Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Words Matter

The passing news is not usually within the purview of Gates of Vienna. The focus here is on the underlying themes rather than the passing scene. However, the assassination yesterday of the journalist Steven Vincent in Basrah has important implications for those who think about events in the Middle East and their impact on the world at large. Especially their impact within the United States.

Mr. Vincent was abducted from the streets of Basrah, along with his translator, who is unnamed in the reports and has no identity beyond being female. His bullet-riddled body was found later, dumped on the road. The translator, seriously wounded, survived the abduction.

The news reports mention several things: that Mr. Vincent had been in Basrah several months, researching a story on the history of the city. While there, he filed stories with the New York Times, The Christain Science Monitor, and National Review online. These reports mention his criticism of the UK troops in what he saw as their failure to curb the internecine warfare between the Sunnis and extremist Shi’ites who are fighting for politcal control of the post-war process in Basrah.

Here is the reason Mr. Vincent died. An interview with Front Page Magazine in 2004, his own ideas will serve as his obituary:
     Words matter. Words convey moral clarity. Without moral clarity, we will not succeed in Iraq. That is why the terms the press uses to cover this conflict are so vital. For example, take the word “guerillas.” As you noted, mainstream media sources like the New York Times often use the terms “insurgents” or “guerillas” to describe the Sunni Triangle gunmen, as if these murderous thugs represented a traditional national liberation movement. But when the Times reports on similar groups of masked reactionary killers operating in Latin American countries, they utilize the phrase “paramilitary death squads.” Same murderers, different designations. Yet of the two, “insurgents”—and especially “guerillas”—has a claim on our sympathies that “paramilitaries” lacks. This is not semantics: imagine if the media routinely called the Sunni Triangle gunmen “right wing paramilitary death squads.” Not only would the description be more accurate, but it would offer the American public a clear idea of the enemy in Iraq. And that, in turn, would bolster public attitudes toward the war.
Supporters of the conflict in Iraq bear much blame for allowing the terminology—and, by extension, the narrative—of events to slip from our grasp and into the hands of the anti-war camp. Words and ideas matter. Instead of saying that the Coalition “invaded” Iraq and “occupies” it today, we could more precisely claim that the allies liberated the country and are currently reconstructing it. More than cosmetic changes, these definitions reflect the nobility of our effort in Iraq, and steal rhetorical ammunition from the left.
The most despicable misuse of terminology, however, occurs when Leftists call the Saddamites and foreign jihadists “the resistance.” What an example of moral inversion! For the fact is, paramilitary death squads are attacking the Iraqi people. And those who oppose the killers--the Iraqi police and National Guardsmen, members of the Allawi government, people like Nour—they are the “resistance.” They are preventing Islamofascists from seizing Iraq, they are resisting evil men from turning the entire nation into a mass slaughterhouse like we saw in re-liberated Falluja. Anyone who cares about success in our struggle against Islamofascism—or upholds principles of moral clarity and lucid thought—should combat such Orwellian distortions of our language.
And Mr. Vincent makes this most telling diagnosis, one which needs emphasis and repetition:
     Islam in Iraq (and elsewhere) is becoming more tribal, more insular, more sunk in a backwards mindset of misogyny, obsession with honor and a kind of bi-polar oscillation between self-loathing and self-importance. We see the effects of this dysfunctionality north and west of Baghdad where Sunni Arabs, disgraced by their fall from power, attempt to kill American soldiers in order to reclaim their “honor” rather than negotiate a future for their children in a democratic Iraq. Islam has long been aware of the corruptions of tribalism—Wahhabism and other Salafist movements are attempts to return the religion to its “pure” state. But as we see with Al Qaeda and Zarqawi, the results are just as intolerant, misogynistic and bloodthirsty—in a word, fascistic.
My experiences in Iraq, together with what I witnessed in Iran in 2000, led me to wonder why the civilized world doesn’t rise up en masse and say Enough! We will no longer tolerate the way that Muslim nations in the Middle East treat women! Alas, in today’s multicultural world, such outrage is impossible.
Meanwhile, in Iraq the compass of women’s lives—their legal and social rights, hopes and dreams and image of themselves—slowly constricts. Criminals prey on females, forcing them to remain indoors after dark. Islamic clerics pressure them to don black abiyas—even when the heat tops 140 degrees. Tribal leaders and Shia imams agitate for shari’a—misogynistic Islamic law—to regulate every aspect of a woman’s existence. Polygamy, honor killings, divorce by repudiation, temporary marriages (essentially religiously-sanctioned adultery) have returned, at least as matters of serious discussion.
Those who would honor Mr. Vincent can pick up his pen and write after him:

  • Words matter. They matter desperately and their misuse may cost us our own freedom.
  • The status of women in any given society matters.
  • Multiculturalism tolerates and promotes evil.
  • Islam is tribal and adolescent.
  • Supporters of the war must take the reins of the conversation from those who are leading it down the path of “insurgency” and move the conversation toward the truth: this is a mission of liberation.
In a subsequent post, attention will be paid to Mr. Vincent's book In The Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq. Obviously it was a courageous journey but not one he would be allowed to survive.

Rest in peace, Mr. Vincent. May the angels of peace, the ones who directed your writing, fly you home.


goesh said...

Iraq it appears is destined to be a Shia controled nation. Once Iran has its nuclear potential, it can send its agents full force into Iraq and there is nothing anyone can do about it short of a nuclear war. Given Iraq's oil reserves and that of Iran and the market potential of China and India, islamic fundamentalism can truly spread unchallenged. Iran is the ace in the hole once it has its nukes. I don't think there is much time left to act, less than a year. I don't buy into the report that Iran is far from having nuke weapons.

Baron Bodissey said...

I don't, either. The CIA has proved worthless at this kind of prediction -- look how wrong they were about North Korea. And Libya's progress took them by surprise.

Michael Ledeen has more reliable information than they do.

goesh said...

I would give an eye tooth to know what MOSSAD is saying about when they will have nukes.

Matthew said...

Just visiting your blog here for the first time. Very strong work here, lots to think about.

Thanks for your post on Stephen Vincent. He was a true hero.

Harry said...

Thanks for this Steven Vincent post. Even though I read him a bit before he was murdered, I didn't know it was him. I've read more by him in the past 24 hours. His interview in FrontPage is more informative than anything I've ever seen in the MSM. He will remain, even in death, an important writer.