Volume 75, Number 20 | October 05 - 11, 2005

Writer planned to convert to Islam, marry interpreter

By Lincoln Anderson

Steven Vincent shortly before leaving for his last trip to Iraq.
Steven Vincent, the East Village journalist who was murdered in Iraq on Aug. 2, was planning to convert to Islam, marry his female interpreter and take her to England and possibly the United States.

Vincent, 49, and his Iraqi interpreter, Nour Weidi, 31, were kidnapped off the street in Basra while going to a money-changing office a block from Vincent’s hotel. Vincent was shot to death, becoming the first American journalist murdered in Iraq. Weidi survived four gunshots to the chest and is still recuperating in a Kuwaiti hospital.

Just days before his death, The New York Times had run on its Op-Ed Page a column of Vincent’s on the infiltration of the Basra police by insurgents. Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, his wife, believes the column — and, in general, what he was writing and what he knew — is why he was killed and that the killers were followers of radical Shiite cleric Motaq al-Sadr.

However, articles in English and Scottish newspapers following Vincent’s death raised suspicion that his murder may have been an “honor killing” — that his going about with an unmarried woman violated Islamic propriety: The Scotsman and Telegraph reported that Weidi told investigators Vincent planned to marry her and take her out of the country. Ramaci-Vincent confirmed in blog postings that this was true. According to his wife, Vincent was made to understand that Weidi would be considered “worthless” if he left her behind. She maintains Vincent and Weidi’s relationship was platonic.

“This is not to say that Steven did not love Nour — he did,” Ramaci-Vincent wrote in a post on Murdoc Online. “And he was quite upfront about it to me. But it was not sexual love — 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.”

Ramaci-Vincent said Weidi had a job offer from the Guardian, one of England’s largest newspapers. But she said Weidi’s conservative family would only allow her to leave Iraq with a family member or if she was married. To give Weidi a chance at a better life, Vincent agreed to convert and marry her, and the family gave their approval, according to Ramaci-Vincent. She also gave her approval.

Since English law allows a man to have two wives, Vincent was not planning to divorce Ramaci-Vincent, but was going to divorce the interpreter to prevent bigamy charges if he returned to America, Ramaci-Vincent said in a blog posting. Vincent planned to remain a Muslim to prevent any threat of “apostasy,” his wife said.

In an e-mail and a phone interview with The Villager last week, Ramaci-Vincent said the honor-killing theory has since been discounted. She said Vincent and Weidi were never alone together — and really could not have been in a city like Basra where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

“In an Islamic state, you cannot be alone in private with a woman who is not your wife, mother, daughter, sister. Period,” Ramaci wrote in the e-mail. “They could also not be together after dark. Two weeks before he died, a female reporter from the Dallas Morning News was in Basra for a week, and staying at the same hotel as Steven. He wrote to me that a few times at night they would have tea in her room — they would leave the door open, and sit across the room from each other, so they could just chat and relax. Even though anyone who wanted to could see in, and even though they were in no proximity to each other, and even though they were fully clothed, the hotel staff was scandalized and the rumor spread that the two were having an affair. This is how it works in places like that.”

The Telegraph, a right-wing U.K. broadsheet, reported that Iraqi police are leading the investigation of Vincent’s death with a strong supervisory role by American and British officials. But Ramaci-Vincent said the F.B.I. is leading the investigation, about which they so far have told her nothing.

Two weeks ago, Fakher Haider, an Iraqi reporter and photographer stringing for The Times who wrote The Times article on Vincent’s death, was abducted and killed, snatched off the street by men who jumped out of a police car, very similar to the way Vincent was kidnapped and murdered. He had also recently reported about Shiite militants infiltrating the police.

“Was this an honor killing?” Ramaci-Vincent asked.

Ramaci-Vincent feels the honor-killing theory was “a way for the Brits to deflect criticism that they have seriously dropped the ball in their handling of the situation in Basra.”

Calling it a validation that Vincent’s reporting was on the right track, his wife noted that on Sept. 25, Scotland on Sunday newspaper reported British Defense Secretary John Reid is “planning to scrap the 25,000-strong police force in southern Iraq and replace it with a new military-style unit capable of maintaining law and order…. The general decline in security, and the disclosure that many members of the Basra police force owe allegiances to rival militia leaders, has sent U.K. planning back to the drawing board,” Scotland on Sunday reported.

After the death of her husband of 13 years, Ramaci-Vincent said she has made inquiries to the State Department about the possibility of her sponsoring Weidi to come to America.

About 150 friends of Vincent gathered at Cooper Union’s Great Hall last Saturday night for a “Viking funeral” for him to speed him on his way to “Valhalla.” The memorial was without a burning longboat but plenty of Bombay Sapphire Gin martinis, Vincent’s favorite cocktail. Speakers recalled him as a charismatic, impossible-to-pigeonhole, Kerouacian bohemian with a prodigious, restless intellect who felt he found his true calling when he remade himself from an arts writer into war correspondent after 9/11. Noting the energetic Vincent was constantly on the go, his wife ended the memorial by bidding him “not rest in peace — but be in peace” before wishing him a final “see ya.”

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