Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Lisa Ramaci-Vincent v Juan Cole

"It's called courage" at Murdoc Online contains a long letter from Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, the widow of the murdered journalist Steven Vincent, killed in Iraq, probably by Shi'ite theocratic thugs. Ramaci-Vincent is replying to Juan Cole. Cole had written a cavalier paragraph in an article retailing rumours of her husband having an affair, and then giving a moral relativist/pseudo-academic explation/excuse for the murder. [Hat tip: DSTP4W]

Stories that Vincent was having an affair with his interpreter, Nour Weidi, also shot during the attack, surfaced shortly after his killing. This article by Colin Freeman in the Telegraph, for example, raised the story, which seems to have come from the Iraqi "investigators". An "investigator" said
"There is the possibility that this was an attempted 'honour killing', related in some way to the relationship he had with his interpreter. But it does not fit the pattern of honour killings as it is usually the woman who dies."
Juan Cole responded in his mis-named blog Informed Comment, citing the Telegraph article:
"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."
Cole is an academic, writing as an expert on the Middle East. But this piece of writing is profoundly un-scholarly. For example, he makes all sorts of assumptions about Ms Weidi, who he does not even name and about how her "clan" will react, without the slightest bit of knowledge about her.

In contrast to his own purported expertise, he abusively claims that Steven Vincent, who spent some time in Iraq, "did not know anything serious about Middle Eastern culture".

In her letter, Ramaci-Vincent thoroughly scotchs the rumours, and everything else Cole says.

There is just one thing to add to her onslaught, which is the way that Cole falls into a kind of left-Orientalist trap of making out that all Arabs constitute one single homogeneous "culture" (in this article called, alternately, "Middle Eastern culture" and "Mediterranean culture"). In fact, as a real expert would know, Iraq, and the region it is part of, is incredibly diverse. But, more importantly, to explain evil away by reference to culture is morally repugnant.

Blog link: Cole-ture shock (Martin Kramer's Sandbox)
MORE LINKS ADDED HERE

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