Liberal Hostage Loses Illusions About Islam

By Daniel Greenfield

I don’t know.

Theo Padnos’ account of his time as a hostage is honestly told. This is a man who studied in a “religious academy”, who could quote verses from the Koran, who fell into a nightmare in which he discovered what Islam really was.

I began my studies in a neighborhood mosque, then enrolled in a religious school popular among those who dream of a “back to the days of the prophet” version of Islam. Later, I moved to Syria to study at a religious academy in Damascus

Somehow none of that alerted him to the difference between what Muslims believe and what liberals think they believe.

Padnos believed that the Free Syrian Army was some kind of resistance group, instead of another name for a bunch of Islamist militias with ties to Al Qaeda. He learned his mistake in the worst way possible.

One afternoon in Antakya, I met three young Syrians. They seemed a bit shifty, but not, as far as I could tell, more militantly Islamic than anyone else. “Our job is to bring stuff from here to the Free Syrian Army,” they told me. They offered to take me with them. Thinking I’d be back in a few days, I told no one, not even my Tunisian roommate, where I was going.

…When we were done, the cameraman smiled, walked across the room and kicked me in the face. His friends held me down. Abu Osama stomped on my chest, then called out for handcuffs. Someone else bound my feet. The cameraman aimed a pistol at my head.

“We’re from Al Tanzeem Al Qaeda,” Abu Osama said, grinning. “You didn’t know?” He told me I would be killed within the week if my family didn’t provide the cash equivalent of a quarter kilogram of gold — which the kidnappers thought was about $400,000 but was actually closer to $10,000 — the sum to which he was entitled, he said, by the laws of Islam.

… Note the “Laws of Islam” part of it.

At this point he might have escaped and been safe, but he still believed the nonsense about Islam and the Free Syrian army.

That night, I slipped out of the handcuffs that attached me to one of the sleeping men. In the soft sunlight of the Syrian dawn, I sprinted past walls covered in graffiti, through a cemetery and over a median strip, then stopped a passing minibus. “Take me to the Free Syrian Army right away,” I said. “This is an emergency.”

When I arrived at the F.S.A. headquarters, I appealed to the officers in the most desperate terms. They argued a bit among themselves, then took me to an Islamic court, where a judge questioned me and remanded me to a cell that had been converted from a Turkish toilet. There were prisoners in the cells on either side of me. I poked my head through a food hatch. A 10-year-old boy did the same. “What did you do?” I said. He withdrew, and a middle-aged man, his father, I presumed, poked his head out. “What did you do?” I repeated.

A helpless grin appeared on his face. “We’re Shia,” he said.

“I see,” I said.

Ten minutes later, the F.S.A. officers returned, accompanied by my kidnappers, and I was trundled into a car and taken to an F.S.A. safe house. There I was placed in a hole in the ground. Was I six feet below the surface? Only three? I didn’t know. Officers threw dirt on me, laughing and shouting insults. Someone jumped down and landed on my chest. Someone else beat me with the butt of his Kalashnikov. One officer insisted that I reply to his questions by yelling out, “I am filth, sir!”

These are McCain’s moderate friendly secular rebels whom we’re supposed to be funding.

But did Padnos really think, after all his studies of Islam, that an Islamic mediation would result in a captive of a Muslim force being freed?

That would be most un-Islamic. The FSA followed Islamic law.

The F.S.A., it turned out, had given me to the Nusra Front, or Jebhat al Nusra, which was using the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo as a headquarters and a prison.

Al-Nusra is also Al Qaeda and currently ISIS.

It seemed to me that I had been walking calmly through an olive grove with Syrian friends, that a rent in the earth had opened, that I had fallen into the darkness and woken in a netherworld, the kind found in myths or nightmares.

It didn’t reach him that he never had any Syrian friends. The Koran commands Muslims not to take non-Muslims as friends.

What was happening to him was caused by Islam, by Islamic xenophobia, hate and supremacism. These were good Muslims. The problem is that good Muslims, like good Nazis or good Communists, are terrible human beings.

… The leader — I’m not sure who it was, I couldn’t see — carried a heavy stick and a cattle prod. As I lay there, he hit me across the back of the head, then strolled around the room reciting prayers.

… During an interrogation session, the Kurd, who liked to be called Sheikh Kawa, nodded at a prisoner whose wrists were cuffed to a pipe just beneath the ceiling. His feet bicycled through the air. “You must let me down, for the sake of Allah! For the sake of Muhammad and Allah!” he screamed.

“This is our music!” Kawa yelled at me. “Do you hear it?”

… When religious authorities or higher-ranking Nusra Front members — anyone with bodyguards — came by my cell, I sometimes recited verses from the Quran. These were verses that I loved, and the visitors seemed pleased. But the net result of these recitations was . . . nothing. Eventually, one of the more educated guards explained to me that as a Christian and an American, I was his enemy. Islam compelled him to hate me.

“Does it really?” I asked…

Anyway, the Quran forbade amicable relations: “O you who believe!” this guard would recite. “Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. And whoso among you takes them for friends is indeed one of them.”

