From Vincent to van Gogh

Posted: Aug 07, 2005 12:00 AM

With all the mayhem in Israel today it is difficult to step back and take note of a terrible crime that happens elsewhere. But Tuesday evening a terrible crime was committed elsewhere and it is worthy of our attention because its perpetrators are our enemies and their victim was our friend.

On Tuesday evening freelance American journalist Steven Vincent was kidnapped and murdered in Basra. Vincent, who in pre-September 11 America earned his living as an art critic, set out to fight this war after he watched the Twin Towers explode from his rooftop in the East Village in Manhattan. And Tuesday he gave his life in the fight.

Vincent did not join the army. He took up his pen and he went to Iraq in the wake of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime by the US-led coalition in the spring of 2003. No one sent him there. He heard the call to battle from his rooftop that terrible morning and he answered it in the only way he knew. He became a chronicler of post-Saddam Iraq.

I never met Vincent, but I developed a deep respect for him by following his dispatches, which would show up in various US newspapers fairly often over the past two years. His writing was a rare mix of descriptive prose, reasoned analysis and passion that made you seek out his latest story and feel a tinge of regret when you finish the last sentence. You always wanted to read more when you read him.

What came through clearly in his writings is that Vincent grasped that the global jihad, as it manifested itself in New York and Washington on September 11 and as it manifests itself on a daily basis in Iraq and indeed throughout the world, is rooted not in terrorism but in culture and religion. And the only way for the US and the rest of the free world to emerge victorious in this war is to expose and destroy the cultural base that spurs millions of Muslims throughout the world to kill and destroy and to support killing and destruction in the name of Islam.

In an article in the National Review published in December 2004, Vincent railed against the media for referring to the terrorists in Iraq, whose handiwork he saw up close, as "guerrillas" and "resistance forces." In his words, "[T]oday we suffer for our lack of clarity in this war. Unwilling to call our enemies fascists, afraid to condemn the brutal aspects of Iraqi and Arab culture, we have allowed the narrative to slip out of our control. Truth is made, not found, in Iraq. Gradually, in the war of ideas, the US became the evil occupier, opposing the legitimate wishes of an indigenous 'resistance'."

In June Vincent returned to Iraq to write a book about Basra. As the British military authorities look on indifferently, Basra, which was once the cosmopolitan center of Iraq, has since the January elections come under the control of radical Shi?ites who are closely allied with Iran and Hizbullah. In Sunday's New York Times, Vincent published an op-ed where he described this transformation and quoted an officer in the British-trained Basra police force who said that 75 percent of the force is loyal to Muqtada e-Sadr, the Iranian- and Hizbullah-backed terrorist chief who sparked the Shi?ite terror onslaught in southern Iraq in April 2004. Vincent also reported that the police, in the pay of extremist clerics, use their guns and vehicles at night to execute people accused of ties to the Ba?ath party. Hundreds have been murdered in this fashion.

According to witness reports of his abduction, Vincent was kidnapped by uniformed police officers who carted him away in their vehicle. If these reports are correct it would mean that Vincent was murdered for exposing the fact that the British military has trained and equipped a jihadi death squad which has taken over Basra and which will kill anyone who endangers their position and power.

IN MANY respects, Vincent's murder recalls the murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam last November. Like Vincent, van Gogh was murdered by a jihadi for daring to expose the malevolent face of radical Islam in his documentary Submission. In it, he described the brutal oppression of women under radical Islam. While Vincent exposed the murderous machinations and oppressive culture of Islamic fascists in Iraq, van Gogh described their actions in his hometown. But they were both describing the same phenomenon and for their efforts at shining light on the face of the enemy, they were murdered.

The metaphor of shining a light on the enemy is an apt one. For like bats in a cave, the jihadi enemy prefers to operate in darkness - to obfuscate from us, his targets, his aims and his nature. This he accomplishes by hiding behind terms like "occupation" or "resistance" or "civil liberties" or by carrying out his terrorist operations against unarmed, unwarned civilians rather than face their military forces in battle.

