“Why are you here, American?”
Jack Severson was blindfolded, gagged, and had his hands tied behind an uncomfortably stiff wooden chair. He had just now become conscious, and rather than wonder why he was so restrained, he was compelled to wonder over why someone would interrogate a gagged man.
Realizing his error, the interrogator removed Severson’s gag, but not the blindfold, and repeated his query.
“I come as a bringer of justice,” Severson answered.
The interrogator, a swarthy Arab man wearing a checkered headscarf atop his thickly-bearded face, sat across from the bound Severson on a card table in a dark, dusty room, very much perplexed at his newest captive. “What kind of justice?”
“Reward for the good, and punishment for the evil.”
“Have you accomplished this justice?”
“What remains to be done?”
“In this particular case, the extinction of your philosophy must be achieved, and the extinction of all philosophies which deny that existence exists.”
The interrogator was now completely befuddled. “What philosophy do you mean is mine?”
“I mean Islam.” Severson intentionally slurred the last syllable of the word to make it sound like “lamb.”
Severson next awoke with the “lamb” syllable still ringing in his head. He noted, however, that his gag had not been replaced. He must have been knocked out after his last comment to the interrogator, he concluded, though he could feel no pain in his head.
He began to hear the footsteps of someone who was wearing boots clipping swiftly toward him, then stopping just before him. “You’ll get what’s coming to you, you filthy Jew,” came out of this new interrogator’s mouth, but surprisingly, in a French accent.
“I’m actually not Jewish,” Severson replied, as casually as he would have replied back home in the States.
“You wear the uniform of Israel.”
“That’s true – a country which respects the freedom of religion.” Severson heard the European’s teeth grinding, and added, “Don’t worry – I wasn’t waiting for you to list the freedoms available to the citizens of Islamofascist regimes like the one which you’re aiding. Your silence serves that purpose.”
The European snorted, then responded, “What god is this of yours, who imbues you with such impudence?”
Severson turned his blindfolded face toward the European’s face and answered, “Devm qvaesivi – et me repperi.”
The European looked quizzically at Severson. He had recognized Severson’s words as being in Latin, as the European’s great-grandfather had been a classical scholar of some repute. The European himself had never attempted the language, however, because he had been taught by his teachers, by his professors, and by his peers that it was a tongue of the rich (who, the European thought, could not help but be evil) and that, besides, the great Romans themselves had been white men, and therefore had necessarily been racist and “sexist.” Never mind that the European himself was a white man. “What does that mean? I demand to know what that means!”
“I sought God,” Severson explained, “and I discovered myself.”
“Blasphemous talk is that! And within the walls of a mosque!”
“Such words are blasphemous only to a hater of life,” was all that Severson could pronounce ere again he was knocked unconscious.
Severson awoke in a state which he would have called dizziness had he been able to see anything. He was sick to his stomach, his head hurt, and he was in dreadful fear for his life, but he knew that he had to remain composed, remain defiant, lest he give his savage captors more fuel.
He could hear nothing but Arabic talk around him, interjected with occasional profane statements borrowed from English, but he could definitely distinguish four voices speaking. One was the European’s, the other was the first interrogator’s, and he could hear two other Arabic voices. All spoke in menacing tones which Severson assumed could only mean more pain.
“American,” the European finally said, addressing Severson, “so sorry to see that you were without consciousness for so long.”
Severson briefly wondered why the European would waste his breath to say such a thing, but decided not to waste his own breath asking.
“You may wonder why I care,” the ugly French-tinted voice continued, “but I insist that you must be in good form for your decapitation tonight.”
Severson’s sickness in his stomach doubled over to make him feel like he was boiling water in his abdomen. He had been afraid that this would be his fate, but was still astonished to know it. Immediately, he began to think over what he would do to try to escape… and came to the horrifying, angering conclusion that, as well-restrained as he was, he currently had no opportunity to rid himself of these menacing monsters who held him.
