As the research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), I first became aware of Shoebat, Anani, and Saleem back in early 2008, when they were invited to speak at the U.S. Air Force Academy's 50th Annual Academy Assembly, on the topic "Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today's Plague of Violence," for a fee of $13,000.
After demands by the MRFF for equal time to counter the anti-Muslim screed of the Shoebat and his fellow self-proclaimed ex-terrorists turned evangelical Christians, the Air Force Academy eventually allowed MRFF founder and president, and Academy graduate, Mikey Weinstein, MRFF Advisory Board member and Islam expert Reza Aslan, and MRFF Board member and former Ambassador Joe Wilson to speak to (deprogram) the cadets.
As Reza Aslan wrote on Anderson Cooper's blog when all this was going on back in 2008, the claims of the three ex-terrorists about their exploits as Muslim terrorists have long been questioned by academics and terrorism experts who have found a plethora of unlikelihoods and outright impossibilities in their stories. Here are a few highlights:
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."
The Village Voice also reported on the Air Force Academy Assembly, which was co-sponsored by the American Assembly, a policy forum affiliated with Columbia University. Here's what some of the eighteen New York students who attended the Assembly had to say about Shoebat and his fellow ex-terrorists:
[Omar] 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. ...
... 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."
The most obvious question, of course, is why, if their stories are true, haven't these three self-proclaimed terrorists, who have been traveling the country for years admitting to numerous killings and other terrorist acts, not been deported or jailed. Well, apparently, even our government's terrorist hunters don't believe these guys. According to a New York Times article about the trio's appearance at the Air Force Academy, "A spokesman for the F.B.I. said there were no warrants for their arrest."
But wait, it gets worse. Shoebat and his ex-terrorist buddies aren't the only anti-Muslim fear-mongerers who have been brought in to speak to the military and various government agencies. There's also Brigitte Gabriel, founder of the ACT! for America and author of Because They Hate. In 2007, Gabriel, who has also spoken to other government agencies, delivered a lecture at the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) as part of the JFSC's Islam elective for American military and national security personnel.
During the question and answer segment of the lecture, Gabriel made her opinion of Muslims very clear. In answer to the question, "Should we resist Muslims who want to seek political office in this nation?," Gabriel replied:
"Absolutely. 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."
As part of her answer to this same question, Gabriel also asserted that a Muslim's oath of office is meaningless, giving the following reason:
"A Muslim is allowed to lie under any situation to make Islam, or for the benefit of Islam in the long run. A Muslim 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. 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."
Both Shoebat and Gabriel appeared in Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West -- the politically useful anti-Muslim pseudo-documentary distributed by the millions in swing states via DVDs inserted in major newspapers a few months before the 2008 election. But even more disturbing than this film being used to scare voters into voting a certain way, Gregory Ross, the film's co-writer and director, stated in an interview that this film was also being used by the U.S. Navy. According to Ross, who is also Communications Director for Clarion Fund, the organization that produced the film and funded the DVD newspaper insert scheme, "I know that the U.S. Department of the Navy uses the film and that it has also been shown on Capitol Hill on many occasions in order to education politicians."
While the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has made much progress with the military, including getting Brigitte Gabriel disinvited from speaking at the Air Force Academy, Islamophobes and frauds like Walid Shoebat continue to regularly speak to other government agencies, as will apparently be exposed on CNN tonight.