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Apparently, terrorism pays.
It pays very well.

By Reza Aslan | February 28, 2008

Reza Aslan

For some time now a trio of self-proclaimed ex-terrorists has been making the rounds of the lecture circuit, charging thousands of dollars for their fantastical tales of life as murderous Muslim extremists.

Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem – both US citizens – and Zacharia Anani, a Canadian national, all claim to have been members of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Anani claims personal responsibility for the deaths of over two hundred people. Shoebat says he was part of a terrorist cell inside the United States.

Their most recent appearance was at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which hosted the three at its 50th Annual Academy Assembly on the topic, “Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today’s Plague of Violence.”

Shoebat, Saleem, and Anani were asked to speak about their personal experiences as Islamic terrorists, to provide the next generation of US soldiers with an inside account of radical terrorism.

The selection by the Air Force Academy of these speakers was criticized by both the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Why? Because it turns out these guys are not ex-terrorists at all but—wait for it—fundamentalist Christians posing as ex-terrorists. Their fervently anti-Islamic message, in which all Muslims are labeled as radicals, is a prelude to a testimony about how accepting Jesus into their hearts and becoming born again saved them from a life of terrorism.

Walid Shoebat is a favorite of the “Left Behind” crowd and has spoken at Tim LaHaye’s Pre-Trib (Pre-Tribulation) Research Center. Kamal Saleem, whose real name is Khodor Shami, worked for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network for sixteen years, and was hired by Focus on the Family in 2003. In 2006, he launched Koome Ministries, whose mission is to “expose the true agenda of [Muslims] who would deceive our nation and the free nations of the world... America must wake-up and set a continued Christian agenda of Liberty and Truth as a standard to follow throughout the free world.”

Since the three began their speaking careers, the authenticity of their claims has been repeatedly challenged by academics and terrorism experts, who have found many aspects of their stories don’t add up.

According to Tom Quiggin, Canada’s only court-qualified expert on global jihadism, and a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence and national security expert, “Mr. Anani’s not an individual who rates the slightest degree of credibility, based on the stories that he has told.”

Among other things, Quiggin points to Anani’s claim of killing hundreds of people after joining his first militant group in Lebanon at age 13. Anani, now forty-nine, would have been 13 in 1970. However, the fighting in Lebanon did not begin in earnest until 1975, and religious-based terrorism was practically unheard of there until after 1979. According to Anani, he left Lebanon for Egypt to attend Al-Azhar University at age 18, three years earlier.

Professor Douglas Howard teaches the history of the modern Middle East at Calvin College in Michigan, where Kamal Saleem spoke last November. He was shocked to hear Saleem claim that a member of his family was the “the Grand Wazir of Islam.”

“Wazir is a variation of vizier,” Professor Howard explained. “The Grand Vizier was a political role in the Ottoman empire. No Muslim would ever claim that in connection with the role of mufti, which is a scholar of Islamic texts. It’s like someone saying they were the governor of Christianity.”

Professor Howard described the talk at Calvin College as “a tent meeting revival sermon sponsored by academic organizations.”

“His personal story gives him credibility as an anti-Islamic preacher,” he said. “But it is not verifiable and without it he’s no different from other fundamentalist preachers and there’s plenty of those out there.”

Here’s a question: if the claims of these three are true, why aren’t they in Guantanamo?

Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has worked tirelessly to uncover precisely the kinds of constitutional violations of church and state that occurred when these three spoke, or rather, witnessed, at the Air Force Academy, put it this way: “If their claims are true, these alleged ex-terrorists should be deported or prosecuted, unless our government now considers conversion to fundamentalist Christianity a reason to disregard prior terrorist activities. If their claims are fabricated, they have criminally defrauded every institution that has paid them to speak.”

Strangely, no arrests warrants have yet been issued.


AP Logo

Air Force grants equal time to critics of alleged ex-terrorists

By Robert Weller | February 29, 2008

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy has invited three speakers to give their vision of Islam after remarks made by three self-described former terrorists that some in the audience believed were condemnations of all Muslims.

Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, former U.S. ambassador to Niger Joe Wilson and Islamic expert Reza Aslan, a research associate at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy, will speak to cadets April 9 at a forum on terrorism.

Academy officials invited the three amid criticism of the appearances of Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani at a Feb. 6 forum on the topic, "Dismantling Terrorism."

Although academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker said this was not in response to the criticism, he acknowledged that it occurred only after the complaints were made.

Academy officials insisted that Shoebat, Saleem and Anani, who claim to have abandoned terrorism after converting to Christianity, are genuine.

Maj. Brett Ashworth, academy spokesman, said the three had been checked out by Air Force intelligence. Ashcroft disputed reports that the three had pushed a Christian agenda during the February forum and had insisted in advance they would not be proselytizing on behalf of Christianity.

Religion has been a sensitive topic at the Air Force Academy in the past. A group of cadet graduates had claimed the academy violated their rights, saying evangelical Christian values were forced onto them. They filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed in 2006 after a judge said they couldn't claim their rights were violated because they no longer attended the academy.

An Air Force task force also concluded there was no religious discrimination at the academy but noted some cadets and staff were insensitive. In February 2006, the Air Force adopted new guidelines cautioning top officers about promoting their religious views.

Shoebat has published an online autobiography describing his journey from membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization to Israeli sympathizer. Saleem says he also is a former member of the PLO, and Zak Anani describes himself as a former member of several Lebanese terrorist groups. The three appear together regularly.

