Three “former terrorists” speaking today at the Air Force Academy will stick to their area of expertise — terrorism — and won’t be promoting Christianity, academy officials said Tuesday.
“No one is here to talk about religion,” academy spokesman Maj. Brett Ashworth said. “The purpose is to educate future officers and delegates from 50 colleges and universities on the ideology and methodology of terrorists in preparation for leadership positions in the war on terror.”
The “former terrorists” — Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zak Anani — will be paid a total of $13,000 for their appearance at the 50th annual Academy Assembly, a conference sponsored by the academy and Columbia University’s American Assembly. Most of the funding comes from private donations through the academy’s Association of Graduates.
A report on the conference, titled “Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today’s Plague of Violence,” will be sent to Congress, the Pentagon, the CIA and other agencies.
The academy’s inclusion of three men who say they associated with Middle East terrorist groups drew criticism because the men’s message in other venues has been about evangelical Christianity. Critics also question if they were actually terrorists and, if so, why they weren’t jailed or deported.
“This is a disgrace to the academy,” said David Antoon, a 1970 academy grad and a member of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The foundation was formed amid allegations that arose in 2004 about Christian proselytizing at the academy. The group filed a federal lawsuit last year.
Doug Howard, a professor of Middle East history at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he and several other academics have been researching the men since Kamal Saleem spoke at the college last fall.
“We suspect he’s a fraud,” Howard said. Howard said he’s determined Saleem’s real name is Khodor Shami, a Lebanese who immigrated as a student and worked for the Christian Broadcasting Network for 16 years starting in the late 1980s.
He was hired in 2003 at Focus on the Family, Howard said, but Howard didn’t know if he still worked there.
Focus on the Family wasn’t able to say Tuesday whether Saleem does or has worked there.
Howard said Saleem’s theme during the Calvin College appearance was an “old time revival Christian” message.
A Canadian newspaper, The Windsor Star, reported on Jan. 20, 2007, that Anani’s story as told at a Baptist church didn’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. Quiggin detailed times and places of the story that he said didn’t jibe with historic facts, The Star reported.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group, urged the academy to offer “a balancing perspective” to the anti-Muslim rhetoric expected from the men.
In a news release, the council noted that the three made “bigoted and inaccurate” statements about Islam and Muslims, and that they told one California university audience that Americans need to “wake up to the dangerous realities of the Islamic faith.”
Shoebat told a Missouri newspaper in September he sees “many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam” and “Islam is not the religion of God — Islam is the devil.”
The CAIR news release noted the academy’s invitation could be seen “as a tacit endorsement of their views.”
But Ashworth said if hatefilled language emerges, officials “would end the presentation at that point.”
He said before Dean of Faculty Brig. Gen. Dana Born, a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian, invited the men, the academy checked their backgrounds by talking with other hosts, including Stanford University, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the University of Michigan.
Ashworth said he wasn’t aware a scheduled appearance of Shoebat in 2005 at Princeton University was canceled after the Shoebat Foundation was accused of making “anti-Semitic” remarks, which the foundation denied.
Keith Davies, Shoebat Foundation director, said the men will warn Americans “about the true nature of terrorism and what’s causing it — the ideology of Islam.” (MORE)