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Morbid fascination: Riveting video shows journalists 'converting' to Islam

"Disbelievers will be cast into an eternal fire. But Allah is also ever merciful, and the West can change its ways and turn to the purifying power of Islam." - Kidnapped Fox News reporter Steve "Khaled" Centanni, channeling his captors.

We don't often get to watch our media people convert to Islam, so the footage of Fox News' Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig has been riveting.

Some people can't get enough of watching planes fly into the World Trade Center towers; I can't get enough of Centanni and Wiig pledging allegiance to Muhammad, peace be upon him.

The common thread between the two is disbelief. I keep rerunning the tapes, now posted on the Web, trying to read the kidnapped men's body language and translate the meaning of deep breaths and eye movements.

Trying, alas, to imagine being in their place.

As everyone knows, reporter Centanni and cameraman Wiig were released several days ago after being seized in Gaza City by masked gunmen and held hostage for 13 days.

It's not clear exactly who their kidnappers were, whether part of the Holy Jihad Brigades, as claimed, or whether they had ties to Hamas or the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah.

You need a scorecard to keep up with all the region's disaffected. Apparently, when three or more angry Muslims gather in a garage, a new jihadist group is born.

What's perfectly clear is that video is the new weapon of mass destruction. A billion people manipulated into religious frenzy is a formidable force. It is also clear that the West's continued existence - at least from the perspective of Islamist militants - depends upon our willingness to bow to Islam.

Those two conclusions are made possible by the images of Centanni and Wiig holding up an index finger and proclaiming allegiance to the Prophet Muhammad.

Says Centanni: "My name is Steve. I'm an American. After I entered Islam, I changed my name to Khaled. I have embraced Islam and say the word Allah, and my leader is the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him."

Wiig - new name "Ya'aqob" - repeats the liturgy.

Then the two men proceed to read a script outlining all the reasons why the West is wrong - from invading Afghanistan and Iraq to the tortures of Abu Ghraib. They also ask that all prisoners be released from Guantanamo and that President Bush cease referring to Islamic fascists as "Islamic fascists."

It's not nice, and it makes the kidnappers mad.

"Yeah, they were very angry about that," said Wiig in an interview after his release.

In his role as Khaled, Centanni said he hoped to help Westerners see the light of Islam, which "helps people to love mercy, brotherhood, equality and justice." Especially - we can't help filling in for him - when a gun is pointed at one's head. Or a knife poised at one's throat.

One of Wiig's interrogators, a dark figure framed by two AK-47s and with a bayonet at his feet, provided a grim reminder that death is always an option for uncooperative infidels. Thus, the journalists did what they thought necessary to survive.

Obviously, none of us can imagine what we'd do under similar circumstances. Yet despite our empathy and relief at the men's release, there is nevertheless something about that video - seeing those two decent, open-hearted Western men surrendering to these lowlife fanatics - that makes me want to take a shower.

How dare those thugs lecture Westerners about the loveliness of Islam while forcing religious conversion at gunpoint?

Their objective was clear from the beginning, according to Centanni and Wiig. They wanted a video. The two Fox journalists were far more valuable shown as cowardly Westerners converting to Islam than as severed heads on the tip of a dull knife.

Let me be clear: I don't think they were cowards. But those who are willing to strap explosives to their bodies - or enlist their children to become suicide bombers - surely see them, and us, that way.

It is easy to imagine that rancorous Muslims are as attuned to the video as we are, watching replay after replay in the smug satisfaction that they have scored another victory against the infidel and the Great Satan.

Those few minutes of choreographed horror affirm for the Islamic world that Westerners are weak, while they reiterate the jihadist's message to the West: Convert to Islam - or die.

Kathleen Parker is a nationally syndicated columnist.

E-mail her at kparker@kparker.com.

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