Sunday, September 03, 2006

Never, ever, criticize a hostage.

Have any of you ever feared for your life? I haven't, I'm happy to say. I've had some scrapes and I've certainly felt wildly unsafe a few times, but I've never seriously feared for my life.

Columnist Mark Steyn, writing about two journalists (Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig of Fox News) abducted in Gaza writes, "The moment the men were released, the Western media and their colleagues wrote off the scene as a stunt, a cunning ruse, of no more consequence than yelling "Behind you! He's got a gun!" and then kicking your distracted kidnapper in the teeth. Indeed, a few Web sites seemed to see the Islamic conversion routine as a useful get-out-of-jail-free card."

Seems too cavalier a treatment to me. Hell, legend has it that members of the Knights Templar, in the Middle East during the crusades, actually practiced meditative methods of converting to Islam if captured without truly converting in their hearts so that they could talk their way out of captivity without losing their souls. Folks will just naturally, and rightly, do what they have to do to survive a life and death hostage situation. The impulse to say whatever in order to survive really is how Steyn mockingly describes it... but it's not funny.

Columnist Adam Graham actually wrote: "We may talk a good game about values, but when it comes right down to it, what matters most is not Democracy, is not truth, or our country, or God, but staying alive. With such an outlook, I question whether we will win this war."

David Warren at
was the first to tar these guys as "men without chests." He smeared them as: "Men without chests, men without character, men who don't think twice."

This kind of commentary leaves me dumbfounded. I know, I know, we all imagine that we'll be Hollywood action heroes if we're ever faced with a situation that could lead to the ultimate end. But I thought most of us knew the Hollywood fantasy for the fiction it is.

Like I said, I've never confronted a situation that screams "this is the end," and I never want to. I suppose we all hope that we'll handle something like that well, or even brilliantly. But none of us can claim we would, can we? I'll venture that most people wouldn't even dare make the claim. It's the kind of thing where you don't know what you'll do until you have to do it. The writers I've cited have made abig deal about the propaganda victory that the journalists handed to their captors when they converted on videotape. But complaining like that is the same as saying that they should have traded their lives and the happiness of their friends and family, in order to deny their captors what amounts to a television commercial. It's really a nutty way to think.

It's damned foolish to assume you'd know how you'd act in that kind of situation. If you've been there before, you might have more insight. But, if you've been there before, I'd guess that you'd say you'd claim ignorance and wouldn't promise anything extraordinary.

Two non-combatants were captured by hostile forces and told to convert to Islam. As far as I'm concerned, how they reacted is beyond outside criticism. They did what they felt was smart and proper. Their critics didn't even consider that what they chose to do was heroic -- they made a smart choice that helped get them out of that situation alive. I might never have been so seriously threatened as they were, but I've seen enough to know that their ability to live through something like that is worthy of respect.

Sometimes I think that the worst thing that this war, or any war, has done to our society is that it's empowered armchair observers to pontificate about either how they'd react under fire or what they expect from other people in danger. But, really, that kind of commentary is no more valid than me watching a Mike Tyson fight and telling the people around me how I'd knock the guy out (I'd feint left, jab, step in and... oh... nevermind.)


At 7:15 PM , Blogger Jon E. said...

Adam Graham is a despicable, mewling halfwit. It makes perfect sense that he worked for Alan Keyes.

Graham and guys like him talk a tough game on the internet, but if you put them in a room with a bunch of fanatics with guns who told them, "Convert or die," you'd have to use picoseconds to measure the time they agonized over that one before converting.

That time might lengthen to microseconds if they were given the choice between converting to Islam and never eating hotwings again.

Would I have pretended to convert if I thought it would save my life? Absolutely. I probably wouldn't kill an innocent or even endanger an innocent in order to save my own life. But I'd tell pretty much any lie to escape dying or even getting severely beaten if, as happened here, the only consequences of my lie was to let a bunch of overly macho blogers bleat about my lack of fortitude from the safety of their home offices. It's not like the journalists told state secrets or even betrayed confidences. No one got hurt, except possibly the journalists themselves, and the only possible harm there is a matter for them to work out with their god and their spiritual advisors.

And don't give me this nonsense about the conversion being a big propaganda victory. It might help the cause of radical Islam in places already sympathetic to it, but the best ideals of this country and of the free world reject kidnapping people or forcing them to profess a faith in which they don't believe. Every time some asshole with a bag over his head and a bug up his ass about a sadistic, childish version of Allah pulls a stunt like this, he strengthens the resolve of his enemies (including me, including moderate Muslims worldwide.)

Also, for what it's worth, I'm not even sure the staged conversion makes those journalists look like cowards in the eyes of most Muslims. As I understand it, Islam itself has explicit provisions allowing the faithful to disavow the faith if doing so will save their lives. Sensible provision.


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