Unlikely Solutions to the Middle East Crisis

Number 1: Forced Conversion to Islam at Gun Point

"In a phone call with Fox News, Centanni said that during his capture, he was held at times face down in a dark garage, tied up in painful positions, and that he and Wiig were forced at gunpoint to make statements, including that they had converted to Islam."

From Associated Press coverage announcing the release, unharmed, of reporters Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig after two weeks of capitivity in Gaza.

Anyone with a sense of history, anyone of faith, anyone with an understanding of religion, in fact, anyone with any common sense, knows that forced conversions don’t work.

The history of Islam, from the expulsion of the Muslims from Iberia (Spain) in 1492 is replete with examples of the failure of the gun, or the sword, to force a change in one’s belief system.

Anxious though many radical fundamentalist Muslims may be to reach martyrdom on their own, inviting others to convert or die offers a pretty easy choice for most people.  While there are ideas that one would die for, it is far more expedient and eminently reasonable to mouth the words without being sincere.

In the Jewish faith, it is also OK to do this and still maintain your integrity. Maimonides himself advocated acquiescence under duress in order to survive and carry on instead of choosing martyrdom (read Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s excellent biography where this point is covered).  Maimonides was persecuted for decades (he even wrote a large part of the Mishnah Torah while hiding in a cave in Egypt), and debate still continues over whether he did convert to or practice Islam for some time.

Whether the Rambam did or not, the point is that Maimonides argues in favor of the pragmatic and realistic choice when assessing one’s faith-based options while faced with immediate death at the hands of fanatics.

More ominous is the fact that these local Gaza kidnappers, who are known to the Hamas government, would think that forcing two Westerners to convert to Islam under duress and to denounce the United States in coerced videos is anything other than farcical and delusional.  I look forward to seeing these kidnappers brought to justice by the government.

What about the Christian Palestinian minority in Gaza and the West Bank?  Are they next in the forced conversion program?

Will the majority of reasonable Palestinians be heard, or will they remain silent?  Will the people of Palestine have another chance to show, through democratic institutions, how they feel about the current state of affairs since the election that brought Hamas to power?

I hope so, and I’m anxious to hear from the silent majority.


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