Thursday, August 31, 2006

It’s not easy to be shocked by jihad these days, five years and numberless atrocities after the Twin Towers imploded on some 3,000 fellow citizens. That said, I admit my own jihad-fatigue was broken, shattered, really, by the “conversion” to Islam of Fox journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig videotaped during their two-week ordeal as captives of Palestinians in Gaza.

Why? Andrew G. Bostom, writing at, tells us forced conversions to Islam “have been the norm, across three continents — Asia, Africa and Europe — for over 13 centuries,” and cites contemporary examples in the jihad campaigns of Sudan and Indonesia. Even so, religious coercion, let alone “jihad campaigns,” still seems appallingly new to us — if by “us” I can still make myself understood to mean, generally, Western peoples in modern times. Indeed, I can’t think of another hostage to jihad forced into Islam — not even Daniel Pearl or Nicolas Berg, and not the U.S. embassy hostages in Tehran a quarter century ago.

Is this incident a tip-off to a new level of unabashed religious abuse of traditionally (once upon a time) inviolate Westerners? In the “conversion” video, we see such abuse as the American and the New Zealander sit, costumed in Arabic robes, “forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint,” as Mr. Centanni later revealed. Holding up a symbolic first finger, they read their lines in both Arabic and English, proclaiming their “new” faith, declaring their “new” names — Khaled and Ya’aqob — and calling on President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to do likewise. I didn’t see the videotape on TV (more on that below), but rather on the Internet, where, like high-tech specters, “Khaled” and “Ya’aqob” will haunt their freed selves into cyber-eternity.

Or will they? Whether this “conversion” is legit probably depends on the eye, or, rather, the religion of the beholder. The Koran says “there is no compulsion in religion” — as did, absurdly, the video — but, as Robert Spencer writes at, traditional Islamic teachings about Muhammad, which reveal that the Islamic prophet’s invitation to Islam was accompanied by “an inescapable threat” of subjugation and war, have left Islam with a different interpretation of “compulsion” from the West. That is, given accounts of Muhammad’s own example, Islam doesn’t really see forcible conversion in commonly understood terms of “compulsion.”

So, what if Messrs. Centanni and Wiig “revert” to their non-Muslim identities? Would such “apostasy” sentence them to death? (Leaving Islam is a capital crime under Islamic law.) Shocking thought. Of course, there’s something even more shocking to the story than the religious charade itself.

No, it isn’t the bizarre disclaimer Mr. Centanni felt compelled to append to his account of the shotgun-conversion — “Don’t get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it.” While it’s more than passing strange to hear a person who has been forced to choose between death and Islam flack for Islam as he resumes his life, there’s something else. And it isn’t praise for the “beautiful and kind-hearted” Palestinian people Mr. Centanni slathered around the microphone at his Gaza City press conference before, as Mr. Bostom noted, high-tailing it to safety in infidel-Israel.

The most shocking thing about the Centanni-Wiig “conversion” is the silence that has followed. First, there is silence from Islam. Shouldn’t Muslim religious leaders, and particularly “beautiful and kind-hearted” Palestinian Muslim religious leaders, vehemently condemn the forced conversions? As Mr. Bostom put it, “Will such Muslim authorities at least recognize the acute predicament of Centanni and Wiig by issuing a fatwa stating that their ‘conversion,’ being under duress, was not bona fide, condemning in advance any Muslim who might now attack these journalists for ‘apostasy’ from Islam?”

Yes, of course, they should — at least according to any Western understanding of compulsion and morality — but don’t hold your breath. Meanwhile, holding their breath is exactly what Western media are doing when it comes to covering (not covering) the story. Even Fox’s Greta van Susteren, a tabloidesque host who never met a bodily fluid she couldn’t elaborate on, went delicate on us the other night, failing, in a one-hour “exclusive” interview with the two men, to ask a single question about their religious ordeal — presumably at their request.

Why? Who or what is served by shutting up? Only forces of coercion — a word which, after all, implies the nullification of individual will. Which means this is one case where silence isn’t golden and ignorance isn’t bliss. They are dangerous and dumb.

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