We Had to Destroy the Woman to Save Her
I haven’t read Juan Cole before. The snippets I’ve seen here and there that other people have quoted didn’t appeal. But I saw this astonishing item at Drink-soaked Trot Popinjays, so I thought I’d pass it on.
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.
Errr. If her ‘clan’ thought she was ‘shaming’ them…then they might have decided to ‘end’ it. End it. By which he means, murder them; by which he means, shoot both of them multiple times. Well, yeah, I suppose that is one way to ‘end’ something. I suppose if someone stands too close to you at the bus stop, you can ‘end’ it by killing her. But in all fairness, that’s not what is usually meant by ‘ending’ an affair. Not to mention the fact that there wasn’t an affair anyway. Cole appears to have read the Telegraph article he linked to very sloppily. It doesn’t say they were having an affair, or that they were ‘romantically involved,’ and it says several things to indicate that there is a lot of room for doubt that they were – such as the fact that Vincent was planning to marry his interpreter for visa purposes, and that his wife was aware of that. The popinjays link to a site that posts a letter Vincent’s wife wrote to Cole. It makes for warm reading.
But even apart from that – the rest of it is staggering all on its own. ‘In Mediterranean culture, a man’s honor tends to be wrought up with his ability to protect his womenfolk from seduction by strange men.’ Excuse me? Protect? By killing them? That’s ‘protection’? He himself acknowledges (without apparently noticing that he’s done so) the nature of the protection in the very next sentence – ‘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.’ What’s the deal, here? Did it take him so long to compose and type the 33 words between ‘protect’ and ‘kill’ that he forgot he’d said the first by the time he got to the second? Or is he just stupid. Or is he worse than that, is he so intent on making ‘honor’ killing sound vaguely acceptable that – that he can write a piece of dreck like that.
Update. He’s even worse than I thought. He wrote a follow-up post in reaction to Lisa Ramaci-Vincent’s reply to him. (But he calls her ‘Mrs Vincent’ – which is obnoxious, to put it mildly, since she signed herself Lisa Ramaci-Vincent. Why does Cole get to decide what her name is? Why does he get to correct her on her own name? More concern for male honor?) It’s enough to put me off me dinner.
Clueless Americans don’t understand the principle of gender segregation for the most part, and if they do understand it they are horrified by it. But in large swathes of the world, it just is not considered right for a male to be in the company of an unrelated female. It isn’t just a matter of sleeping around, as my wingnut correspondents assume. It is being alone in the company of an unrelated man or woman, and having that be known publicly. Male honor is invested in the protection of the virginity of female relatives, and a conviction that something improper may have occurred would be enough in some instances to cause a vendetta. It is not just a Muslim thing. Many Orthodox Jews and Middle Eastern and Balkan Christians feel the same way.
Clueless Americans don’t understand gender segregation, and they don’t understand clan honor as practiced in most Arab societies. We American men aren’t dishonored in particular if our sisters sleep around, though I suppose in high school it can’t be pleasant for a guy to have everyone taunt him that his sister is a slut. But in Arab culture, a brother can’t show his face in public if his sister is known to be a slut.
The guy’s a piece of work.