Claiming to be reformed Muslim jihadists who have since embraced evangelical Christianity, the three men are being criticized for telling a gathering of cadets and other students that one way to fight terror is by converting the planet's Muslim population—about a fifth of the world's people—to Christianity.
Among the surprised recipients of that message were 18 New York–area college students, some from Columbia University.
Omar Khalifah, a Columbia student who is studying Asian and Middle Eastern languages and culture, was among more than 200 international students and Air Force cadets who attended the four-day conference. Khalifah, who is from Jordan, says he was shocked and offended by the proselytizing he saw. "We left our study for one week to try to find solutions, not to listen to a person who is speaking as a preacher, as if he is in a church," Khalifah says.
Critics question whether the three speakers—Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem, and Zachariah Anani—really engaged in the terrorist activities they claim. Shoebat says he's a former PLO operative who terrorized Jews, gave his ex-wife "Muslim-style beatings," and planted a bomb in a bank. Saleem, a Christian minister, says he was a PLO child soldier who transported weapons into Israel via underground tunnels. Anani says he's killed at least 223 people and was "almost beheaded" in Lebanon for converting to Christianity.
The three were paid $13,000 to explain the terrorist mind-set at the conference, which was co-sponsored by the American Assembly, a policy forum affiliated with Columbia University. But instead of educating their audience, Khalifah and other grad students say, the speakers denounced Islam and promoted Christianity.
Khalifah and other New Yorkers say they were initially annoyed at the trio's alarmist rhetoric, including claims that jihadist ideology is being taught in 90 percent of American mosques, and the characterization of Islam as an inherently violent religion. But they were truly offended by Shoebat's announcement that converting Muslims to Christianity was a good way to defeat terrorism.
Columbia law student Ernest Jedrzejewski compares the presentation to a Christian tent revival. "All we needed was a light from above and someone to suddenly get over an incurable illness," he says.
After the speakers left the stage, Khalifah approached Saleem and challenged statements that he considered offensive and inaccurate. Saleem claims that Khalifah went even further, addressing a death threat to him in Arabic: "You are an enemy of Islam and you must die." Police questioned Khalifah but didn't charge him. "All the allegations were proved to be unsubstantiated, and I was free to go," Khalifah says. But it didn't end there.
Once the contentious presentation made national headlines, the self-proclaimed ex-terrorists put out a press release about Khalifah's supposed death threat and the "smear campaign" orchestrated against them by Muslim groups and the "liberal media." The three have also vehemently denied accusations by journalists and Muslim groups that they are "stooges of the Christian right," saying that they were explaining their personal experiences in the jihadist underground, not proselytizing. "We are terrorism experts coming in to talk about terrorism. . . . Christianity worked for us, but that was not the theme of the speech," Shoebat tells the Voice. "It's racist to say a Christian is not allowed to be an expert on terrorism."
But questions about the credibility of the three men's terror claims aren't going away. The New York Times pointed out that the FBI is actively seeking anyone with a history of terrorist activity in the U.S., but the Times called the bureau and confirmed that there were no warrants out for any of them. But even if law enforcement doesn't appear to be taking their claims very seriously, that hasn't kept Shoebat, Saleem, and Anani from being in demand as speakers on CNN and Fox, and at universities and synagogues.
Muslim groups have repeatedly complained about their rhetoric. The Council on American-Islamic Relations accuses them of inciting hatred against Muslims. Last year, Shoebat's speaking engagements prompted protests by student groups at both the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Wisconsin. When Columbia University hosted Shoebat and Anani in 2006, university officials were so afraid of protesters that they barred 100 guests from the auditorium where the two men spoke. Shoebat's spokesman says he has also spoken at Yeshiva University and has recently been courting NYU to host him.
Academics have challenged several of Saleem's claims, including his statement that he is a descendent of "the grand wazir" of Islam, which is a nonsensical title. (Saleem says he made up the term "grand wazir" to obscure, for safety reasons, the real title and location of the cleric that he's actually related to.) In Canada, where Anani lives, a terrorism expert has publicly expressed doubt that Anani could have been a Muslim terrorist in Lebanon in 1970 or 1971, since the fighting there didn't begin until 1975. Shoebat's claim that he belonged to a U.S. sleeper cell in the early 1980s, described in his book Why We Want to Kill You, has also been challenged by both academics and his own cousin, Kamal Younis.
In response, the men have spent significant time trying to prove that they actually did kill people, and that they used to hate Jews as much as the next Muslim extremist. "I planted a bomb in a bank!" insists Shoebat, whose handler, Keith Davies, has threatened a libel suit against The Times over the article that questioned his claims.
