Two Fox journalists who were kidnapped several weeks ago were released on Sunday. To some extent it's the same old story with a happy ending: Muslim terrorists kidnap reporters. Media groups express outrage. Hostages released. But this story had a very interesting twist. Just as it was for Jill Carroll when she was kidnapped in Iraq, the hostages were pressured to convert to Islam. Carroll wrote well about the voluntary vs. involuntary nature of the conversion attempt in her series on her ordeal:
After a while Abu Ali -- the salt-and-pepper bearded man who had helped kidnap me -- came into the room carrying a Koran.
. . . I tried to listen to Abu Ali's lesson attentively as he translated complicated Koranic Arabic into more basic Arabic he thought I could understand. He was very pleased that I showed interest in learning. He kept saying there was no pressure, no pressure in Islam, that they were forbidden from forcing people to convert. True acceptance must come from a free will.
They'd kidnapped me, and they all had guns ready to kill me, but, oh no, no pressure there. I falsely assured him that I felt no pressure.
Carroll returned to the theme repeatedly as she told her story. Her captors had guns on her but she should feel no pressure to convert. Somehow she withstood the pressure.
The Fox journalists, however, were unable to withstand the pressure or felt it unwise to do so. They converted to Islam and were released. Unlike a lot of newspapers that covered this story, The New York Times put the forced conversion at the top of its story:
Two journalists kidnapped in Gaza were released unharmed on Sunday after being forced at gunpoint to say on a videotape that they had converted to Islam.
"I'm really fine, healthy in good shape and so happy to be free," [Steve] Centanni told Fox News. He said the two had been forced at gunpoint to say that they were converting to Islam and had taken Muslim names. "I have the highest respect for Islam," he said. "But 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."
Earlier on Sunday, their captors delivered a video showing the two men in Arab robes reading from the Koran to indicate their conversion.
That is one fascinating angle to a story with many ramifications. I used to wonder about the strength of my own statements that I would not recant my faith even unto death but would comfort myself with the knowledge that, in this day and age, I would never be forced to. But here you have that situation.
I was excited to read more about it. Reader Linda Lindley had questions she was hoping to find in coverage of the forced conversion:
I am wondering if anyone else is perturbed about the forced conversion of the captive Fox news reporters as a condition for release. The MSM treats it as if it were just a loophole in the whole drama which allowed saving face and a happy ending for all. No one has commented on the spiritual ramifications. Were either of these men Christians to begin with? Or were they not practitioners of any religion? Or of some other religion? What is the long term effect for them according to their respective religions? What happens to them if they recant their conversion to Islam? Will they have a fatwa issued against them? How will their conversions and the consequences affect their families?
You can't tell me that there's not major interest in the religious ramifications here. Cliff May, a former editor at the Rocky Mountain News, wrote on National Review's Corner that he had all sorts of questions that weren't addressed by anyone in the mainstream media:
Has any Palestinian religious or political leader publicly condemned the coerced conversion? Has U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan said a word about it? (Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the U.N. Charter.) How about the leading Muslim organizations in the U.S. and Europe? If not, why not and what does this tell us?
Have any of you seen any of these questions addressed? Any others you'd like answered?
Image of The Entombment of St. Stephen Martyr by Juan de Juanes.