“Peace,” the European said in a mockingly sweet tone, “will come to you shortly.”
It must have been very late at night when Jack Severson again heard voices near him. He had fallen asleep for the first time since being captured, and the air around him had a stillness which he had never ere noticed.
“Wake up, American,” he heard the European’s whisper from behind him, “it’s 3:00 a.m., prime time in America.”
Severson’s blindfold was ripped off of his head from behind him, revealing his long-unused brown eyes to the brightness of the theatrical lights shining on his face. He blinked hard, trying to focus on something, anything, and was dismayed when the first thing which he could see was a shabby, rat-like man with a long knife in his hand.
“Tell us of yourself,” said the knife-wielder, grinning like a psychotic, “for the benefit of the crowd.” Severson could only conclude that by “the crowd,” the man meant whatever audience was watching through the video camera pointed at Severson.
Severson strained forward, trying to get a better focus with his still-blurry eyesight, and as he did so, noticed that the rope which held his two hands together behind his chair had been slid over his hands after having been tied, rather than affixed to both of his hands individually. He had no time to wonder why this was – he had only time to consider how best to use such an opportune fact to his advantage.
“My name is Jack Severson…” He said it loudly, trying to draw attention toward his mouth, and away from his hands, where he was slowly, painfully, slipping the rope off.
“…from Calvin, Texas…” One hand was free. Now, he had to use that hand to loosen the rope enough that he could slide back over his hands, and then simply drop it back off whenever it was time to make his bid for escape.
“…I have a Master’s degree in Greek and Latin…” Severson had loosened the rope, and now began to slide it back over his hands.
“…and I am fighting for Israel because I have a score to settle with Allah…” This irritated Severson’s captors, as he knew it would, and they started to come around from behind the camera to position themselves behind Severson. He had to be swift now. With his heart thundering loudly in his ears, he worked frantically to slip the rope back over his arms without making his movements perceptible.
“…the philosophy of whose religion is responsible, more than the actions of any specific human being, for the murder of my best friend, Captain Layne Gennaro of the United States Marine Corps, in Iraq, and for the savagery which you now see depicted…” Severson was done with his sleight-of-hand, and just in time. The ratty man, the burliest of his captors, placed a sweaty, grimy hand around Severson’s mouth.
The man who spoke with the most authority, Severson’s first interrogator and, Severson assumed, the leader of the group, began speaking into the camera now. “In the name of Allah, the merciful, the compassionate…”
Now, Severson thought, was the time for action. He could see the long, thin knife, like the kind he would have used back home to fillet fish, making its way slowly, ritualistically toward his throat. He would have to time this just right, he knew, but his captors would definitely be off-guard for this…
“…all glory to Allah…” The man continued chanting.
Severson’s captor had slipped into Arabic now, which made Severson even tenser because he couldn’t know which word, if any, was the signal to cut. He took a deep breath, the deepest of his life, and, feeling every single cell in his body jump, he dropped the rope off of his hands, put his right hand gently on the wrist which held the blade to his throat, and, twisting the blade away from his own skin, he stood up to face the knife-wielder.
The ratty-looking Arab man trembled, terrified of the prospect of facing an opponent who could fight back. Severson silently, swiftly, efficiently, pulled the knife from the turbaned man’s fingers and turned it immediately on its original holder, stabbing him in the solar plexus.
“In the name of the greatness of man,” Severson proclaimed in his low, even voice, as he pulled the instrument from that man’s chest, throwing it into the neck of another man who charged him, screaming madly, with an AK-47. Then, with a high, karate-style snap kick, he leveled the man in charge of the operation, leaving only the European.
The European was frozen in abject terror. He easily could have picked up any number of weapons in his vicinity, but found himself unable to move in the presence of what seemed like a god to him. This American, this man, this Prometheus, who did not shrink from pronouncing the judgment of “evil,” who did not hesitate to defend himself, who did not worry over what his neighbors would think of his confidence, of his courage – this man who was unequivocally a human being and a lover of his own life.