There you go. You don’t have Muslim friends. You have Muslim acquaintances who will kidnap you or slit your throat the moment it’s in their interest to do so because their religion tells them that you aren’t really a person.

Converting to Islam doesn’t help because the religion is partly racial. Muslims look down on Dhimmi converts.

It was January 2013 when the prison administration began offering me the opportunity to convert to Islam. Every day, the guards preached to me and recited the Quran. In Arabic, you don’t convert to Islam, you “submit” to it. “Ya, Bitar” (“O, Peter”), the fighters would say, “why haven’t you submitted yet?” For a while, I thought that if I submitted, my life would improve, but I soon learned that even conversion would not help me…

Matt asked for an English-language Quran. A guard gave it to him. A few days later, Matt said the magic words — “I testify that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is his prophet” — in front of witnesses. When word got around that Matt had converted, the younger fighters would point at him and say, “You, good!” Then they would point at me and say, “You, bad!”

But the conversion did not get Matt better food, and it certainly did not get him home. Once, one of the more volatile guards slapped him as we were being taken to the bathroom. “You, bad!” he said to Matt. “You lie about religion.” The guard nodded at me. “You, you Christian,” he said. “You, good.”

But having learned nothing, he tries to make contact with the Free Syrian Army… even though it was the FSA that put him here.

I returned to the F.S.A. troops. One told me that his unit had recently traveled to Jordan to receive training from American forces in fighting groups like the Nusra Front.

“Really?” I said. “The Americans? I hope it was good training.”

“Certainly, very,” he replied.

The fighters stared at me. I stared at them.

After a few moments, I asked, “About this business of fighting Jebhat al Nusra?”

“Oh, that,” one said. “We lied to the Americans about that.”

And they still are. We’re arming and training Al Qaeda.

I listened to the fighters musing about their futures. “Hey, Abu Petra,” they asked me, “what is Sweden like?” If they were to present themselves as Syrian dissidents to the authorities, what would happen next? Was I familiar with the procedures in Sweden for seeking political asylum? And what about Berlin, supposing they found their way to Germany? How long would it take for them to learn German?

Yup. Some of these guys are coming to a place near you.

By this point, I knew better than to seek refuge among the “moderates” of the Free Syrian Army.

That was progress… but he still thought that he could find refuge with Muslims. Any Muslims.

At the hospital, a dour-looking man greeted me. “I am a journalist,” I said. “From Ireland. Please, you must help me. I love the Syrian people.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I am the F.S.A.” He admitted me to an inner room. “No one comes in here without my leave,” he said. “You can relax. You are safe.” I asked if I could contact my family. “Of course,” he said. The easiest way, he said, was for me to send an email. But the man with the computer’s password was away. It would take just a few minutes for him to get to the hospital. Did I need tea? Medical attention?

The F.S.A. soldier stepped out. Ten minutes later, he returned, beckoning me with the index finger of his right hand. He seemed to do it in slow motion, as a jailer might summon an innocent prisoner to his execution.

In the front hallway of the hospital stood a group of about 15 Nusra Front fighters, Kalashnikovs dangling from their right hands. No one spoke. A few seconds passed, and then someone said in a barely audible voice, “Come, American.”

At this point we ought to be bombing the FSA.

Earlier, in March, the Nusra Front commanders in Deir al-Zour put a pair of Islamic State commanders in the cells on either side of mine…

“But surely,” I said, “this violence is not good for Islam.”

They temporized… Assad was bound to slink away into the undergrowth.

The battle against his forces was just a skirmish in the great global combat to come, in which the believers would prevail against the unbelievers.

“After we conquer Jerusalem, we will conquer Rome,” Abu Amran told me.

“No one is trying to conquer you,” I said. “Why do you want to conquer everybody?”

Over the last 22 months, I had stopped being surprised when Nusra Front commanders introduced their 8-year-old sons to me by saying, “He will be a suicide martyr someday, by the will of God.” The children participated in the torture sessions. Around the prisons, they wore large pouches with red wires sticking out of them — apparently suicide belts — and sang their “destroy the Jews, death to America” anthems in the hallways.

The Nusra Front higher-ups were inviting Westerners to the jihad in Syria not so much because they needed more foot soldiers — they didn’t — but because they want to teach the Westerners to take the struggle into every neighborhood and subway station back home. They want these Westerners to train their 8-year-olds to do the same. Over time, they said, the jihadists would carve mini-Islamic emirates out of the Western countries, as the Islamic State had done in Syria and Iraq. There, Western Muslims would at last live with dignity, under a true Quranic dispensation.

And that takes us right back to reality. This is about a Clash of Civilizations and it only took him years of being surrounded by Jihadists to grasp that.

They really do want to conquer, kill and enslave us in our own countries.

The Man of Learning asked me to approach the truck he was driving. “Hey Bitar,” he said. “Don’t say bad things about us in the press.”

“I’ll just say what’s true,” I said.

“Very good,” he said. “That is fine.”

And he actually did. And for a wonder, the New York Times actually printed it. The question is how much did he really learn about what Islam is.


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