"Help me. I'm a Muslim."
Those, according to the Agence France Press, were the last words Frank Gardner spoke before collapsing in the street Sunday in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.
Gardner isn't a Muslim. But, as an experienced Middle East hand, he knew the magic words. At least he thought he did.
Gardner is the Middle Eastern correspondent for the BBC who was out on a story when Saudi gunmen opened fire on him. He took a hail of bullets, then begged for his life before lapsing into a coma.
His cameraman, an Irishman named Simon Cumbers, was killed instantly.
Gardner had a Koran with him, too - part of his Islamic safety kit. He had a reason to imagine that posing as a Muslim might save him. Just a week before, another group of Saudi gunmen rampaged through a foreigners' housing compound in the eastern Saudi city of Khobar.
First, they separated their hostages by religion. Then, they freed the Muslims and murdered the infidels.
Maybe the Saudi shooters didn't believe that Gardner was a Believer. Maybe they just didn't give a damn. Either way, they left him in the street for dead and killed his cameraman.
The Saudi government is, as usual, trying to sell the shootings as an aberration (Crown Prince Abdullah has not yet blamed "Zionists" as he did after the attack in Khobar - but give him a few days). In fact, the attack on the BBC men was like Al Qaeda itself - simply the logical outgrowth of venerated Saudi traditions.
The Saudi royal family always has practiced strict image control by judiciously doling out press visas to "safe" correspondents. Al Qaeda's press policy is essentially no different. The jihadis, too, want to impose censorship. Since Al Qaeda has no visas to deny (and no expensive jewelry to bestow on compliant foreign correspondents), it uses bullets and bombs to create its reporter-free zones - in Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia.
Once the Western press is driven away or confined to its hotels, Middle Eastern reality becomes what Al Jazeera and other jihad-friendly Arab "news" organizations portray. That picture will be calculated to further the strategic aim of the holy war: the purification of the House of Islam by ridding it of infidels and their influence.
Since the borders of Islam's house range from Spain to Indonesia and Chechnya to Nigeria, this amounts to a declaration of permanent war.
The Bush administration gets both the indivisibility and the gravity of this threat to Western civilization and international prosperity. The elites of Europe and their American useful idiots still hope to cut a deal.
The BBC has been one of the most eloquent and persistent voices for this brand of appeasement. Unhappily, that didn't matter to the jihadis. Nuance is not their strong suit. To them, Gardner and Cumbers were just a couple of foreigners in the service of the enemy. The body of Simon Cumbers will be sent home for burial. Saudi Arabia doesn't permit infidel funerals (Saudis have been known to dump unclaimed corpses into the sea). Gardner may recover. I hope so.
But from Daniel Pearl's dying "I am a Jew" to Gardner's pathetic "Help me, I'm a Muslim," the holy warriors of Islam have made it plain: There are no magic words. The only good infidel is a dead infidel.