It's not easy to be shocked by jihad these days, five years and numberless atrocities after the Twin Towers imploded on almost 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 Frontpagemag.com, 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 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 Prime Minister Blair to do likewise. I didn't see the videotape on television (more on that below), but rather on 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 Frontpagemag.com, 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."