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Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story – Part 3: The first video

By Jill CarrollStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / August 16, 2006

Jillian Tamaki

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Monday morning – two days after the kidnapping – my captors began trying to convert me to Islam.

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At first, they sat me down in front of the television and turned on a satellite channel which airs programs about Islam in English. After a while Abu Ali – the salt-and-pepper bearded man who had helped kidnap me – came into the room carrying a Koran.

He was eager to show me the similarities between Islam and Christianity, so he was telling me how many stories from the Bible are actually in the Koran. I was anxious to make him like me and feel I was sympathetic to him, so much so that I began using more of my Arabic.

He and the others marveled at how much of their language I seemed to have picked up in just one day.

I tried to listen to Abu Ali's lesson attentively as he translated complicated Koranic Arabic into more basic Arabic he thought I could understand. He was very pleased that I showed interest in learning. He kept saying there was no pressure, no pressure in Islam, that they were forbidden from forcing people to convert. True acceptance must come from a free will.

They'd kidnapped me, and they all had guns ready to kill me, but, oh no, no pressure there. I falsely assured him that I felt no pressure. I have always been interested in learning about Islam. But only so that I can understand the people I'm covering as a journalist.

Later on, this would come back to haunt me.

• • •

Meanwhile, the rest of the world was just beginning to hear about Jill Carroll's kidnapping. Journalists in Baghdad had learned of it minutes after it happened, but most held off on reporting the attack. The reason: the Monitor had asked the media to temporarily remain quiet about the crime.

As he hopped from airport to airport on his way into Baghdad, staff writer Scott Peterson had called Boston to add his voice to those of TV network executives and Baghdad reporters who were forcefully arguing for a news blackout. It was a question of Jill's safety and hostage value. If the kidnappers had made a mistake, and hadn't known they were snatching a young US female reporter, a blackout might provide them space to release her unharmed. If they had targeted her – a scenario that seemed more likely – the blackout might buy time for a quick negotiation, and make Jill seem less valuable.

More critically, a blackout might protect Jill if she was hiding her Arabic or lying to her kidnappers about her name or background.

The Western media who live in Baghdad are a tight group and consult on everything from security to parties; thus they're easy to reach en masse. On Jan. 7, managing editor Marshall Ingwerson sent them a formal request to sit on stories about Jill. From his small office off the Monitor newsroom, Mr. Ingwerson fielded a steady stream of inquiries.

"We'd prefer you not write," he told callers. "Most of your colleagues are respecting this blackout."

That was true – most did. Some helped enforce it, alerting the Monitor to isolated stories popping up on the Web.

But Jill wasn't quickly released. And after two days had passed, editors around the world began to grumble. The executive editor of the Associated Press contacted Ingwerson to argue it was time to go public.

Finally, the Monitor agreed. It issued a statement identifying Jill as a "freelance reporter." Her work for foreign publications, rather than her US clients, was emphasized. The point, again, was to lower her perceived value.

The blackout taught editors something about the degree of cooperation they could expect from media colleagues. Some hadn't expected it to last five minutes, yet it had lasted for days. Monitor editors began to formulate a plan – something strategic – for shaping Jill's image in the Middle East.

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