August 3, 2005

The death of a reporter.

Here is the NYT piece on the death of Steven Vincent, the first American reporter to be killed by the enemy in Iraq.
An American journalist writing about the rise of fundamentalist Islam was shot dead overnight after being abducted in the southern port city of Basra, American embassy and Iraqi officials said today....

The body of the reporter, Steven Vincent, from New York, was found this morning. He had been dumped outdoors after being shot several times, and his hands were tied with a plastic wire, and a red piece of cloth was wrapped around his neck....

Mr. Vincent was a middle-age freelance writer who recently had articles published in the Christian Science Monitor and the National Review. He told other journalists he was gathering material for a book on Basra. On Sunday, The New York Times printed an op-ed he had written about Basra, in which he sharply criticized the British government for allowing religious Shiite parties and clerics to take control of Basra and populate the security forces with their followers....

He told this reporter in mid-June that he had worked as an art critic in New York until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That and the Iraq war prompted him to travel to Baghdad in 2003, a trip that resulted in a book called "In the Red Zone" and a Web log about his experiences. Mr. Vincent had been writing in his blog the entire time while he was in Basra.

Mr. Vincent was particularly incensed about the sharp divide between men and women in the Islamic world, and about the increasingly religious mores in Basra that forced women to wear full-length black robes in public. He said he fully supported the Iraq war, believing it was part of a much larger campaign being waged by the United States against "Islamo-fascism." But Mr. Vincent said he was also disappointed by the failure of the United States and Great Britain to enforce their visions of democracy here in Iraq, instead allowing religious politicians to seize power across the south.

Here is Vincent's last post on his blog. Here is the last post on the blog at the moment, not written by Vincent, but collecting comments about his death.

Here's the permanent link to Sunday's NYT op-ed. An excerpt:
The fact that the British are in effect strengthening the hand of Shiite organizations is not lost on Basra's residents.

"No one trusts the police," one Iraqi journalist told me. "If our new ayatollahs snap their fingers, thousands of police will jump." Mufeed al-Mushashaee, the leader of a liberal political organization called the Shabanea Rebellion, told me that he felt that "the entire force should be dissolved and replaced with people educated in human rights and democracy."

Unfortunately, this is precisely what the British aren't doing. Fearing to appear like colonial occupiers, they avoid any hint of ideological indoctrination: in my time with them, not once did I see an instructor explain such basics of democracy as the politically neutral role of the police in a civil society. Nor did I see anyone question the alarming number of religious posters on the walls of Basran police stations. When I asked British troops if the security sector reform strategy included measures to encourage cadets to identify with the national government rather than their neighborhood mosque, I received polite shrugs: not our job, mate.

The results are apparent. At the city's university, for example, self-appointed monitors patrol the campuses, ensuring that women's attire and makeup are properly Islamic. "I'd like to throw them off the grounds, but who will do it?" a university administrator asked me. "Most of our police belong to the same religious parties as the monitors."...

An Iraqi police lieutenant, who for obvious reasons asked to remain anonymous, confirmed to me the widespread rumors that a few police officers are perpetrating many of the hundreds of assassinations - mostly of former Baath Party members - that take place in Basra each month. He told me that there is even a sort of "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.

Meanwhile, the British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists' claim on the hearts and minds of police officers. This detachment angers many Basrans. "The British know what's happening but they are asleep, pretending they can simply establish security and leave behind democracy," said the police lieutenant who had told me of the assassinations. "Before such a government takes root here, we must experience a transformation of our minds."

In other words, real security reform requires psychological as well as physical training. Unless the British include in their security sector reform strategy some basic lessons in democratic principles, Basra risks falling further under the sway of Islamic extremists and their Western-trained police enforcers.

I remember reading so much praise of the way the British handled themselves in Iraq (compared to us). The British are learning some hard lessons now. We owe a lot to Vincent for daring to saying what he did. One of the last things he wrote on his blog was that in publishing his piece in the New York Times he had "the world's largest megaphone." But going on to die for saying it is even louder. How can the British not hear him?


Saganashkee said...

