment”.

Two days later, Vincent was visiting a money-changer with Nooriya Tuaiz, an unusual 31-year-old Iraqi woman who had become both his Basra interpreter and close friend, when a white car with police markings pulled up beside them.

According to witnesses, at least two men in police uniforms grabbed Vincent and Tuaiz and bundled them into the car.

“One said to bystanders, ‘Don’t interfere, we’re the police, this is our duty’,” his wife, Lisa Ramaci, said last week.

The FBI have told her the car then drove to a warehouse district about five minutes away. For the next five hours witnesses reported hearing screams and shouting from one of the buildings.
“They were calling Noor a whore and a pig for associating with an American,” Ramaci said. “They were screaming at Steven that he was an infidel and deserved to die.”

At 11.30pm last Tuesday, police found two bodies less than three miles from the centre of Basra. Vincent was dead, shot three times in the chest. Tuaiz had also been shot in the chest, but miraculously was still alive. She is recovering in a hospital in Kuwait under military guard.

Ramaci, an art restorer specialising in vintage Americana, is in little doubt that her husband’s murder was connected to the publication of the New York Times article. “It just seems odd to me that he writes criticising the Basra police and two days later a police truck with guys in uniform comes along and kills him,” she said. “That’s a little too coincidental to me.”

At the same time, even Ramaci agrees that Vincent may have been courting disaster through his relationship with Tuaiz, an unmarried Muslim. However strictly professional their contacts — and Ramaci is convinced the relationship was innocent — any presumption by local Shi’ite extremists of a sexual liaison would have been tantamount to a death sentence.

In an internet blog Vincent wrote from Basra, he repeatedly railed against what he regarded as the “shackles” on Iraqi women. “It astonishes me, the ways in which Iraqi men control their women with their obsessions on ‘reputation’, ‘honour’ and that all-purpose cudgel, ‘proper Muslim behaviour’,” he wrote.

Yet in many ways the relationship sums up the dilemma facing British troops as they attempt to patch together an exit strategy for Iraq. The passionate, principled but dangerously naive American journalist wanted more than anything else for women like Tuaiz to be free of what he saw as vicious Islamic prejudice.

Vincent believed that Basra, potentially an economic hub as Iraq’s gateway to the Gulf, could become “the next Bahrain, Dubai or, for all we know, Orlando (Florida)”. Instead, he found that the Shi’ite majority in Basra had seized on the arrival of democracy as a chance to impose hardline religious values after years of suppression under Saddam Hussein.

There was no place in Basra for Disney World values, and Vincent blamed the British for turning a blind eye to the advance of corrupt religious fundamentalism.

“Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination,” he wrote. “As one British officer put it, ‘the sooner the locals assume their own security, the sooner we go home’.”

This comment about Vincent would appear to be a sad, resigned statement about a fallen American hero, if we weren't all so acutely aware that if he had been in Iraq opposing the war, the London Times, would never in a million years have called him "dangerously naive." Instead, they would have celebrated him as a kind of dissident hero.

They really are becoming like the fascists they proclaim to hate. Their dislike of America has become so strong that they will deride a man who is willing to put his life on the line for freedom and human rights, as a believer in "Disney World Values."

That's sick and perverted. It's almost fascist itself, isn't it?