As the controversy waxed last week, Columbia University's American Assembly distanced itself from the whole affair. "They did not come across to me as credible representatives of anything," says Megan Wynne, program coordinator at the American Assembly. She called the choice of speakers a "giant failure of oversight" by the Air Force Academy.
Meanwhile, some of the New York students continue to wonder how it is that the three alleged former terrorists are still at large, without being brought to account for any of their past crimes. "When I was listening to them, the only thing I could think of is, 'Why are they not in jail somewhere? Why are they out?' " says Haider Hamza, a New School student of global security. "I thought it was really inappropriate to bring us halfway around the world to sit down and make us listen to men who [claim to have] killed hundreds of people, and listen to them tell us what is right and wrong."
An Email Exchange with a
February 21, 2008
To the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,
I'll evangelize where ever I like and I don't care what you or the constitution say period. GET IT!!!
If you violate the U.S. Constitution by the time, place and manner in which you choose to proselytize others with your fundamentalist Christianity, you WILL be punished and held accountable!!
-Mikey Weinstein, MRFF Founder and President
To the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,
Considering the failure record of the federal government in prosecuting religion, and considering how much even the most tyrannical regimes(ie China Roman Empire) have failed in stopping Biblical Christianity your chances of success is nil. There are other who think like me and will take over where I have started and don't finish. So yeah go ahead and try and stop me. Knock yourself out trying. Your prosecution will only strengthen my position not weaken it.
Gene Nichol: Feb. 12
News · Press Releases · Statement from Nichol
Author: Gene Nichol, Source: Press Releases
Date: Feb 12, 2008
FOR ORIGINAL SOURCE CLICK HERE
Dear Members of the William & Mary Community:
I was informed by the Rector on Sunday, after our Charter Day celebrations, that my contract will not be renewed in July. Appropriately, serving the College in the wake of such a decision is beyond my imagining. Accordingly, I have advised the Rector, and announce today, effective immediately, my resignation as president of the College of William & Mary. I return to the faculty of the school of law to resume teaching and writing.
I have made four decisions, or sets of decisions, during my tenure that have stirred ample controversy.
First, as is widely known, I altered the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular College events -- both voluntary and mandatory -- in order to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the College’s welcome more generously to all. We are charged, as state actors, to respect and accommodate all religions, and to endorse none. The decision did no more.
Second, I have refused, now on two occasions, to ban from the campus a program funded by our student-fee-based, and student-governed, speaker series. To stop the production because I found it offensive, or unappealing, would have violated both the First Amendment and the traditions of openness and inquiry that sustain great universities. It would have been a knowing, intentional denial of the constitutional rights of our students. It is perhaps worth recalling that my very first act as president of the College was to swear on oath not to do so.
Third, in my early months here, recognizing that we likely had fewer poor, or Pell eligible, students than any public university in America, and that our record was getting worse, I introduced an aggressive Gateway scholarship program for Virginians demonstrating the strongest financial need. Under its terms, resident students from families earning $40,000 a year or less have 100% of their need met, without loans. Gateway has increased our Pell eligible students by 20% in the past two years.
Fourth, from the outset of my presidency, I have made it clear that if the College is to reach its aspirations of leadership, it is essential that it become a more diverse, less homogeneous institution. In the past two and half years we have proceeded, with surprising success, to assure that is so. Our last two entering classes have been, by good measure, the most diverse in the College’s history. We have, in the past two and a half years, more than doubled our number of faculty members of color. And we have more effectively integrated the administrative leadership of William & Mary. It is no longer the case, as it was when I arrived, that we could host a leadership retreat inviting the 35 senior administrators of the College and see, around the table, no persons of color.
As the result of these decisions, the last sixteen months have been challenging ones for me and my family. A committed, relentless, frequently untruthful and vicious campaign -- on the internet and in the press -- has been waged against me, my wife and my daughters. It has been joined, occasionally, by members of the Virginia House of Delegates -- including last week’s steps by the Privileges and Elections Committee to effectively threaten Board appointees if I were not fired over decisions concerning the Wren Cross and the Sex Workers’ Art Show. That campaign has now been rendered successful. And those same voices will no doubt claim victory today.
It is fair to say that, over the course of the past year, I have, more than once, considered either resigning my post or abandoning the positions I have taken on these matters -- which I believe crucial to the College’s future. But as I did so, I thought of other persons as well.
