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The tale of three former terrorists

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 11, 2008 | 12:47 pm

InFocus is a relatively new monthly newspaper for the Muslim community in Southern California that circulates 25,000 copies to Muslim businesses and mosques. In the same way that one would expect Jewish publications to be pro-Israel, it is clearly pro-Palestinian and uses the dateline “Occupied Jerusalem.”

In the current issue, InFocus’ senior writer—like a Muslim me, though I don’t think he’s Christian—has a story that questions the authenticity of three speakers on the ex-terrorist circuit. Well, it doesn’t so much question their story as it does indict them for being fallacious Islamophobes.

For self-proclaimed “former terrorists” Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani, all with a history of alleged blood and murder, nothing even close to legal action has ever been taken against them. On the contrary, the trio has, for the past few years, actively been appearing on TV shows across the nation, speaking at conferences and fund-raisers in churches and synagogues and openly proclaiming their so-called bloody past to anyone who is willing to listen.

As recently as last month, the three, whose stories are riddled with lies and inconsistencies according to critics, were invited by the prestigious United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which held its annual conference on terrorism, to speak about the dangers of “Islamic terrorism.” The appearance of these individuals drew the ire of Muslims and religious freedom organizations alike. The former were incensed by the fact that the speakers were notorious Islamophobes cashing in on the post-9/11 Islam-bashing industry, and the latter worried by the increasing presence of evangelicals in the armed forces.

“It’s a puzzle as to why the Air Force would invite these three Muslim bashers,” said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We see a history, unfortunately, of proselytizing for particular faith groups and this seems to have been part of that whole effort.”

Maj. Brett Ashworth, a spokesman for the academy, told the New York Times that the three would be paid a total of $13,000 for their appearance, some of it from private donors. Ashworth justified the invitation saying “they offered a unique perspective from inside terrorism.” The findings of the conference will be compiled into a report on methods to combat terrorism that will be sent to the Pentagon, members of Congress and other influential officials, he added.

A group that calls itself the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is suing the federal government for what it calls “creeping evangelism in the armed forces.” The group accused the Air Force Academy of constantly inviting born-again Christians, rather than experts, to address cadets on terrorism.

“This stuff going on at the academy today is part of the endemic evangelical infiltration that continues,” David Antoon, a 1970 academy graduate and a foundation member, told the Times.

On his own web site, (www.shoebat.com) Shoebat claims to have belonged to the Palestinian Liberation Organization early in his life and to have committed “acts of violence and terrorism against Israel.” In his bio, Anani, who now resides in Canada, claimed to have joined a militant group in Beirut, Lebanon, when he was a teenager and boasted to have killed 223 people at a tender age, most of them with a dagger. Saleem claims to have been recruited by the Muslim Brotherhood when he was just 7 years old, and then later as a teenager to have joined the PLO.

However, to most, the trio’s stories seem more fiction than fact.

“You have three people who are openly claiming to be former terrorists,” said Hooper. “I don’t think that in any other case, law enforcement officials would look at the word ‘former’ and excuse people. If these three people are indeed former terrorists, why aren’t they in jail or at the very least deported?”

Not to dismiss the possibility that some opportunists are using the religious speaking circuit to make a buck—it has happened, oh, a few times before—but the speculative “evidence” here feels pretty weak.

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