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?