Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and his accompanying cameraman Olaf Wiig were released on Sunday, August 27, 2006, following almost two weeks of captivity. While both men appeared to be in good physical health, the prognosis for their psychological state, and future journalistic contributions, is less sanguine. As depicted in this disturbing video, Centanni and Wiig were forced to convert to Islam, and recite an anti-Western diatribe, complemented by treacly Islamic apologetics.
During the brief press conference held almost immediately after their release, both men preferred to focus on the plight of the kind and benevolent denizens of Gaza. Momentarily acknowledging the coercive nature of their “conversion”, Centanni admitted off camera, “We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint”. But he felt compelled to add this bizarre disclaimer, “Don't get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it”, before concluding candidly “…it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn't know what the hell was going on.” Centanni expressed his primary concern to the reporters gathered at the Gaza City Beach Hotel press conference as follows: “I hope that this never scares a single journalist away from coming to Gaza to cover the story because the Palestinian people are very beautiful and kind-hearted...The world needs to know more about them. Don't be discouraged.” Wiig reiterated these sentiments: “My biggest concern really is that as a result of what happened to us foreign journalists will be discouraged from coming to tell the story and that would be a great tragedy for the people of Palestine…You guys need us on the streets, and you need people to be aware of the story.” And Wiig’s wife thanked unnamed “Palestinian women” from Gaza for their “solidarity”.
Within moments of making these effusively conciliatory statements—despite having been held captive and forcibly converted to Islam—the freed kidnapping victims were whisked off to Israel. Notwithstanding their pious ecumenical pronouncements, Centanni and the Wiigs failed to linger and socialize with the “very beautiful and kind hearted” local Muslim residents of Gaza, even those Gazan women who had shown them such “solidarity.”
Forced conversions in Islamic history are not exceptional—they have been the norm, across three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe—for over 13 centuries. Orders for conversion were decreed under all the early Islamic dynasties—Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, and Mamluks. Additional extensive examples of forced conversion were recorded under both Seljuk and Ottoman Turkish rule (the latter until its collapse in the 20th century), the Shi’ite Safavid and Qajar dynasties of Persia/Iran, and during the jihad ravages on the Indian subcontinent, beginning with the early 11th century campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazni, and recurring under the Delhi Sultanate, and Moghul dynasty until the collapse of Muslim suzerainty in the 18th century following the British conquest of India.
Moreover, during jihad—even the jihad campaigns of the 20th century [i.e., the jihad genocide of the Armenians during World War I, the Moplah jihad in Southern India , the jihad against the Assyrians of Iraq [early 1930s], the jihads against the Chinese of Indonesia and the Christian Ibo of southern Nigeria in the 1960s, and the jihad against the Christians and Animists of the southern Sudan from 1983 to 2001], the (dubious) concept of “no compulsion” (Koran 2:256; which was cited with tragic irony during the Fox reporters “confessional”!), has always been meaningless. A consistent practice was to enslave populations taken from outside the boundaries of the “Dar al Islam”, where Islamic rule (and Law) prevailed. Inevitably fresh non-Muslim slaves, including children, were Islamized within a generation, their ethnic and linguistic origins erased. Two enduring and important mechanisms for this conversion were concubinage and the slave militias—practices still evident in the contemporary jihad waged by the Arab Muslim Khartoum government against the southern Sudanese Christians and Animists. And Julia Duin reported in early 2002 that murderous jihad terror campaigns—including, prominently, forced conversions to Islam—continued to be waged against the Christians of Indonesia’s Moluccan Islands.
Given this enduring (and ignoble) historical legacy, it remains to be seen whether contemporary Muslim religious authorities—particularly those within Palestinian society, and affiliated with Hamas or Fatah—will condemn publicly the forced conversions of the kidnapped Fox reporters. Moreover, will they be joined by a chorus of authoritative voices representing the entire Muslim clerical hierarchy—Sunni and Shi’ite alike—from Mecca and Cairo, Qom and Najaf, to the Muslim advocacy groups in the West (such as CAIR in the United States, and the Muslim Council of Britain in England)—unanimous in their condemnation of this hideous practice, and formalized by a fatwa stating as much? 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?
What should be gleaned from this harrowing Gazan spectacle of non-Muslim journalists being kidnapped, imprisoned for nearly two weeks, and coerced at gunpoint into converting to Islam, while condemning their own societies? We must avoid indulging fantasies (such as those already expressed by the kidnapped Fox reporters upon their release) triggered by understandable Stockholm Syndrome reactions, or learned, fearful dhimmitude. Unsettling realities of the historical continuum of forced conversion to Islam must be discussed. The living Islamic fanaticism of the past cannot be allowed to poison the present (and future), unchallenged by Muslims themselves.
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