The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized the speakers, saying one of them, Shoebat, has said that "Islam is the devil."

Weinstein said his foundation fights what it calls the spread of evangelism in the armed forces and stresses the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

Referring to the Feb. 6 panel, Weinstein said, "We may add 'deprogramming' to our list."

Weinstein is a lawyer, while Wilson and Aslan are experts on Islam.

The only member of the three self-described former terrorists who could be reached this week defended his credibility. He said he could "not really" speak for the other two.

"I am who I am," said Shoebat.

Asked if he gave up terrorism after converting to Christianity, Shoebat said, "Absolutely."

His publicist, Keith Davies, said Shoebat never killed anyone but had once tried unsuccessfully tried to lynch an Israeli soldier. Davies said Shoebat tossed a bomb at an Israeli bank that injured no one, and that Shoebat was jailed by the Israelis but released because he is a U.S. citizen.

Davies also said Shoebat has been in hiding because of what he called threats from Arabs.


InBox Logo

Flag Ritual Returns
to Annapolis Chapel

By Bryant Jordan | February 26, 2008

InBox LogoOne God in Heaven, one captain on the ship, so the saying goes.

But an issue over dipping the American flag toward a Christian altar during Protestant chapel services has the head of a religious watchdog group wondering who's in charge of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Last fall Vice Adm. Jeffrey Fowler, the Academy's superintendent, ruled that the American and Brigade of Midshipmen flags were no longer to be marched down the center aisle and dipped before the altar during religious services.

Because his authority is somewhat supreme within the walls of Annapolis, you'd think that would have been the end of the discussion.

But now the flags are back in the chapel and reportedly it is the admiral who has avoided the Protestant services for the past two Sundays.

A spokeswoman for the Naval Academy would not say directly whether Fowler is boycotting the services, which is what advocates of the flag ritual claim, but only that "attendance at religious services is a personal and private matter and is optional for all faculty, staff and midshipmen."

Fowler was unavailable for comment on this story because he was on travel, his spokesman said.

The 11 a.m. Protestant service at the Academy's famous chapel is the only one throughout the Navy where the flag has been incorporated in that way, and there is no authority for it, an Academy spokeswoman told Military.com on Feb. 22.

The practice of dipping the flags before the altar at the Protestant service goes back about 40 years, Academy spokeswoman Deborah Goode said. In a statement issued to Military.com Feb. 22, Goode explained their return somewhat cryptically: "Following continued evaluation, parading and dipping the flags was incorporated back into the 11 a.m. Sunday Protestant services."

An advocate for the rite, whose letter informing supporters that the flag ritual was in place again for the Feb. 17 service, reported that as the flags "were processed down the center aisle [many] were in tears at seeing their return."

Robert Morrison, a Coast Guard veteran who has been attending the service for 12 years with his family, reported in his letter that: "The 'Supe,' however, did not return," a reference to Fowler.

"Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler underscored his direct order [to remove the flags] with the word that if his command was not obeyed, he would no longer worship at the 11:00 am Protestant worship service," Morrison said in his letter, which was published in part without attribution on the Web site Reasoned Audacity.

The co-publisher of the site confirmed for Military.com Feb. 25 that Morrison was the source of the letter.

"We would welcome Admiral Fowler and his family [back to the services], but not at the price of our precious religious liberty," Morrison wrote.

While Morrison and others may view the return of the flags as a victory, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation calls Fowler’s willingness to let the flags back in "cowardly."

"Admiral Fowler is dual-hatted as the most senior commander and [the] university president, and he's simply going to boycott chapel services now that his order to stop violating the constitution has been refused?" said Mikey Weinstein.

Weinstein revealed the flags' return and Fowler's boycott of the services when a supporter of his foundation forwarded to him the Reasoned Audacity blog that included Morrison's letter.

Jack Yoest, a management training consultant who with his wife, Charmaine, publishes Reasoned Audacity, said in his Feb. 20 blog that Fowler "is clearly confused on the hierarchy between the state and the church. It would appear that he, like most Godless liberals, fear the dominance of the Creator."

He said Fowler and other liberals shouldn't be afraid, however, because Christians are commanded to obey every law of the state "save one." If it means breaking the law to, as he put it, "share the Good News," he said Christians are bound to take that course of action.

Morrison told Military.com Feb. 25 that he believes Fowler originally removed the flags under the advice of the judge advocates under his command.

"I think he was operating with some bad advice," Morrison said.

But Weinstein thinks Fowler’s willingness to let the flags become part of a religious service once more is tantamount to relinquishing his command.

"Vice Admiral Fowler sadly wins the 'Fundamentalist Christian Most Intimidated Award' for 2008 so far," Weinstein told Military.com in a statement. "Such profound duplicity and cowardice fatally disgraces the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Navy, and the entirety of our American armed forces, all of whom have taken a sacred blood oath to protect and defend, support and serve the Constitution of the United States ... not the New Testament."

Weinstein said it’s as if Fowler ordered male midshipmen not to sexually assault female colleagues during meal at the Bancroft Hall mess facility, and when they refused he simply protested by not dining there himself.

Capt. Gregory Caiazzo, a spokesman for the Navy Chief of Chaplains, said he had no knowledge of the flag issue at Annapolis but considered it “an internal issue” for the Naval Academy.

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