“How can the British not hear him?” How an Tony Blair, on one hand, be the first head of government to rush to the Washington after 9/11 to show support for Bush and America in the Islamist War and keep British troops in southern Iraq in spite of serious political opposition at home on one hand and act like Britain is on another planet thus safe from Islamist terror regardless of whatever. I guess the last few weeks have shown Blair that Britain is not immune, especially from the home grown terrorists he and the British people pretended didn’t exist. I am not sure that the message has gotten through to the British people, though. They seem to want to preserve their disconnect from reality. P.S. I would really like to see someone high up in MI5 defect to the US and write a book on how and why British internal security has been sound asleep at the switch the last 4 years.

DirtCrashr said...

I'm really sorry to hear this, I read his blog fairly often.

Barry said...

Here's another new feature/consequence of the internet and blogging - once you hear that someone with a website or blog has died, you can go there and read their words. Blogs tend to be a personal form of expression, and very often imbued with a sense of the life of the author. So it's jarring to me to read the words of the recently deceased - as if I've stolen into their private rooms and am picking around in their personal affects. It's a different kind of feeling than I would have gotten had I read the blog before, even though the words haven't changed... just the circumstances.

At the same time, the blog of the deceased allows for a certain celebration of his life that we may not have had otherwise. And Mr. Vincent's work certainly deserves some praise for detail and insights he provided.

There is good writing here - in his MSM articles and his blog. Thanks for linking to them. I wish I had known about Mr. Vincent earlier. My condolences to his friends and family.

Goesh said...

Oh boy! Wait until Iran has nuclear weapons, then by golly they can send their agents into Iran full force and there ain't a darn thing anyone, even Georgie, can do about it. Shiaville here we come! Given the vast energy reserves of Iran and Shiaville (now called Iraq) and the market potential of China and India, I'm converting now. Allah akbar, baby, allah akbar!

gs said...

RIP for a brave and principled man.

Some of his writing is here. It validates my concern, formed before the invasion, that deposing Saddam might convert Iraq into an Iranian satellite.

"How can the British not hear him?" If they refused to hear Hitler, why would they hear Vincent?

Dirty Harry said...

In fairness, look what it took to wake us up. They had to hit The Towers TWICE among a number of other things including an open declaration of war.

Pray the rest of the world opens their eye with fewer tragedies than we needed.

And Thank God for George Bush. He may not be as articulate as Blair, but unlike Blair he knows exactly what needs to be done and is willing to weather hell from the Usual Suspects on the left to do it.

Paul said...

It all sounds like we have sacrificed young people to get rid of a bloody tyrannt and let the beginnings of a Taliban type society take root.
I hope women do not face this.
Ithink we should let the Kurds in the North have their own country, at least they show progress.

Elizabeth said...

Bush isn't doing anything about the religious fundamentalism in Iraq, and he opened the borders to every terrorist in the middle east, putting Iraq's civilian population in critical danger. I thank God daily for many, many blessings, but Bush isn't among them!

Dirty Harry said...

Well, Elizabeth, the Iraqi people disagree with you. And came out to vote under threat of death at a higher percentage than we did under threat of John Kerry to prove it.

Elizabeth said...


The Iraqi people and their opinions aren't monolithic. Many of them are sorely unhappy with the turn the government they voted in is taking toward a fundamentalist Islamist constitution. Others are very unhappy with the proliferation of foreign terrorists that are blowing them up in their markets, schools, police stations, and streets. That's Bush's "flypaper" strategy at work. Bush and Blair both were unprepared to wage the more important part of this war, the follow up to overturning Hussein. But maybe he'll come up with something new when he's had a nice, long rest in Crawford. God knows we all need a little time off occasionally.

Dirty Harry said...


"Many of them..." opens any door any critic wants and is not a rational way to define an argument much less a society. Using "many of them..." allows anyone to define anything however they want. Weak.

I'm gonna go with the vote and recent polls of a "majority of them..." I'm gonna go with the fact that I believe wanting freedom is part of the "human spirit" and that a "majority" of our Iraqi friends are just as willing to fight and die and sacrifice as any American. And are doing so.

Take your cheap shots at Bush going to Crawford all you want. But you're witnessing our Lincoln: A man with the grit and foresight to keep us safe and preserve our nation thorough a moral and just and noble war of liberation. History is leaving the left in the dust and your throwing pebbles. It's the Cold War all over again.

Elizabeth said...