I thought of those students, staff, faculty, and alumni, not of the religious majority, who have told me of the power of even small steps, like the decision over display of the Wren Cross, to recognize that they, too, are full members of this inspiring community.
I have thought of those students, faculty, and staff who, in the past three years, have joined us with explicit hopes and assurances that the College could become more effectively opened to those of different races, backgrounds, and economic circumstances -- and I have thought of my own unwillingness to voluntarily abandon their efforts, and their prospects, in mid-stream.
I have thought of faculty and staff members here who have, for decades, believed that the College has, unlike many of its competitors, failed to place the challenge of becoming an effectively diverse institution center stage -- and who, as a result, have been strongly encouraged by the progress of the last two years.
I have thought of the students who define and personify the College’s belief in community, in service, in openness, in idealism -- those who make William & Mary a unique repository of the American promise. And I have believed it unworthy, regardless of burden, to break our bonds of partnership.
And I have thought, perhaps most acutely, of my wife and three remarkable daughters. I’ve believed it vital to understand, with them, that though defeat may at times come, it is crucial not to surrender to the loud and the vitriolic and the angry -- just because they are loud and vitriolic and angry. Recalling the old Methodist hymn that commands us “not to be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,” nor “afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.” So I have sought not to yield. The Board’s decision, of course, changes that.
To my faculty colleagues, who have here created a distinctive culture of engaged, student-centered teaching and research, I will remember your strong and steadfast support until the end of my days.
To those staff members and alumni of this accomplished and heartening community, who have struggled to make the William & Mary of the future worthy of its distinctive past, I regret that I will no longer be part of that uplifting cause. But I have little doubt where the course of history lies.
And, finally, to the life-changing and soul-inspiring students of the College, the largest surprise of my professional life, those who have created in me a surpassing faith not only in an institution, but in a generation, I have not words to touch my affections. My belief in your promise has been the central and defining focus of my presidency. The too-quick ending of our work together is among the most profound and wrenching disappointments in my life. Your support, particularly of the past few weeks and days, will remain the strongest balm I’ve known. I am confident of the triumphs and contributions the future holds for women and men of such power and commitment.
I add only that, on Sunday, the Board of Visitors offered both my wife and me substantial economic incentives if we would agree “not to characterize [the non-renewal decision] as based on ideological grounds” or make any other statement about my departure without their approval. Some members may have intended this as a gesture of generosity to ease my transition. But the stipulation of censorship made it seem like something else entirely. We, of course, rejected the offer. It would have required that I make statements I believe to be untrue and that I believe most would find non-credible. I’ve said before that the values of the College are not for sale. Neither are ours.
Mine, to be sure, has not been a perfect presidency. I have sometimes moved too swiftly, and perhaps paid insufficient attention to the processes and practices of a strong and complex university. A wiser leader would likely have done otherwise. But I have believed, and attempted to explain, from even before my arrival on the campus, that an emboldened future for the College of William & Mary requires wider horizons, more fully opened doors, a broader membership, and a more engaging clash of perspectives than the sometimes narrowed gauges of the past have allowed. I step down today believing it still.
I have also hoped that this noble College might one day claim not only Thomas Jefferson’s pedigree, but his political philosophy as well. It was Jefferson who argued for a “wall of separation between church and state” -- putting all religious sects “on an equal footing.” He expressly rejected the claim that speech should be suppressed because “it might influence others to do evil,” insisting instead that “we have nothing to fear from the demoralizing reasonings of some if others are left free to demonstrate their errors.” And he averred powerfully that “worth and genius” should “be sought from every condition” of society.
The College of William & Mary is a singular place of invention, rigor, commitment, character, and heart. I have been proud that even in a short term we have engaged a marvelous new Chancellor, successfully concluded a hugely-promising capital campaign, secured surprising support for a cutting-edge school of education and other essential physical facilities, seen the most vibrant applicant pools in our history, fostered path-breaking achievements in undergraduate research, more potently internationalized our programs and opportunities, led the nation in an explosion of civic engagement, invigorated the fruitful marriage of athletics and academics, lifted the salaries of our lowest-paid employees, and even hosted a queen. None of this compares, though, to the magic and the inspiration of the people -- young and older -- who Glenn and I have come to know here. You will remain always and forever at the center of our hearts.
Go Tribe. And hark upon the gale.
February 20th, 2008
MRFF Gets It
From Both Sides
The Side That Gets It
Please pass along my heartfelt thanks to the Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein for standing up for what is right.
