Yes, GetReligion still has questions

tsbgquesJournalists ask questions. So the first question that I need to ask today is if andrew.white@frme.org is actually Canon Andrew White, who one would expect to be writing to this weblog from an address that would probably end with the domain name of his organization -- which would be frme.org.uk, if you consider the URL for its website. The contact address is office@frme.org.uk. More on this in a minute.

It is possible that Canon White is the person who responded to my post on the forced conversions to Islam of those Fox News journalists, American Steve Centanni and New Zealander Olaf Wiig. All of this is linked to the fact that there have been mainstream media reports stating -- click here for the Associated Press story -- that the leaders of Holy Jihad Brigades did not think up this gunpoint conversion idea on their own:

Canon Andrew White, chief executive of the London-based Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, said their conversion helped ensure their freedom.

"To be quite honest with you, that was our suggestion," White told New Zealand's National Radio. The conversion "absolutely" allowed the kidnappers to save face, he said.

"One of the key things you have to do in any kidnapping situation to work for release is to find a reason why people should be released," he said. "So I have to admit the notion of trying to get them to say very publicly that they would convert was part of our suggestion of a way out."

But there seem to be conflicts or holes in some of the news stories.

Thus, I have been asking if Canon White, or someone in his organization, (a) originated the idea of the men converting to Islam or (b) originated the idea of showing the videotape of the men's statements to this effect, as a way of defusing a dangerous situation. The answer could be (a) and (b), of course.

Now I have other questions: Did the men actually convert to Islam? Or did they simply say that they would?

This leads to more questions: Do the men now consider themselves Muslims? If not, are they considered Muslims in the eyes of other Muslims, including some who might want to punish them should they choose to commit apostasy at some point in the future?

Of course, the main question I have been asking is: Why haven't mainstream journalists been very interested in all of these questions? It's hard to imagine many reporters drawing a similiar journalistic blank if there were forced conversions of Muslims who fell into the hands of American military personnel.

This leads us to this letter from andrew.white@frme.org that was sent to this blog. It is unedited.

As the person in question in this date I am rather amused by all of this information. First of all it should not have been published I talked to New Zealand Radio after Olaf's father asked me to I refused all other interviews. I have worked on countless number of hostage cases and we do not talk about them. So I want to make the following pints

1, I am in no way a wooley liberal I am a very conservative and orthodox believer and lover of Jesus,

2, I did not get the video of the conversion made it was one of many already made several days before the release. I did suggest that this was the best video to show to get their release.

3, If you as so called orthodox Christians are really so good and strong may be you would like to join me here in my Church in Baghdadwhere I am now. All of my church leaders 11 have been killed in the past year. This is serving Jesus on the front line. Any body can make comments about Orthodoxy in the comfort and security of ther Western homes. It is not so easy here in Baghdad and Gaza.

From a Conservative Christian on the front line.

Canon Andrew White Baghdad

whiteThe main point of this letter, which may or may not be from White, is that journalists should not be publishing the details of this story -- period. This request is often made by religious leaders who are working in sensitive situations, let alone deadly ones. However, journalists tend to seek the facts anyway. Journalists ask questions and then they try to learn the answers.

As you can see from the comments at this site and others, there are emotional and divisive issues involved in this case. For some, the idea of an Anglican priest suggesting that these two men convert to Islam as a way of escape is totally logical. For others this idea is scandalous, especially if one or both of the men where, in fact, committed to another faith.

If this letter is from Canon White, it still does not answer the actual questions that are being asked. Whether he is a "liberal" or a "conservative" is really not a crucial question. However, I do admit that I asked a related question: Do First World Anglicans and Third World Anglicans take different approaches, when it comes to these kinds of life-and-death decisions about apostasy?

We who live in the safety of the West all need to admit that we have no idea whatsoever what we would do, should we or our loved ones be placed in a similar position. We can only pray for the believers who are there, including Canon White.

However, as journalists, we are allowed to ask questions. That is what journalists do.

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