Saying "many of them" is no more vague or inaccurate than pretending to know what "the Iraqi people" think. I agree that the human spirit wants freedom, but I don't see that that's what the Iraqis are getting. The drive for democracy has to come from within, and thus far, it looks like the drive in Iraq is towards another tyranny. We haven't managed to nurture democracy in our wake.

Taking note of Bush's habitual laziness isn't a cheap shot. The man spends more time exercising and vacationing than he ought to. I'm not caught up in some romantic fantasy that Bush is dreaming up plans of genius while he's peddling, jogging, and chopping wood.

I'm amused by the mixed metaphors of the Civil and Cold wars, but more so by your picture of Bush as a new Lincoln! You're a true believer, a real fan. Bully for you and your Bush crush. We'll not persuade one another of anything, so let's move on.

Dirty Harry said...


"I agree that the human spirit wants freedom, but I don't see that that's what the Iraqis are getting. The drive for democracy has to come from within, and thus far, it looks like the drive in Iraq is towards another tyranny."

Based on what? All I see are more and more military and police. More Iraqi's risking their lives to preserve their new Democratically elected government. What do you see?

The insurgency isn't growing. The civil war the left hoped looks less likely than it ever has. A government's in place after a free and fair vote. A Consitution's being written... What am I missing?

Or, is it "the "many of them..." you focus on to find the conclusion you long for that tell you that?

Clinton should've been so lazy. Maybe he'd have had the foresight to fight terrorism with more than subpoenas and the legal parsing that let bin Laden escape. Twice.

Brendan said...

NY Times headline this morning: 'American Journalist is Killed in Iraq'

Killed? Did he slip in the tub? Was he hit by a bus? How 'bout murdered?

Elizabeth said...


Have you been reading about what the Iraqi constitution entails? It's putting Sharia law in place; women under that constitution will be chattel. That isn't liberty.

Your comment that the left hoped for a civil war in Iraq tells me pretty much everything I need to know about you. You have built a little strawman built of the left, of anyone who finds Bush lacking. You don't have a clue of other positions, so you make them up to make your own appear logical.

If you're offering Bush as an example of foresight, there's no hope for you.

Ann Althouse said...

Brendan: The article also says he's the only American journalist killed in Iraq, as if the ones who died in accidents weren't killed.

Dirty Harry: I don't quite get your point. We owe a lot to those Iraqis who believed in the future enough to risk their lives to vote. We can't leave them in a worse situation after all of this. The things Vincent died to say need to be taken seriously. He was a supporter of the war. If a disaster is developing, we need to face it and do something about it.

Dirty Harry said...

Elizabeth, I'm still waiting for examples that tyranny is winning in Iraq.

And I'd be happy to document my claim of the left wanting chaos in Iraq i.e. a Civil War. And I'd probably start with you judging Iraq on everything but the actual vote count, the actual polls, the actual majority opinion, the actual progress, the actual increase in Iraqi's fighting for their country, and the freely elected government. Id' start with you relying instead on these "many of them" who back your world-view and wishful thinking as opposed to inconvenient facts. I'd start there because you're not unique. Unfortunately.

And if you don't mind I'm gonna go with what the Constitution actually says, not with what's being reported, before I judge it. You know women won't be chattel when it's done, but that doesn't stop you from say it will, does it? Because you want it to say that. Because any little thing you can find to denigrate this operation makes you feel better. Bush. Simply. Can't. Be. Right!

Dirty Harry said...


I'm not criticizing Vincent at all. The man was a hero. One gutsy guy. I'm just saying before we criticize others we need to remember what it took for us to wake up. I'm refusing to get on a high horse and sound the alarm. That doesn't mean the alarm doesn't need to be sounded. And Vincent died trying.

And I don't know what I said that indicated we should leave the Iraqi's worse off. We owe them everything. They're fighting -- by our side -- Ground Zero in the war on terror. They're fighting it in their neighborhods and schools. I'd be sick if we abandoned them. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost, we must win. We owe them every promise made and more.

The most immoral thing this country's done in the last fifty years was abandoning our allies in Vietnam and ushering in a holocaust. I'd be Oliver-Stone-disillusioned with this country if we caved to to the naysayers again and did the same to Iraq.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Brendan: The Times might have a reasonable policy against calling things "murder" before anyone has even been charged with murder.