I spent twenty years on Active Duty in The Unites States Army and I was forced to attend military functions over and over again where I had to listen to them give official Benedictions and Invocations taking about their lord and Savor Jesus Christ. I complained over and over again to no avail. I always attempted to talk to the Chaplain and ask that they not do this and I was continually ignored over the years.
Now, I fight a constant battle with all the Veterans Organizations that I participate in to keep their religious beliefs and practices out of these organizations. Here again they hold meetings and meals and continue the same sort of thing that I had to endure in the Military.
US Army Retired
Life Member of: the Disabled American Veterans (DAV),
The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA), The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW),
The Noncommissioned Officers Association (NCOA),
American Veteran Association (AMVETS) &The Korean War Veterans Association
And a current member of the American Legion.
The Side That Doesn't Get It
You are not about freedom of religion,
I object to your organization’s efforts to strip Christianity from our military. Your statement below confirms your intent:
it is imperative upon America to show by example that religious pluralism is a viable and preferred option.
It is not a preferred option. Freedom to choose is the key to freedom of religion – not some appropriate balance, in your view, of having all religions represented. I will never give your organization a dime. I will support groups which will keep an eye on your efforts to thwart Christianity, deny religious freedom and support the development of pluralistic faiths in our military. Your efforts violate our Constitution and place our troops and Americans at risk.
Florida State Officials
Over Anti-Muslim Film,
By Jason Leopold
February 19, 2008
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum agreed to establish a Muslim community advisory group late last week after his office came under fire for directing state officials to watch "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," a controversial film featuring one of three alleged ex-terrorists promoting fundamentalist Christianity and vilifying Muslims as terrorists and Islam as "evil."
McCollum's office said the attorney general sent an email to about 500 state employees last month urging them to attend a screening of the film "Obsession" in order to better understand "the terrorist threat to Florida and the West by radical Islam." The attorney general said he still believes the film has "value" and has refused to "dissasociate" himself from a decision to ask members of his staff to view it.
The film was produced and financed by HonestReporting, a media watchdog group based in New York and Jerusalem that says its mission is to "defend Israel from prejudice."
The Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles and the Council of American Islamic Relations said "Obsession" is an "anti-Muslim propaganda film."
"We are gravely alarmed that a respectable, high-level official such as yourself would be promoting such inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda through your office," MPAC executive director Salam Al Marayati wrote to in a January 23 letter to McCollom." The office that hate crime victims turn to for legal aid and justice is itself igniting the fire of bias and fear through such events."
Jack Shaheen, an Oxford University research scholar and author of four books on racism, stereotyping and propaganda, agreed. He told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview February 12 that the film was "very convincing."
"Goebbels would be proud. This film has a place in cinema history with the racist film Birth of a Nation and the Nazi film Triumph of the Will because it so cleverly advances lies to vilify a people," Shaheen said.
Daniel Pipes, the director of Middle East Forum, is interviewed in the film saying, "Islamists hate everything other than what they are themselves." In 2001, Pipes claimed the "presence" and "enfranchisement" of American Muslims present "true dangers to American Jews." Pipes once wrote on his website: "Yes, I do support the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II."
The film features Walid Shoebat, who claims he is a former terrorist and was once affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Two weeks ago, Shoebat, and two other alleged ex-terrorists he works closely with were invited to speak to cadets at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs about radical Islam. However, their discussion centered on fundamentalist Christianity and how turning oneself over to Jesus Christ is crucial to winning the war on terror.
Collectively, the alleged ex-terrorists claim responsibility for the deaths of at least 223 Arabs. They have all denounced Islam. One of the alleged ex-terrorists became a preacher in the 1990s.
Last September, Shoebat told the Missouri Springfield News-Leader that he sees "many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam" and "Islam is not the religion of God -- Islam is the devil."
Mikey Weinstein, a graduate of the US Air Force Academy and the founder and president of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the academy invited the men to speak to cadets and staff in hopes of capitalizing off the alleged terrorists' conversion to fundamentialist Christianity as a way to proselytize and convert the "unchurched."
Weinstein said their appearance at the academy just another example of the school's long documented history of using "unconstitutional, propaganda, fear, and military command influence to promote fundamentalist Christianity to its cadets and staff."
"In the four years that our Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been fighting this invasion of fundamentalist Christianity in the US military absolutely nothing has been as surreal as this event," Weinstein said in an interview a day before the ex-terrorists' appearance. "The US Air Force Academy has either invited Osama Bin Laden and his buddies or Las Vegas Elvis impersonators to come to speak. No matter which category this falls into to this represents a scandalous outrage that is off the scale of repugnancy and duplicity. These three frauds are as much Islamic terrorists as Arnold Schwarzenegger is a real Terminator. Our foundation will immediately include this entire sordid matter as part of our federal lawsuit against the Pentagon currently being litigated in Kansas City."