Severson reached down and picked up the AK-47 which one of his attackers had dropped, pointing it at the European. “Are any other terrorists around?” He asked the question without emotion, without a hint of the murderous excitement which the European noticed had possessed the Arabs whenever they had killed.
“I swear, Sir…” The European waved his hands frantically before his face, trying not to see the weapon, perhaps thinking that in so doing the gun would disappear. When it didn’t after a few seconds of frenetic waving, the European collapsed on his rear, in tears and with wet pants. “…just I am here, Sir, and you. I… Sir, I am a famous peace activist, I am ‘Collectifâme,’ Sir… are we not brothers of a sort, Westerners?”
“You ask if we are ‘brothers’ because we are Westerners? You make the mistake of saying that we are both Westerners – your country betrayed the intellectual legacy of Aristotle, of ancient Greece and Rome, long ago, and you lost the title, if you ever had it, by living like a savage. Now, you shall die like a savage, and so shall your continent if it changes not its direction.” Severson deposited a single bullet in the European’s chest, killing him instantly, and then flung the weapon to the ground in disgust.
Severson turned now to face the camera, which was still recording, or so he presumed by the red light which was blinking on it. He decided to give a statement to those who were watching, not knowing whether the audience consisted of Americans, Israelis, or Arabs, or even whether he was broadcasting live. “I know not,” he began to speak with collected determination, “what forsaken pest-hole of the Middle East this is where I have been taken hostage. I know not who my captors were, what flag they flew, or what cause their hearts answered. I do know that savagery will not have its triumph over civilization without a fight. America lives. Israel lives. Remarkable individuals all over the world live who have heard the clarion call of reason, of individual rights, of free markets and capitalism. We treasure our lives, and we will not surrender them to those to whom life is naught save a passage to a deathly otherworld. We refuse to worship at the altar of death, and we refuse to be martyred. Force has been brought against us, and we shall answer in force, though our way is not a way of force, nor of faith, which is its co-conspirator against the mind. Our way is reason. As long as the torch of reason, born in ancient Greece and handed over across the centuries to different hands, but most gloriously to the hand of the United States of America, burns somewhere, even in the soul of one man, the legions of death are not safe. Truth, reason, reality, and justice will prevail. No degree of force employed by evil can ever match the power of a single human mind which has grasped the fact that A is A. Again, though I know not where I am, I will find my way, and fight my way, back to civilization, and I will arrive there alive.”
‘All glory to Allah’ had been the last thing which Severson had heard from the lead captor. He concluded his own broadcast with “All glory to man,” and turned off the video camera.
He walked around the room for a few minutes, a room which he noticed was actually very small, windowless, and not at all decorated like the mosque which the European had described it as being. A mosque, Severson thought, that worst of places where un-reality is hallowed, where rights are willingly submitted to an unperceivable, malevolent monster, where human dignity is stripped off of every human back and replaced by a level of pride not even worthy of a rat…
Jack decided that staying in the room would not help, and he had, after all, resolved to make it back to civilization alive. With marked distaste for the implement, he shouldered the AK-47 and slowly, cautiously, opened the single door of the room.
What he saw was not the dry, wind-blown environment of the Middle East. What he saw was the symbol of the United Nations, emblazoned in white on a clean blue wall in a carpeted, air-conditioned hallway. He poked his head through more, directing his gaze toward his right, and saw, to his amazement, the nighttime skyline of New York City through a window which was clearly high above the earth in a skyscraper.
Severson threw the AK-47 to the ground. The European had been right when he had said that this was a mosque – it had all of the characteristics which Severson had thought to himself were those possessed by such a place. Evil had crept into the heart of America in the form of this building, of this institution, and Severson, if he were to make it back to civilization alive, needed no rifle as a weapon. No, this was a much worse battle – he needed his mind, and all of the strength which his character could summon.