The word "killed" isn't weird here; he was killed. Someone killed him. Maybe you thought of slipping in the tub when you read the story, but I doubt that's what came to most people's minds.

Dirty Harry said...

Oh, and Elizabeth:

"Saying "many of them" is no more vague or inaccurate than pretending to know what "the Iraqi people" think."

A free and fair national election isn't pretending to know what the Iraq people think. As a matter of fact I can't think of a more accurate way to know what they're thinking.

Brendan said...

"Brendan: The Times might have a reasonable policy against calling things 'murder' before anyone has even been charged with murder."

Sorry, but I smell a whiff of political correctness here--not unlike the Beeb's nonsensical policy of banning the word "terrorist." Am I paranoid in assuming that their politics is informing their editorial decision-making? The Times has been playing games with language for years (e.g. militants, fetus, African-American, "immigrants" instead of "illegal immigrants," etc.) I'd give them the benefit of the doubt on "killed," but given their track record, they transparently don't deserve it.

"The word 'killed' isn't weird here; he was killed. Someone killed him."

Getting a bit technical, aren't we? Again, this is game playing. Was JFK "killed" in Dallas or was he "assassinated"? If there's a better, more accurate word to describe the act, then use it. The notion that we must withhold the word "murder" till the perpetrators are put behind bars is sheer lunacy. As an aspiring advocate, you're a little too in love with style book legal-eeze.

"Maybe you thought of slipping in the tub when you read the story, but I doubt that's what came to most people's minds."

Marines blown up by a roadside bomb are "killed." Defenseless journalists tied up and slain for their views are "murdered." Better yet, use the word "executed." Vincent's death deserves an accurate accounting, not elitist newsroom parsing.

Ann Althouse said...

Brendan: I think "killed" is the better word because "murdered" implies more of a private criminal act. You don't say soldiers are "murdered" in a war.

Brendan said...

"Brendan: I think 'killed' is the better word because 'murdered' implies more of a private criminal act. You don't say soldiers are 'murdered' in a war."

Exactly. Which is why I exempted them (soldiers). But it's perfectly justified in terms of Vincent's slaying.

Mike Kelly was an Atlantic Monthly/ Wash Post scribe who was killed in Iraq when his Humvee overturned. Vincent was a free-lancer whose kidnapped, bound body was quite intentionally riddled with bullets. Would anyone in their right mind use 'American Journalist is Killed in Iraq' in both instances? Apparently, the Times would. Being "objective" doesn't demand the forfeiture of common sense.

Ann Althouse said...

Brendan: I think we've had this debate before. Killed includes murder. I think you're overreading this one. Clearly, what was done to him was horrible and it comes across in the article.

Brendan said...

"Brendan: I think we've had this debate before. Killed includes murder. I think you're overreading this one. Clearly, what was done to him was horrible and it comes across in the article."

Well, if you can see gay in plaid, I can see bias in the Times. I can excuse their tepid and misleading headline, but to not use "murder" in the body of the story? That, my friend, is deliberate. Glenn Reynolds nakedly uses the word "murder." Ditto Michelle Malkin, NRO, and any number of bloggers. Not everyone has lost their senses.

Ann Althouse said...

I've already said why I think murder could be seen as a worse word choice without it meaning what you're too sure it must mean.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Brendan: Well, I hardly know where to begin! I still don't understand your point about "killed" meaning "slipped in the tub." To me, the most normal sense of "killed" is "killed by a person." I would be less likely to say that someone was "killed by accidentally slipping in the tub."

It's very cute to say I'm being "technical," playing a "game," an aspiring lawyer, "in love" with stylebooks, etc. Except it doesn't really apply here, since you're the one with the doctrinaire, hair-splitting position, not me. I'm just saying I think the Times might have a good reason for choosing one word over another. (It could have even been the headline writer's preference for a shorter word to fit in the space.) I don't even have an opinion about whether I would have chosen "killed" or "murdered" if I were the editor. I just don't see this as much of an issue, since I don't think "killed" sounds at all eupemistic.

One way to look at it is that "murder" has a legal meaning, and I see that you want to turn this into something about how I'm an aspiring lawyer. But the discussion I linked to above doesn't say that "murder" must be strictly confined to the legal sense (let alone "behind bars"), and I never said that either.