And so, as Frank Gaffney, another warrior scribe, pointed out in the National Review on Thursday, "This may be a war unlike any other we have ever fought, but it is a war. Nothing less than our survival as a free, democratic and secular nation is at stake."

In this war, the enemy fights us in two separate ways. He terrorizes us with violence in order to make us capitulate. And, by hiding behind the ever-sympathetic guise of a victimized minority culture and religious group, he accuses us of the terrible crimes of racism and illiberalism when we dare to point out the fact that preaching jihad is not a simple exercise of free speech, but an act of war.

And that's the rub. In our liberal democracies, we are driven by a foundational belief in the sanctity of the freedom of dissent. But our enemy tramples that sanctity. For it is not dissent he preaches, but war. It is not democratic give-and-take that he is after, but our destruction. And if we wish to survive, we have to recognize the fact that when our cities are transformed into battlegrounds, our countries are at war. Those who call for jihad have nothing in common with those who call for a change in our government's policies, for the promulgation of new laws, or for new elections. Indeed they are their antithesis.

Happily, today, the reality that Vincent and van Gogh grasped immediately is now, in the wake of last month's bombings in London, finally beginning to be confronted by European leaders and societies. In the past week alone, Germany announced plans to deport 37 Islamic religious figures who have preached jihad; France has announced its intention to deport 12 such men, some of whom are to be stripped of their French citizenship; and Italy on Tuesday deported eight Islamic preachers. As French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy put it, it is necessary today to conduct "a wide-scale action of early detection" of people who abet and indoctrinate for jihad. He vowed to expel anyone who violates a French law passed last year which outlaws incitement of "discrimination, hatred or violence" against any group.

For their part, the British, who for years have been the warmest hosts of jihadists in the world, are in the process of promulgating laws that will enable the police to prosecute suspects before they commit attacks. As Home Office Secretary Hazel Blears explained last month, "Anyone who gets or provides training in bomb-making or other terror activities here or overseas can be charged." Another law in the works would make indirectly inciting terrorism with inflammatory statements a criminal offense.

Sadly and absurdly, as Europe finally awakens to the dangers of jihad, Israel is doing everything it can to remain firmly and deeply asleep. On Monday, the Haifa District Court obscenely acquitted Jamal Mahajneh from Umm el-Fahm of charges of accessory to murder and first-degree accessory to sabotage. Mahajneh transported a suicide bomber to the Maxim restaurant in Haifa in October 2003, where she murdered 21 people. Mahajneh was found guilty of the lesser offense of negligent manslaughter. The judges justified their ruling by arguing that they believed that Mahajneh did not know that the Palestinian woman, whom he spirited into Israel in spite of the fact that she lacked an entry permit and dropped off at the crowded restaurant, was a terrorist.

But in 2003, Israel had been at war for three years and its cities had long since been transformed into battlegrounds whose chief victims were its civilians. It was up to Mahajneh to realize that given this reality, there was a distinct possibility that the woman he transported to the restaurant was a terrorist. It was not the prosecution's duty to prove what he was thinking. His actions spoke loudly enough.

As with our judges, so with our media, our police, our cabinet ministers and our state prosecutors. The leadership of Israel is intent on ignoring the reality in which we live. In our topsy-turvy world, terrorists whose goal is the destruction of Israel receive mercy from justices and land, money, guns and legitimacy from the government. At the same time, the patriotic opponents of the government, all of whose actions, whether justified or misguided, are based solely on their desire to ensure the strength and viability of Israel, are castigated as violent adversaries who must be subdued and defeated with the full force of the law.

In Israel we actually already have the laws on the books that the Europeans are now busily legislating, that would enable us to make the necessary distinction between an enemy and a dissenter. What we lack is the political, cultural and legal leadership with the strength of character and vision of Steven Vincent and Theo van Gogh.