David Schraub points to a strange column by David Warren that sounds like a demand for Christian or even Wsetern martyrdom regardless of one’s own personal beliefs. Warren excoriates Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig for going through a mock conversion to Islam as a means of escaping their kidnappers:
Lately I have been looking at the large — at how the West is proving unable to cope with a threat from a fanatical Islamic movement, that it ought to be able to snuff out with fair ease. (See my column last Sunday.) But the large is often most visible in the small.
The degree to which our starch is awash is exhibited in the behaviour of so many of our captives, but especially in these two. They were told to convert to Islam under implicit threat (blindfolded and hand-tied, they could not judge what threat), and agreed to make the propaganda broadcasts to guarantee their own safety. That much we can understand, as conventional cowardice. (Understand; not forgive.) But it is obvious from their later statements that they never thought twice; that they could see nothing wrong in serving the enemy, so long as it meant they’d be safe.
I assume they are not Christians (few journalists are), but had they ever been instructed in that faith, they might have grasped that conversion to Islam means denial of Christ, and that is something many millions of Christians (few of them intellectuals) have refused to do, even at the cost of excruciating deaths. Christianity still lives, because of such martyrs. Not suicide bombers: but truly defenceless martyrs.
I’m not going to do a point-by-point fisking here, because I doubt it would do much good, but Warren makes unsupported assumptions and then builds on them to a conclusion that seems almost as bad as anything radical Islamists say about suicide bombings.
Warren wants kidnapped hostages to die for Christianity and the West rather than jolly along their kidnappers to gain their own freedom. That may be a splendid sentiment, but it results in dead Westerners rather than dead Islamists, and I fail to see how that represents any kind of victory. One of the reasons why Western culture is superior to that of radical Islam — and I say superior deliberately — is that we value individual human life. Dying needlessly and purposelessly for the West doesn’t gain us any converts in this conflict.
In his argument for martyrdom, Warren retells the story of the Italian hostage in Iraq that fought back rather than be beheaded. He leaves out the essential element of Fabrizio Quattrochi’s story, however, which is that Quattrochi knew he was going to die. (He also makes an unsupported allegation that Quattrochi wasn’t Christian.) Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s goons had gathered Quattrochi and his fellow victims for their execution. Rather than await the butcher’s knife, the Italian charged his captors, who were forced to shoot him instead.
Brave, yes. Martyr … not exactly. Quattrochi didn’t die to defend the West; he died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Warren complains about the image that Centanni, Wiig, and others who beg for their lives leave on the Muslim world. He says it makes Westerners look like wimps. That, however, is an indictment on their culture, not ours, that they place individual people in situations where they have to beg for their lives. Warren wants to play by Muslim rules, and he wants to do it with other people’s lives. It’s pretty damned easy to criticize hostages who have no idea how to stay alive except to cooperate and hope things work out well — if the critic is heartless enough to do it.
Christianity did not survive because of martyrdom; it survived despite it, and the martyrs prepared themselves for the task. The church survived the oppression of the Romans in its first centuries, not by mindlessly dying for Christianity but for living for it. Romans did not seize people randomly off the street and tell them to deny their faith, but instead arrested and tortured the leaders of the Church. Had Warren spent any time researching the age of martyrdom, he would know that the early church cautioned the unprepared not to attempt it because of the risk of apostasy. It’s hardly analogous to the terror of fanatical Muslims today, and Centanni and Wiig never volunteered to be the banner-carriers of Christianity or the West.
As I wrote this, I got an e-mail from Jules Crittendon regarding the same subject. He writes in the Boston Herald:
Centanni and Wiig — abducted, bound and blindfolded by armed Islamic terrorists in Gaza — were told they had to convert to Islam.They did so.They later said nice things about the Palestinian cause while still in the custody of Palestinian terrorist leaders. There was some premature debate among armchair heroes on the Internet about whether they should have done this. …
Now, a sanctimonious Canadian, columnist David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen, has accused Centanni and Wiig of aiding the enemy through “conventional cowardice.”This disgusting slur was amplified at www.realclearpolitics.com, a prominent and respected opinion website that saw fit to run these remarks under its own imprint.
Warren reportedly is a convert to Catholicism. Presumeably that conversion happened after his reported divorce, or he would be a sinner and a hypocrite rather than, as he presumeably is now, forgiven. He called Centanni and Wiig’s gunpoint conversion something we can “understand: not forgive.” He assumes they are not Christians, but proceeds to argue for martyrdom, if not Christian martyrdom, then martydom for the West.
Warren’s condemnation of these men raises some very unusual questions. Clearly he’s eager for their deaths. But in his own case, does he long to be nailed to a cross of his own, or would he rather have some heretics to burn? Or is he just jacked up on self-righteousness and spouting off idly from the sidelines? Whichever it may be, he starts to sound a lot like some other religious fanatics I could name.
The though process behind Warren’s diatribe eludes me. It’s presumptuous and in the end, it’s ludicrous. He wants to make the abductors’ point for them and turn every Westerner into a combatant. That’s his argument at its base — that Centanni and Wiig should have understood themselves to be combatants and their cooperation with their captors amounted to treason, if not apostasy. It’s an argument, though, that we don’t even make with combatants any more. During the Viet Nam War, thousands of POWs got tortured for their brave resistance to demands for taped statements against the United States. When that information came to light after the war, the DoD revised its policies on treason to exclude the kind of facile rhetorical cooperation that the Vietnamese had demanded, the resistance to which cost American lives and health needlessly.
Everyone understands that statements made under duress have no meaning except to demonstrate the inhumanity of the captors rather than the politics or religion of the captured. Everyone understands this except for David Warren, I guess, who argues that religious fanaticism must be fought with more religious fanaticism. I, for one, am happy that Centanni and Wiig had the wits and the luck to get out of Gaza alive. That to me is a victory. That Warren sees it as a form of surrender makes me wonder exactly what kind of war he wants to fight.