I can't agree with you that we should distrust the Times' word choice in this case because the Times has made other poor choices of words like "fetus" or "African-American." You haven't said what your gripe is with those words, so we're just left guessing. If you're trying to say that "black" is a better word than "African-American," then I agree, but that has nothing to do with whether "killed" is acceptable to mean "intentionally killed."

I don't see your logic that if Michael Kelly was "killed," and something very different happened to him than happened to Steven Vincent, then Vincent wasn't "killed." Sounds kind of legalistic, don't you think?

Elizabeth said...


Unlike your boyfriend George, I have work to do during the day, so don't be waiting anxiously for a reply. When I have time, I read blogs, and if I have more time, I enjoy joining discussions.

It's hard to converse with you while you're spewing flecks of foam--calm down, for goodness' sake.

It's further impossible to dialogue when you insist on telling me what I think, and mischaracterizing what I have said--what that tells me is that you are on some edge that I'm not willing to walk along with you. None of your rant constitutes documenting what you claim, by the way. It's just rank spewing of nonsense.

I don't represent anyone but myself, nor do I--or you--know the thoughts of most Iraqis. You can insist that you do, but that doesn't make it so.

I'm not in favor of our hastening a withdrawal from Iraq, because if we do, we'll leave the country in disaster. The free and fair elections you tout were a good beginning, but that's not nearly enough. What's come after is a mix of encouraging and discouraging events, the consitution being one of the discouraging ones, along with the very slow progress training Iraqi police and security personnel. And while you insist that I "know women won't be chattel" after the constitution is ratified, I don't know that at all. Don't presume to speak for me. I stand by my concerns about what will happen to Iraqi women in the government that is currently forming. I am likewise worried about members of minority religions, and secular Iraqis.

If Iraqis form a government based on Sharia law, then they will be living under a religious tyranny. That seems to be where they're going now. I pray that changes.


Brendan said...

I'm being tag-teamed by the Althouses. No fair!

"I still don't understand your point about 'killed' meaning 'slipped in the tub.' To me, the most normal sense of 'killed' is 'killed by a person.'"

Hmm. The editors at USA Today seem to disagree with you:

BTW, the word "murder" exists for a reason. Lord knows we don't use it in a strictly courtroom sense. If you can't use it here, when can you use it?

"I'm just saying I think the Times might have a good reason for choosing one word over another."

I'd love to know what it is. A deference towards murderers?

"(It could have even been the headline writer's preference for a shorter word to fit in the space.)"

LOL. They didn't have room for two more measly letters?

"I don't even have an opinion about whether I would have chosen 'killed' or 'murdered' if I were the editor. I just don't see this as much of an issue, since I don't think 'killed' sounds at all eupemistic."

Couldn't disagree more. Killed and murdered are not interchangeable, legally or morally.

"One way to look at it is that 'murder' has a legal meaning, and I see that you want to turn this into something about how I'm an aspiring lawyer."

Not a dig at you per se. I have several lawyers in my immediate family and love them all. It's just that lawyers are taught to be very careful with language (legal writing, etc.) Newspapers have considerably more latitude. Is the Times worried about a defamation lawsuit filed by the kidnappers?

"If you're trying to say that 'black' is a better word than 'African-American,' then I agree, but that has nothing to do with whether 'killed' is acceptable to mean 'intentionally killed.'"

But it betrays a double standard. Certain groups are treated with deferential language; others are not. AA sounds less scary/threatening than black. Gay sounds less scary than homosexual. Killed sounds less harsh than murdered. And so on.

"I don't see your logic that if Michael Kelly was 'killed,' and something very different happened to him than happened to Steven Vincent, then Vincent wasn't 'killed.' Sounds kind of legalistic, don't you think?"

Legalistic? No. Bizarre? Amoral? Callous? Insensitive? You bet.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Brendan: Generally, I don't have anything to add to what I've already said. Just a couple points:

(1) It's not a joke to say that a headline writer might want to use "killed" because it saves two letters in a headline. Headline writers routinely make word choices to save a couple letters, because the headlines are written in big font sizes and have to fit in a small space. Of course, that wouldn't justify choosing an inappropriate word, but "killed" is not inappropriate here because that is exactly what happened: someone was killed.

