Monday, August 22, 2005

’Tis Not So Deep as a Well, Nor So Wide as a Church Door...

 
At last the mystery is solved. And a more knotted, amazing or strange story couldn’t have been made up.

Last week, Gates reported on a story from the Telegraph saying that Steven Vincent had been killed because he was planning to marry his interpreter. The motive for the murders of Mr. Vincent and Nour, the woman who served as his translator during his stay in Basrah was generally thought to be one of vindictive retribution for Vincent’s behavior in shaming Nour. The British military made vague mutterings about Vincent's "careless" security.

So it seemed, on the surface anyway, like a Romeo and Juliet story, except that Juliet lived. But that was merely the surface.

Here is the deeper, more complicated reality, as told by Mrs. Vincent. Given the fact that she knew her husband for twenty three years, she possesses an authority regarding his truth not held by anyone else. Here is her report about the events in Basrah, taken from an email she sent to Juan Cole. She copied that email to Murdoc Online. You will be deeply satisfied to note that she remains civilized while still (one hopes) raising blisters on Mr. Cole’s very thick skin:
     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.
Mrs. Vincent goes on to explain that her husband did love Nour, but it was not sexual, that his love for her arose from his admiration:
     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.

Mrs. Vincent is quite correct on that subject. In some ways, Steven Vincent and his companion must have had a bond akin to the filia of soldiers: the bond created under the tremendous pressure of manuvering in a murderous environment. To that extent, he must have felt great responsibility for her well-being; such is soldierly camaraderie and those of us outside that circle can only begin to glimpse its depth.

Mrs. Vincent gives us important, astounding information:
     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).

If you find this part unlikely then you haven’t been exposed to the necessity for such subterfuge in arranging movement between countries. Even we, in this small backwater in Virginia, know of such arrangements between students, one of whom needs to stay in the country to continue studying. That is not a far-fetched scenario; it is an excruciatingly practical one.

Mrs. Vincent says she gave her permission for this arranged marriage. She and her husband knew that Nour’s life would be “essentially worthless” once he left. As she notes, because he was an honorable man — and a married one — he asked his wife what he ought to do.
     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.

This is a proud and grieving wife. She explains her husband’s work:
     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.

Then she describes what they did and what befell them:
     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.

Finally, Steven Vincent’s wife explains his fatal slip:
     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.
So. Mystery solved. He was tired and careless. Had he gotten a cab, he wouldn’t have been available to his kidnappers. But he didn’t, and for that he paid with his life. The British have been critical of his carelessness regarding security. Perhaps they were afraid of being blamed for his death? That makes more sense now. Besides there has always been that cautious-Brit/brash-American tension between us. This is just another example.

Here is Lisa Ramaci-Vincent’s final poignant gift from her husband:
     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.

Read her full account, especially her excoriation of the chickendove, Professor Juan Cole. Ah, the karma that awaits the man. It makes one shiver to consider how the mills of God will eventually grind his fate.

It is good to have the full story, or at least as much of it as the remaining person knows. And while this is not Romeo and Juliet -- as I'd first surmised after reading the British press -- Mr. Vincent’s story is no less Shakespearean for that. It is one of the tragic histories and his behavior was truly of heroic proportions.

Mr. Vincent died for his friend. He was not Romeo but Mercutio, a loyal, courageous friend.

Tragedy consists of this: the fatal consequences of heroic behavior.

6 comments:

a4g said...

Another grain of sorrow tossed into an endless Sahara of grief. And never far: the angry Djinn Islam (although I fear the Djinn is more the nightmare of our own fallen nature, and Islam only a foul direction of the wind).

The senses dull at the onslaught of these stories. From Vincent and Nour, to Mrs. Sheehan, to the tattoos of sorrow each of us wear hidden under our opaque sleeves, an enormity of sadness that, for the most part, doesn't have to be.

And I feel guilty not to have a place for each one; but there is always work and shopping and my comfortable place on the couch, and, grains of sand that these little sorrows are, they are lost in the endless pale yellow of the desert.

And yet, despite the numbing impossibility of change, still change comes.

Perhaps not in the timescale of our daily commute, but in the slow plod of history as these grains build a mounded bulwark against the madness.

It is so sad that this great culture has forgotten how to honor such heros. When will the artists sing paeans to Stephen Vincent, who reached for the best that is within us?

Well, like our forefathers, we pick up the flintlocks ourselves.

We are in a new phase of a very old war.

Dymphna said...

Do not forget the torrents of laughter, a4g. Maybe they are there somewhere on the couch with you...little giggles.

Mr. Vincent's story will be told and I'll even go see it. What a marvelous film it will make! Just as Shakespeare redeemed all those deaths, so some Wmsk. of the movies will do for Vincent.

Noor may get a life beyond what she dreamed if her boss' wife has any say in it.

Just because you go shopping, and pick the paper up from where the dog chewed it, and weed the garden doesn't mean you don't carry the sorrow. In fact, sometimes you can take turns and the sorrow can carry you....

Stephen Vincent will be remembered because he has his widow to make sure of that. Vincent van Gogh only had Theo's wife and what a good job she did!

Meanwhile, old thing, we in the blogosphere have one another. And Wan Cole. We have him, too.

Go to Neighborhood and read my pome to the end of summer, which I lifted from James Lileks and dedicated to Billy Collins...I have to make sure the antecedents are plain so the Muses won't come after me...Ever since we got a queen-size bed it seems like there's more room for monsters under there.

Bill said...

Thank you for telling the whole story. And yes, Juan Cole has much to answer for as do all his ilk.

al fin said...

Mr. Vincent was a rare man of courage and truth. He is so much superior a man than the fool that Mrs. Vincent castigates, that you should not mention the two names in the same article.

Some of our best people have been killed by islamic fanatics and criminals. Western leftists have cheered on the sidelines while these good people were being killed. Leftists continue to call for the killing of free westerners, and the destruction of the free secular west.

This alliance of islamist fanatics with western leftists creates a two front war that must be fought. All of us are warriors now, by default.

Keith said...

"This alliance of islamist fanatics with western leftists creates a two front war that must be fought. All of us are warriors now, by default. "

Amen to that.
I've fought my wars and now I'm just a redundant old man, but stories like this don't fill me with sadness, but rather make me grin and nod---"yes. they're still out there, people of principle, with courage and honour".
We can win this, people. Just look at the examples we have.

Steve Bodio said...

Thanks for posting this. My blog is mostly not (overtly) political, and I hadn't thought of posting, particularly because when I read her incredible letter I assumed that the MSM MUST notice. Fooled again.

If they don't I might just have to.

Think Cole will ever reply?