In Memoriam: Steven Vincent
In Memoriam: Steven Vincent
Steven Vincent, a longtime staff writer, colleague, and dear friend, was brutally murdered in Basra, Iraq, yesterday by what is assumed to be a local religious /criminal militia. The cause was apparent retaliation for his Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on Sunday, in which he criticized British forces in the Basra region for failing to rein in what he described as a city that was "increasingly coming under the control of Shiite religious groups."
Steven and his translator Noor al-Khal were abducted off a Basra street sometime Tuesday night. Steven's body, with multiple bullet wounds, his hands tied and a red cloth around his neck, was later found about a 10-minute drive from where they were first snatched by two men in a car.
Al-Khal, who was also shot, is hospitalized, but the extent of her injuries is currently unknown.
Steven was for more than a decade one of the pillars of Art & Auction magazine, contributing stories on a wide range of subjects from antiquities legislation to the current Chelsea scene, and just about everything in between. No piece was too large or too small for him to attack with enthusiasm and an angle. Curious, relentless, quirky, and fearless, Steven pursued a story wherever the facts and his instincts led him, even, sometimes, despite my political cautions. It was always the truth he was after.
The events of September 11th had an incalculable impact on Steven. Months afterward his voice would quaver as he recalled standing on his roof downtown and seeing the second plane hit. "I saw the face of evil in that moment," he said. Trying to understand Islamic radicalism—Islamic fascism, he would have put it—he immersed himself in its literature and ultimately traveled to Iraq twice as a freelance journalist, filing stories for the Christian Science Monitor, National Review Online, Art & Auction, and other publications. He did it on his own dime and, unusually for reporters in Iraq, without security protection. His death is reportedly the first deliberately targeted killing of an American journalist since the fall of Saddam.
Steven supported the war in Iraq, its mistakes and miscalculations notwithstanding, because he firmly believed that unless a dynamic of change is set in motion in the Middle East, the 21st century will be even more of a charnel house than the 20th was. He was a patriot, of the best sort: someone who believed that the freedom, experimentation, and imaginative reach that he treasured in life and in works of art depended on the vigorous defense of a liberal, democratic political order, not only at home but abroad.
Last year, Steven published a book, In the Red Zone: A Journey Into the Soul of Iraq, which received widespread praise. He did talk radio and became a commentator on Iraq known for his trenchant and unconventional viewpoint. He gathered his facts from the streets, not from official handouts and anonymous diplomatic sources. Again, it was the truth he was after.
If there is any solace in all this it is that Steven achieved what he set out to do in life. He wanted to be a writer and journalist in the heroic mold.
When he was contemplating going to Iraq, he told me, "I have to, this is our generation's Spain." Recalling that crystalline morning when he saw the Twin Towers fall, he once told an interviewer, "At that moment I realized my country was at warbecause of the 1993 attack on the Trade Center, I figured our enemy was Islamic terrorismand I wanted to do my part in the conflict. I'm too old to enlist in the armed services, so I decided to put my writing talents to use."
He did indeed do his part and, like his adored Frank Sinatra, Steven did it his way. We shall all miss him terribly.