(2) "Gay sounds less scary than homosexual."

I agree that "homosexual" tends to have a negative undertone, and that's a good reason to use "gay" instead of "homosexual." But again, I just think it's apples and oranges to compare that word choice with the choice of whether to say someone was murdered by terrorists or killed by terrorists.

(3) "...The editors at USA Today seem to disagree with you..."

No, my point wasn't that "killed" cannot be used for accidents, just that "killed" seems absolutely normal in reference to intentional homicide.

Dirty Harry said...


In between personal attacks and your insistence you don't have time for all this I saw the words, "progress" and "encouraging." I realize they were couched, but bravo. That's a long way from "it looks like the drive in Iraq is towards another tyranny."

If I can be of further assitance let me know!

Brendan: Hang in there buddy. Your double-teamed but doing fine.

And this is a little off topic but: "The Times" picks and chooses when to use it's careful language. They don't mind swinging that ole'thesarus around when it comes to what they accuse our guys of at G'itmo or Abu Ghraib -- when they see an opportunity to give the enemy a little morale boost, that's for sure.

yes, they can always hide behind the facts. It's the context and double standard that exposes them. And I'm pretty sure that's why God invented blogs.

And yes, I'm questioning their patriotism.

Brendan said...

John, I retract the "amoral" insinuation. That was over the line.

Finn Kristiansen said...

I am incredibly pro-Bush, and highly anti-Rumsfeld, since I believe Rumsfeld played a great part in ignoring pre-war advice and post war necessities (like locking down the country with massive amounts of troops, killing every enemy, securing every important facility, and not assuming every Iraqi wants to massage our buttox with their lips).

There was something about this particular journalist's death that made me very sad, not least of which was to read Steven's informative posts regarding the ugly influence of various Shia leaders, and see him suffer for it. He died, in essence, for their sins.

There is no easy solution to creating a democracy in a land where radical Islam is such a powerful attraction, and I suspect, like Paul suggests (in a post above) that it may be the Kurds who truly benefit and will be the sole model democracy in the area. They remain organized, a force to be reckoned with (in 3 nations) and strongly pro-U.S.

Steven Vincent(and I am not keen on most journalists) did some valuable reporting and paid with his life. He deserves some type of recognition for pointing the finger at a growing Shiite problem (that we conservatives often like to ignore while getting all chirpy over Iraqi progress).

bos0x said...

Brendan, I prefer "killed" over "murdered" in this case because I like my headlines neutral, not hysterical and sensationalist. When the Times writes that Vincent was found lying dead in a Basra street, his hands tied and three bullet wounds in his chest, it's kind of obvious what happened. In another paragraph, the phrase used is "abducted and shot to death", which is more descriptive than just "murdered". There are only two instances of "killed" and both are appropriate because they generalize on all journalists who died in Iraq. I don't see any bias in this article, and forgive me but I get a little nauseous when I think of descriptive phrases like "shot to death" dumbed down to "murdered" because loaded, vague, sentimental adjectives get some Internet conspiracy theorist hard.

By the way, if this is an example of the Times being unpatriotic and biased, who do you think they are biased toward? I'm sure that terrorist sympathizers would write articles that include a Pete Mitchell commenting on how many people are working to find those responsible for "this heinous crime" and a brief biography of Vincent that includes quotes from the articles that he was apparently killed for writing.

Sloanasaurus said...

I think we in the liberal west need to watch ourselves when commenting on things such as Sharia law and the abuse of women in middle east/muslim socities. Certainly it exists as we often hear stories of stoning, burnings etc... But, it could be that these stories are exceptional that they are the ones that make the news.

I am not apologizing for the illiberal rules under sharia law, however, we need to remember that Iraq is still mostly a poor society and the women and men in these housholds spend a great deal more time and labor doing everyday things that we take for granted. Think America 100 years ago (lacking modern conveniences). We should remember that these traditional tribal laws (Sharia law) also puts restrictions on the men in these societies in that they cannot simply abandon their families without being ostricised from their communities. In this sense Sharia law may also offer women social protection.

We in the west are quick to criticise. Perhaps we should be more worldly.....

amba said...

