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What Jill Carroll's ordeal revealed

On what turned out to be her last day in captivity, one of Jill Carroll's captors told her he was going to kill her. She didn't show fear. Instead, as a Monitor series will disclose, she wanted to make her captors think they were good people, unable to kill her.

At that moment, she forced a laugh and told the Iraqi Sunni who was holding her, "No, Abu Rasha, you're my brother, you wouldn't do that!"

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Abu Rasha laughed.

And then this Islamic militant told her that she would not be killed.

Later that day, on March 30, she was set free.

For 82 days, Jill had tried to understand and then reach the heart of her captors. Her account of the ordeal, running Aug. 14-28, is a riveting narrative of her days with the insurgents. All during her capture, Monitor editors along with US officials and others were also trying to reach her captors with a message, asking Muslim clerics, Middle East Arab media, and top Sunni leaders in Iraq to speak out on her behalf.

The message from these moderate Muslims was mainly that such hostage-taking was not Islamic and would bring shame on Muslim and Iraqi causes. Whether that condemnation helped persuade Jill's captors to release her isn't clear. But it was a surprise that so many top Muslims were willing to stand up to the terrorists – and stand up to fear.

As Jill said: "What happened to me is not the whole Middle East."

Indeed, if only more of the "war on terror" consisted of the world's 1.4 billion Muslims becoming more emboldened to launch a "war of ideas" against those who use Islam for violence against the innocent.

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If only more Islamic groups ended their support of the Iraqi insurgency and its Al Qaeda comrades. If only more Muslim leaders didn't fund the religious schools and charities that breed terrorists. If only more Muslims condemned each terrorist act as loudly as they condemned the disrespectful cartoon images of the prophet Muhammad published in Western media.

Of course, in recent years, many Muslim scholars and clerics have spoken out against Al Qaeda and other killers. And leaders of Muslim nations have found ways to moderate Islamic radicals.

Constitutional reforms in Jordan and Morocco helped bring many Islamists into peaceful engagement with government. Since 2002, Turkey's Islamic party has ruled with moderation. And in Iraq, the Shiite clerical leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has often tried to quell militant Shiites and find political accommodations with Sunnis.

Perhaps more than the appearance of a renewed, historic clash between Islam and the West, there is a deep internal struggle under way among the Muslim faithful.

Only a fraction of them are jihadists. The majority live in democracies and advocate peace. Tapping into their understanding of what motivates the militant few, and enlisting their support – as the tip that thwarted last week's terror plot illustrates – could be the prime, global strategy against terrorists.

This Monitor series about Jill's efforts during captivity and those of her rescuers may illustrate that possibility. And perhaps add a bit to the reform within Islam itself.