Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Khaled Centanni

Gormless Norman says what I've been thinking, but couldn't find tactful words to say:

I can't get past this story.

Steve Centanni is a coward.

But Gormless Norman, what would you do if you were kidnapped, possibly tortured, and the only way you could escape was by pretending to convert to Islam?

Ok, maybe I would also take the cowardly way out. If I did so, I hope I would then be ashamed of myself. And I hope the society I came home to would recognize my behavior as cowardly.

Centanni took the cowardly way out. But there is no indication that he feels ashamed in any way of converting to Islam to save his precious skin, and there is no indication that our society retains any trace of the notion that this is cowardly behavior.

There's no indication our society even maintains the categories of "courageous" and "cowardly" any more.

Nobody is calling Centanni a coward, as far as I've seen. This says just about everything you need to know about the current war: Westerners would rather convert to Islam than die, because we value bare life above any transcendent idea or principle.

I'd love to hear what others have to say about this.

Here is what I would hope that I would do if I were in a similar situation.


Epaminondas said...

Let's see what he says to Great tonight at 10

I look at it as euchering a bunch of murdering bastards who wouldn't know the truth if it was administered by their proctologists.

KG said...

I agree with Pastorius and hope to God I'd have more courage in those circumstances.

Gormless Norman said...

Hi Pasto, thanks for the link.

I feel a little bad for calling Centanni a coward, for a few reasons. First, when I wrote my post I pondered how I might act in the same circumstances. I have to admit, I'm fairly sure I would do the same thing he did. In fact, there's probably very little I would not do to save my own life - the only obvious example of something I would sacrifice my life for is the life of a loved one. Centanni probably feels roughly the same way. I also feel bad about calling him a coward because, after all, he went through that hell while I'm here in my pajamas eating a box of Entemann's chocolate chip cookies. And, most people in our society would do exactly as he did, so it hardly seems fair to single him out.

But my point was really not about Centanni personally, but about our society. Many, perhaps most, people in our society would sacrifice their own lives for the life of a loved one; a heroic few would do so for the lives of strangers. That's terrific, as far as it goes. But, we're still only talking about bare physical existence. Would anyone in our society die to protect the honor of a family member? That doesn't even make sense to us anymore, what would that even mean? What about to die for religious belief, which was essentially the situation Centanni confronted? No, probably not: most Westerners who claim to believe in God probably construct a completely undemanding God bearing the likeness of Dr. Phil, who will give us a break whenever we're under any duress whatsoever. Basically, we have purged our universe of transcendent value: everything of real value (anything we would truly sacrifice for) comes down to sheer physical comfort, and ultimately bare physical life. This is my real complaint, and this is what the Centanni situation brings to light.

I think Benedict recognizes this truth, and he accurately sees its relevance to the struggle against the global jihad. The Pope sez: "It has been said that we must not speak of God in the European constitution, because we must not offend Muslims and the faithful of other religions. The opposite is true: what offends Muslims and the faithful of other religions is not talking about God or our Christian roots, but rather the disdain for God and the sacred, that separates us from other cultures and does not create the opportunity for encounter, but expresses the arrogance of diminished, reduced reason, which provokes fundamentalist reactions." My translation: when we purge our universe of transcendent value, we reduce ourselves to mere conglomerations of cells and molecules, which makes us pathetic in the eyes of others -- others with swords and explosive belts (and, contrary to Lefty catechism, it is patheticness rather than excessive strength that inspires others' hatred and violence). I blogg'd on Benedict's quote back here.

So to sum up: Centanni is no more or less a coward than your average Westerner. He did not behave the way I would like Westerners to behave in that situation, but that's because I would like Westerners to value certain things above their own precious skin: for example, transcendent values like honor, dignity, and a legitimate devotion to a real God (I seem to recall lots of stories from back in my Catholic school days about people a long time ago [European people, no less!] who used to pray to find themselves in a Centanni situation: we used to have the cateogry of 'martyr' also). Why do I want this? A lot of reasons; but as pertinent here, we're at a disadvantage when our enemies would happily die for all sorts of transcendent things and we only love sheer physical life. Bin Laden has called this out as our weakness, and he's right.

