Two Point Conversion
We have been reminded again and again over the years, as Iraq has gone from fool's errand to outright fiasco, of the maltreatment of returning Vietnam vets, how time and again they suffered the phlegmy missiles of the longhairs upon arriving at their hometown airports . This is meant to admonish us from repeating history, so that however poorly the conflict in the Middle East goes or how many war crimes accumulate we will reserve our spittle for those in power and not for their stooges (appointments to hurl loogies at your local congressman may, of course, be difficult to arrange).
However, no weatherman could have predicted the downpour of expectoration that greeted recently abducted Fox News reporter Steve Centanni and his cameraman Olaf Wiig upon their release from the clutches of Palestinian militants, though the source of the deluge could hardly have been easier to forecast. After all, we didn't really think that the Republo-fascists (wow! these epithets are remarkably easy to construct) merely limited their ire to the fact-based population did we?
No, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Conservative Faith is charged with seeking enemies both without and within. If Centanni and Wiig thought their service to Fox News would earn them an indulgence from the radical right after they were videotaped mocking a conversion to Islam at gunpoint, they were sorely mistaken. As far as some are concerned they may as well grow out their beards and pucker up to Mecca's black Blarney Stone.
Jeff Jacoby is one of those. A columnist for the Boston Globe with the dumpy face of a transient Jack O' Lantern, Jacoby couldn't pass up an opportunity to draft himself into the fantasy hostage league. He had this to say about Centanni and Wiig's "conversion":
"Whether their acquiescence was an act of cowardice or of prudence, reasonable people can debate. Clearly it wasn't their only choice. If I were ever told, with a gun to my head, to recite the Shahada or die, I hope I would have the courage to take the bullet.
"And I hope I would remember the example not of Centanni and Wiig, but of Fabrizio Quattrocchi, an Italian security guard taken hostage in Iraq in 2004. Quattrocchi's jihadi captors, intending to make a video of an infidel's craven death, ordered him to kneel beside an open grave with a hood on his head. Defiantly, he stood up, tried to rip off the hood, and shouted, `I will show you how an Italian dies!' They murdered him an instant later, but he died bravely, on his feet, refusing with his last breath to be humiliated by savages."
Nothing in Jacoby's bio indicates that he has ever spent time in a war zone, either as a journalist or in another capacity, so his "hope" that he would muster the steel to keep his trousers clean with a rifle pointed at his head, spit in the eye of his captor and maybe dribble out some John Wayne-worthy line of Hollywood machismo before the bullet entered his ear is no more profound, or likely, than any other American male's fantasy of courage under fire.
Yes, we all like to imagine that we would transform into Superman under crushing, life-or-death pressure. That goes for Centanni and Wiig as well, unless Jacoby's "cowardice or prudence" swipe is meant to indicate that the captured newsmen, who at the very least had the fortitude to tread in the mine field that is Gaza, are men of Jell-O compared to the couchbound columnist. I'm sure Centanni and Wiig have in their pasts contemplated armed robberies or children drowning in icy lakes where their mettle might be tested. To the dismay of America's hero branding division, on this occasion both agreed that participating in a fallacious propaganda video would disgrace them less than, say, having their head sawed off for the purpose of increasing YouTube's Wednesday afternoon bandwidth usage.
Because after all, that is what their legacy would have been. American soldiers die in horrible ways every day in Iraq and rarely rate a mention outside of their hometown PennySavers. Would a video of Centanni or Wiig, thundering their adoration for Christ as they charged the blazing guns of their captives, ever have emerged at all? Does Jacoby mean to suggest that what amounts to a PR fart for radical Palestinians could have been reversed to play out like the final reel of the Karate Kid, a moment of heroic splendor seen round the world, rallying all of Christendom? The example set by Fabrizio (which moved the world so profoundly that you never heard of the guy until just this minute) was not one of a man who still had a chance at survival, as Centanni and Wiig still obviously had. And anyway, what did it inspire except a masturbatory fantasy for Jeff Jacoby and a sneer for his fellow Westerners?
If Jeff Jacoby's column bleeds unearned smugness, the opinions of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Steyn are worse for his pretense of being an emotional cartographer for the Muslim world (recently demoted to a "dwarf planet" by the International Astronomical Union). As Jacoby seeks to demonstrate how Centanni and Wiig's kowtowing has led to the softening of the Western cock, Steyn, one of those columnists whose website posts quotes condemning his boobery in place of genuine praise, prefers to show how the reporters actions were Cialis for our enemies. In his September 3rd column he wrote:
"[...] for the Fox journalists and the Western media who reported their
release, what's the big deal? Wear robes, change your name to Khaled,
go on camera and drop Allah's name hither and yon: If that's your
ticket out, seize it. Everyone'll know it's just a sham.
