Are Militants' Swords Mightier Than Guns?

"They thought watching TV is a sin," he told through an interpreter. "We were forced to watch only tapes of Osama bin Laden and videos of how al Qaeda was taking hostages and killing Americans."

A Visible Display of Faith

Trapped, terrified and under constant scrutiny, the Muslim technician said he took to praying frequently during the day. "I believe in God, of course," he said. "But why did I pray so much then?

Because I felt that if they would see me praying, they might release me."

Weeks after his release, Kizil is convinced that it was his very visible display of faith — and the fact that he's a Muslim — that ultimately saved him.

Indeed, a day before he was released, the pan-Arab al Jazeera satellite television network aired video of Kizil and Sercali kneeling before five hooded men as one of the militants read out a statement, claiming the release was "to honor the Muslim Turkish people" following "the repentance of the two hostages."

‘They’re Muslims, So Don’t Kill Them’

While many Islamic extremist groups view secular Muslims as "slaves" to the "infidel West," Muslim hostages in Iraq were spared a gruesome, public death by sword — until recently.

Days after Kizil and Sercali were released, many Islamist Web sites featured vigorous debates about whether beheading a Muslim was justified.

While some contributors said all Turks, as citizens under a secular government, were "hypocrites" who deserved to be beheaded, others disagreed. "Slaughtering is something you started with the infidel crusaders and their allies, and we hope you won't deviate from that path," wrote a contributor who identified himself as the "Enemy of Foreign Infidels." But, he added, "They're Muslims, so don't kill them."

In an apparent shift in tactics, militants now have taken to decapitating Muslim hostages in Iraq. Last month, two Pakistanis were beheaded in Iraq and footage of their decapitation was sent to al Jazeera. On Tuesday, an Islamist Web site carried a videotape purporting to show the beheading of an "Egyptian spy" working for U.S. forces in Iraq.

The tape, allegedly made by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group, identifiied the man as Mohammed Mutawalli. The tape's authenticity has not been verified.

History ‘Giddy’ With Severed Heads

While militants frequently espouse so-called Islamic canons to justify their brutal acts of vengeance, Diaa Rashwan, a researcher at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Egypt, warns against attaching too much doctrinal significance to the beheadings.

"It's their interpretation of Islam," he said. "It's how they choose to interpret Islam." Even discussions about why Muslims should not be beheaded, Rashwan noted, were flawed and ultimately pointless. "It's their own interpretation of religion and it's their own interpretation of history, because there have been many great Muslims who have been beheaded."

Some analysts say Islam does justify decapitations. In a column in the online magazine Slate, Lee Smith noted the number of times beheadings appear in the Koran and concluded that "Islamic history is giddy with heads separated from their bodies."

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