Dirty Harry doesn't seem to feel it deserves the name of "tyranny" if it's mainly directed at women.

Elizabeth said...


I used to take that same position; it fit with what I understood about multiculturalism. But I've moved away from that. I have a good idea of what Sharia law means for women in the middle east, because middle eastern women have written a whole lot on the subject. Iraq is not a backwards country. There are many, many women there right now who hold postgrad degrees, teach in universities, and work in engineering, banking, medicine, law, and other white collar professions. They have not had to wear the veil or burqa but are now being pressured to by threats in the streets, much as what happened in Iran in the late 1970s when the fundamentalist revolution followed up the Marxist revolution. Read "Reading Lolita in Tehran" or "Persepolis" is you want to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

I've turned from taking the position that westerners have no place judging other cultures to believing that we have every right, and even responsibility, to cheer for human rights everywhere, despite religious and cultural differences. I truly believe that each of us is born with the inalienable rights recognized in our constitution--all men, and all women, everywhere. If we invaded Iraq in part to establish democracy in the Middle East, then we will have failed, big time, if Iraq becomes an Islamist state.

Dirty Harry said...

I don't believe women will be constitutional chattel. I have more faith in the Iraqi people because I see no difference in the humanity of Muslims and Americans.

People are people. And if free that humanity will prevail. Free people, Muslim or not, will not indenture women any more than we would.

And I have more faith in the base humanity of Muslims than a media determined to see us lose this war and those desperate to believe the worst because they'd prefer we fail than be proved wrong about Bush and Iraq.

knoxgirl said...


A huge percentage of females in many Muslim African countries are victims of genital mutilation. In Somalia, the standard way to acquire a wife is to simply kidnap the girl of your choice from her family. Women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, or even leave the home without a male escort.
I don't think questioning facts like these is indicative of "worldliness" at all. The evidence is overwhelming and documented, not anecdotal. I agree with Elizabeth-- multiculturalism goes too far when it tries to excuse the basic violation of human rights. Or to say that it's "judgmental" to condemn it.

Sloanasaurus said...

I don't have to be convinced by anyone of our rightousness. I admit my arrogence in believing that America is right and good, and that our values are mostly right and better than those of the impovershed cultures in the world. (which we are). I believe that anyone can be as wealth and as rich as America, if they choose to adopt American values of freedom, democracy, private property, etc... As such, I agree that it would be better for a society in Iraq to shed their Burkas.

At the same time however, we need to be pragmatic about trying to change Iraq. We don't want to lose the game before we start.

I am not so sure that Iraqi women holding Phd's and working as professionals as a very good sample of the lives of most women in Iraq. I would guess that most women (over 95%) live in near poverty, and have lived as such for thousands of years in Iraq. Perhaps wealth and economic freedom needs to come first before culture. If you are spending 18 hours a day preparing food, washing clothes, etc... the freedom to shed your burka or travel without a male family member may be down on the list of priorities.

Elizabeth said...


I can't agree. In general, women's rights parallel other signs of modern progress in a society. And while it may be true that 95% of Iraqi women are poor and live hard lives, I don't see how that makes it any easier to ignore rape laws that shield rapists, laws that allow their families to marry them to much older men as soon as they hit puberty, and so forth.

Hussein's Iraq is nothing to be nostalgic about, and I am not defending it when I point out that it was secular. That is a fact. Replacing it with an Islamist one is going to be a grave mistake, and a betrayal of our "mission" in Iraq. I can't rationalize that by thinking that women there have hard lives anyway, they'll cope with the mullahs.

Sloanasaurus said...

I am just arguing pragmatism over principles. We may not have the power to force cultural changes that may be superior.

Iraqi's live in an Islamic society all ready. We just want them to include democracy into that society.

Elizabeth said...


No, they don't live in an Islamic society already. That's my point exactly. Iraq under Hussein, which means for at least 30 years, was not governed by Islamic law. While Iraq is predominantly made up of Shia and Sunni Muslims, much of the populace, especially in the cities, is secular in dress, work, and play. There are also a number of smaller Islamic sects, as well as Christians, a few Jews, and some hard to categorize religions as well. What's happening now is that a much more strictly fundamentalist government is being constructed. This will be a step back, not a mere keeping of the status quo, as you think.