Shoebat claims he volunteered for the PLO as a child. At 16, Shoebat said the PLO ordered him to bomb a Jewish-owned bank in Bethlehem with a device he smuggled from Jerusalem inside a loaf of bread. He was supposed to plant it near the bank’s door, but Palestinian children played nearby. He decided to throw it onto the roof of a nearby building instead, where it exploded without harming anyone, he said.
Later that year during a riot in Bethlehem, Shoebat led youths in an attempt to lynch an Israeli solider. Shoebat and a friend beat the solider bloody with clubs before other Israeli soldiers arrived.
He claims he was imprisoned in the Russian Compound, Jerusalem's central prison for incitement and violence against Israel. Officials at the Israeli consulate said they did not have immediate comment on Shoebat's claims. Shoebat says he discovered Christianity when he was 18-years-old when he arrived in the US.
The outcry from the Muslim community over the screening of "Obsession" led to a hastily arranged community meeting last week in Tallahassee, Florida with state and national Islamic leaders and McCollom and members of his staff.
During the meeting with representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the ACLU of Florida, and the Florida Muslim Bar Association, McCollum also agreed to offer educational programs on Islam and Muslims to his staff and to help build better relations between the Muslim community and law enforcement agencies.
"The challenge for all state and federal law enforcement agencies is to treat Muslim Americans as partners in keeping our country safe," said MPAC Executive Director Salam al-Marayati, who attended the meeting last week. "Reliance on propagandistic films like "Obsession" is an obstacle to that objective."
Rabbi Steven Jacobs, who works with the Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department on hate crimes, traveled to Tallahassee specifically for the meeting.
"We ought to be obsessed with the truth, not distortions that lead to demonization and hatred of any group," Jacobs said.
Separately, while some members of the Muslim community met with McCollom and his staff, Brigitte Gabriel, who says she is a Lebanese Christian, was in Palm Beach County speaking to the Women's division of the Jewish Federation speaking critically about Muslims and Islam. Gabriel and Shoebat have appeared together at various events and Gabriel was once a guest speaker for an event sponsored by Shoebat's foundation.
Gabriel founded the American Congress for Truth (ACT), an organization that says it is dedicated to motivating Americans to take action against terrorism. Her biography on the website for ACT says she worked in the Middle East as news anchor for “World News,” an evening Arabic news broadcast, and covered the Israeli security zone in Lebanon and the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. She immigrated to the United States in 1989 and started a television production and advertising company.
Her website contains a recommended reading list which includes the book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" underscoring what appears to be her deep disdain for the Islamic faith.
In June 2007, Gabriel was invited to speak to the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) as part of the school's Islam elective studies program. According to its website, the JFSC "educates military officers and other national security leaders in joint, multinational, and interagency operational-level planning and war fighting."
Her appearance at the prestigious military college was carried by C-Span. Her lecture was controversial to say the least. International, allied officers were not permitted to participate in Gabriel's lecture.
During a question and answer session, Gabriel said that Muslims should be prohibited from holding political office in the U.S.
"If a Muslim who has -- who is -- a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day -- this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America," she said.
Gabriel added that because Muslim's are permitted to lie "under any situation to make Islam, or for the benefit of Islam in the long run" their promise to uphold US laws while holding public office is meaningless.
"A Muslm sworn to office can lay his hand on the Koran and say 'I swear that I'm telling the truth and nothing but the truth,' fully knowing that he is lying because the same Koran that he is swearing on justifies his lying in order to advance the cause of Islam," she told students last year. "What is worrisome about that is when we are faced with war and a Muslim political official in office has to make a decision either in the interest of the United States, which is considered infidel according to the teachings of Islam, and our Constitution is uncompatible [sic] with Islam -- not compatible -- that Muslim in office will always have his loyalty to Islam."
Weinstein said he was familiar with Gabriel's "bigoted work." He said the Military Religious Freedom Foundation intended to take legal action against the Pentagon because Gabriel's invitation to speak at high-level military events is "yet another example of the pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape being visited upon our military members by the draconian specter of overwhelming fundamentalist Christian command influence."
"This woman is a putrescent example of a clear proponent of ethnic cleansing and the fact that she would be invited as an honored, paid guest into the hallowed halls of one of the nation's most prestigious military officers' staff colleges represents unconstitutional complicity that cries out for only one word: treason," Weinstein said.
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