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September 03, 2006

Under pressure

For the sake of argument, let's accept Mark Steyn's and David Warren's contention that extreme Muslims will see in the "conversion video" further evidence of the West's weakness. If that's true, it's fair to judge Fox News' Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig for whatever (unquantifiable, but surely not disastrous) damage they've done to "our side" in the process of saving their own skins. In an ideal world, it probably would have been better if they'd said "No way, man. You can't make me say anything I don't believe, no matter what you do to me."

Note that Mr. Steyn holds western hostages to a very high standard of conduct, most famously criticizing Kenneth Bigley's "pitiful" comportment leading up to his decapitation. It appears the only hostage who did it right was Italian Fabrizio Quattrocchi, who declared his defiance ("I'll show you how an Italian dies!") and was promptly dispatched with a bullet to the back of the head.

So, how common is the sort of bravery Steyn and Warren wanted to see from Wiig and Centanni? Common sense says less so now than in decades past, but I don't know how you'd go about proving it. Gallantry and heroism certainly don't seem to be lacking among modern, professional Western militaries. Steyn devotes three paragraphs to a heroic tale of defiance from the late 1800s, in which a group of Brits and Americans was kidnapped by Egyptian extremists and refused to convert to Islam at the point of a gun. Problem is, it's an Arthur Conan Doyle novel.

Would defiance even have been bravery at all? It depends. If Wiig and Centanni are Christians, then perhaps they did let their lord and saviour down. If not, it seems to me they have only this unquantifiable assistance their actions gave the enemy to bother their consciences (a "big picture" concern that I imagine is hard to get your head around when you're blindfolded, shackled and terrified). David Warren says he "assume[s] they are not Christians" since "few journalists are", but then launches into this:

…had they ever been instructed in that faith, they might have grasped that conversion to Islam means denial of Christ, and that is something many millions of Christians (few of them intellectuals) have refused to do, even at the cost of excruciating deaths. Christianity still lives, because of such martyrs.

That's not much relevant to people who don't believe in god, eh? I for one would never hesitate to pledge allegiance to a religion if it improved my chances of survival. If David Warren told me I'd denied Christ, I'd tell him I didn't need to. It never occurred to me to accept him in the fist place.

Indeed, I think there's a pleasant connotation to the idea of extremists seeing the forced conversion as a sign of weakness, because it presupposes that they think we're all Christians. They will in fact be watching a New Zealander with a Scandinavian name and an American with an Italian name, of indeterminate religion, who value their lives more than whatever portion of their dignity was taken from them by a gang of twisted, joyless thugs. This should not be an indictment of the West. Perhaps it would have been better if Centanni and Wiig had managed to keep all of their dignity, but it says here they lost less than Steyn and Warren do when they question the fear-driven actions of innocent people held hostage by terrorists.

Posted by Chris Selley at September 3, 2006 08:31 PM

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I think Steyn should go over there and demonstrate to all us spineless wimps how to die like a man.

Posted by: Robert McClelland at September 3, 2006 10:12 PM

In fact he should take David Warren with him. I'm a slow learner so I'll most likely need to see the demostration more than once.

Posted by: Robert McClelland at September 3, 2006 10:15 PM

And the award for Most Hilariously On-Point Rebuttal to a Douchebaggy Journalist in a Blog Comment goes to...


Posted by: optimuscrime at September 3, 2006 11:59 PM

Ironically, Quattrocchi and crew were disarmed by freedom-fighting US soldiers. Personally, if I were disarmed, captured and facing decap, I'd recite whatever mystic bullshit would secure my release, The West be damned.

Posted by: Jay Jardine at September 4, 2006 12:53 AM

I really can't see how anyone could in good taste condemn these men for saving their own lives.

I really, really like to envision myself (not a religious person) saying, "No thanks, men - I'll take death over mystic hokey-pokey," but I have to be honest with myself - I'd pledge allegiance to Rainbow Brite and She-Ra if terrorists were going to otherwise kill me.

David Warren's article is really disgusting.

Posted by: Jason B. Green at September 4, 2006 02:45 PM

I absolutely love journalists who sit in their offices, cubicles or living rooms and fantasize about what they would do if they were place in life-threatening situations in war zones.

Trust me, guys like these wouldn't dare to put themselves in even a smidgeon of the danger Centanni or Wiig were in. I know...I work in a newsroom.

Posted by: Adam at September 4, 2006 10:45 PM

Like Bush and Cheney, who went out of their way to avoid military service, it's easy to talk tough about staying the course and facing death like a man when you don't ever actually have to do so yourself. But of course, Steyn is just being playful and provocative, right? The same way that Ann Coulter is being playful when she attacks people who lost their spouses on September 11th? Those yellow-bellied liberals--apparently defined as anyone who questions any facet of US policy in Iraq--just must have lost their sense of humour when they lost their backbone, right?

Posted by: kyle at September 5, 2006 09:14 AM

Rainbow Brite would make a particularly unforgiving deity. Two words: Blood Sacrifice. Imagine the Aztecs enthused with a gay pride aesthetic.

This whole thing and the reaction to it just demonstrates, once again, how marginal religion has become in the west.

I guess, however, if I worshiped Aquaman I'd be super pissed at anyone who didn't care about the differences between Marvel and DC.

Posted by: wsam at September 5, 2006 10:08 AM

for those who haven't read it, another, in addition to chris' post here, enlightened, rational response to Stein's article:

Posted by: kyle at September 5, 2006 02:36 PM

"Indeed, I think there's a pleasant connotation to the idea of extremists seeing the forced conversion as a sign of weakness, because it presupposes that they think we're all Christians."

Friends who have worked over in the Middle East do support the idea that Arabs equate Westerners with Christianity. After all, Muslim = Arab there. One tells of the schoolgirls she was teaching and how they were glad they weren't Christian because they would have to sleep with so many men before they could find a husband. They got this idea from what they had gleaned from North American television and their assumption that all westerners were Christian.

Posted by: Stork at September 6, 2006 09:51 AM

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