By the way, for Centanni to refuse to convert to Islam would not even have required a belief in God: a belief in dignity or honor would have sufficed. Our society should recognize dignity and honor it, like with Fabrizio Quattrochi; conversely, when we see the opposite of dignity we should condemn it, loudly and publicly, rather than getting all touchy-feely and theraputic about the situation. Toughen up people!

Ok, that's all I've got for now. Am I wrong? Come on, I can take it!

Pastorius said...

Gormless Norman,
If the West doesn't figure out what it is willing to die for, it will surely die.

I pray that I would be willing to turn my neck to the sword, if I were in Centanni's situation. I pray that I would say, "No, to Allah. My God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. My God is the One who sent Yeshua as Moshiach. Send Me to Him, and know that Allah will burn in Eternal Fire for having tried to get me."

If you don't believe in such a God, then Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death," will suffice.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Gormless Norman said...

That's exactly right: even if Centanni doesn't believe in God or give a crap about religion, the fact still remains, here is a group of people with guns who is threatening to kill him unless he does something he would not ordinarily do. That's enough to make your pride bristle up a little bit, isn't it? On top of that, the thing they're asking him to do is pretty clearly designed to humiliate and degrade him and his country, and it's pretty clear the videotape of the disgraceful act will be shared by Muslims worldwide, who will download it onto their iPods and spread it around, to get a thrill out of witnessing his debasement. This should be enough to stir up some pride, yes?

I know Fabrizio Quattrochi is a slightly different situation: he didn't really face a choice of "be humiliated or die" so much as "die on your knees or die standing up and fighting." But, at the very least Quattrochi recognized that was the choice he faced, and for him, there was a very real difference between dying with dignity and dying like a dog: i.e., there is such a thing as dignity. You would never know it with Centanni, or for that matter I should mention Jill Carroll, which is basically an identical situation.

Pastorius said...

But, of course, Jill Carrol is a woman, so we expect less of her because of the, you know, the glass ceiling and stuff.

Jill Carrol cried and cried, and even now, she speaks of herself as a victim, but never, to my knowledge comes out and warns America that her experience will be theirs, if we don't all straighten up and pay attention.

I find little honor in her either.

But, of course, as you note, that's easy for me to say. I haven't been in their position.

Gormless Norman said...

But, of course, as you note, that's easy for me to say. I haven't been in their position.

I agree, I don't feel entirely comfortable passing judgment on someone who has faced an extremely difficult challenge and failed, since I myself have not faced it. But, I think we still have to recognize, it's easy to do the right thing when you're not under duress, and it's under the most extreme circumstances that we see what people are really made of. As I've speculated, I don't know if I would do any better than Centanni did, maybe you wouldn't either Pasto, but if that's the case then you and I should not reject the concepts of honor and cowardice altogether. This sort of reminds me of the "chickenhawk" argument: if you haven't served in a war, you're not qualified to express an opinion about a war, or something along those lines. Well, most people have not been threatened with death if they don't convert to Islam; but people should still be allowed to make moral judgments about the (admittedly tough) choices made by those few who find themselves in that situation.

By the way Pasto, did you see my answer to your Amelie question over at Everything Dhinger? I got the dates of the movies wrong, but I took a shot at the Mother Theresa/ Lady Di thing.

Pastorius said...

I checked out your comment and commented upon it.

By the way, if you like Everything Dhinger, you will love

Gormless Norman said...

Right on cue, Mark Steyn says basically everything we've been discussing here, except that he says it more betterer.

Pastorius said...

Yes, I agree he definately said it more betterer. I actually did a post on this for precisely that reason.

Gormless Norman said...

Mark Steyn can totally say things good.

Gormless Norman said...

Sam Houston at Throwing Heat comes from a generally similar political viewpoint as myself and most iBloggers -- i.e., he is hawkish -- but he has a different take on this particular issue. There's a good discussion in the comments section of his post here.