"But that's not how the
al-Jazeera audience sees it. If you're a Muslim, the video is anything
but meaningless. Not even the dumbest jihadist believes these infidels
are suddenly true believers. Rather, it confirms the central truth
Osama and the mullahs have been peddling -- that the West is weak, that
there's nothing -- no core, no bedrock -- nothing it's not willing to
Speaking of losing one's bedrock, Steyn begins by trading away the first commandment of his own faith of imperial Christianity, which is "thou shalt not give one rat's ass what anyone outside thy own borders thinks." It's odd hearing a hawk like Steyn, a fan of John Bolton's carrotless diplomacy, suddenly concerned that we've lost a billion Muslim hearts and minds that we worked so hard to capture with Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. Is he actually heretical enough to suggest that there are means of persuasion that don't include the word "kiloton?"
At the same time, Steyn can't seem to keep his logic straight. The jihadis, he acknowledges, know that the "conversion" is bullshit, and gain nothing by it themselves. Rather, it is the turban on the street who will be persuaded that soft, squishy Westerners, acting under no more provocation than the threat of mere death, torture or years of secret imprisonment while their families slowly go insane with despair, will agree to anything! Those pussy Fox reporters have laid bare the Achilles Heel of democracy: we won't die for stupid reasons! Having seen at last the method to Osama's madness, why wouldn't every Tom, Dick and Yusef in the Middle East who hasn't bought into Islamic fundamentalism rush out and blow up a KFC?
Maybe because most Muslims--most humans--are as sickened by terrorism as we are. But Steyn doesn't actually believe this. Although his own religion oozes empathy for the greater brotherhood of mankind, the fact is that to a "person of faith" the Muslim street and the terror cell are one and the same. How else could we justify blowing up the street?
Unlike Jacoby, Steyn is not so brazen as to suggest he is above such ass-saving measures as Centanni and Wiig resorted to (hmm, three kids at home. Wonder why?) Rather than express what he "hopes" would be his response to abject fear, he invokes a passage from an Arthur Conan Doyle story he read as a child, wherein Western tourists are captured by Muslims and offered a Faustian bargain similar to the Fox reporters': convert or die.
"'None of them, except
perhaps Miss Adams and Mrs. Belmont, had any deep religious
convictions. All of them were children of this world, and some of them
disagreed with everything which that symbol upon the earth
"'That symbol' is the
cross. Yet in the end, even as men with no religious convictions, they
cannot bring themselves to submit to Islam, for they understand it to
be not just a denial of Christ but in some sense a denial of
themselves, too. So they stall and delay and bog down the imam in a lot
of technical questions until eventually he wises up and they're
condemned to death.
Fiction is great, isn't it? In it, a man can transform from a coward to a hero to a robot space gorilla in just few keystrokes. Centanni and Wiig's crime apparently is that they aren't drawn from out of a piece of pulp fiction, although Steyn's view of the global consequences of their forced conversion surely is.
Steyn's Conan Doyle reminded me of a favorite childhood story of my own, a short work by Jack London called "The God of His Fathers". In it, a pious egomaniac of a missionary and a leathery prospector are forced by a half-breed Indian chief to recant their faith or die. The missionary naturally caves. The Indian responds:
"Very good. See that this man go free, and that no harm befall him. Let him depart in peace.
Give him a canoe and food. Set his face toward the Russians, that he may tell their priests of
Baptiste the Red, in whose country there is no god."
They led him to the edge of the steep, where they paused to witness the final tragedy. The
half-breed turned to Hay Stockard.
"There is no god," he prompted.
The man laughed in reply. One of the young men poised a war-spear for the cast.
"Hast thou a god?"
"Ay, the God of my fathers."
At which point Hay is dispatched, probably with images of Liv Tyler flickering through his brain like Bruce Willis in Armageddon.
Clearly Centanni and Wiig are not the heroic frontiersman, who valued his dignity more than his flesh, but neither are they the craven missionary, his faith beading on his upper lip at first challenge. They are just men who didn't want to die.
London's story has stuck with me, as all well done stories of noble virtue persevere, because ultimate valor is more often an aspiration than a vocation. If it were not, tales of heroic Alaskan trailblazers and Italian security guards would not be needed to fortify us. Even as I watched Centanni and Wiig's humiliation I ran my own fantasy scenario of how I would have spurned my captors under similar circumstances. Perhaps I should have broken my finger while I daydreamed, just to remind myself of the stakes.
What is more sickening than seeing someone robbed of their dignity, however, are those who play cat and mouse with words, not above hinting that the victims are traitors but not quite denying they would have folded up like a piece of origami under the same circumstances.
If Jacoby and Steyn are done with the pot I'm sure there are some real he-men who would like to shit in it. But if America has indeed lost a strip of her honor perhaps our heroic columnists could replenish it with their own pilgrimage to meet Baptiste the Red. Gentlemen, if you have the scrotum, I've got the plane fare.
I can't wait to stream your results.
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