Three men who have raised the ire of a national Muslim group for sharing a controversial message about their former lives as Middle Eastern terrorists will speak today at the King Center as part of an international tour.
The trio, Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zak Anani, will appear under private security, fresh from a controversial stop earlier this month at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. There, academicians and Muslim organizations pinned the speaking engagement as a Christian
evangelical-sponsored message that painted Islam as a violent faith for cadets.
One of the men, Shoebat, has visited several Brevard churches in recent years, sharing how he grew up in Bethlehem before joining the Palestinian Liberation Organization and serving time in an Israeli prison.
Saleem, a naturalized American and former Muslim who converted to Christianity after a traffic accident, said he was recruited into the PLO in its mission of carrying out terrorist acts against Israel.
Anani, born in Beirut to a religious Islamic family and now living in Canada, says he climbed the ranks of the militias roaming the Lebanese landscape.
Organizers say the larger venue -- with rental costs of at least $10,000 -- will allow more people to hear the reasoning behind terrorism, from the daily rocket bombardment in northern Israel by Palestinian terrorists to the Sept. 11 attacks that brought down the World Trade Center in New York City.
"It's about citizen awareness," said Kathy Mardirosian, the co-founder of Project Restoration, a nondenominational, pro-Israel group based near Cocoa. "This is an election year, and we feel it's very important for people to know what's happening, and that's why we're bringing them here."
But from interviews on national news networks to lectures at Harvard, controversy has followed Shoebat, who converted to Christianity from Islam in the early 1990s.
"They are Muslim-bashers who make a living stirring people's fear of Islam," said Ahmed Bedier, spokesman for the advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations' Tampa Chapter. Local Muslims also are concerned about the message.
"It's putting Islam in a bad perspective," said Muzzafar Shaikh, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Brevard Mosque.
"The true meaning of Islam is peace and getting along with people."
Bedier also said he fears the event could lead to a backlash against the area's Muslim population -- who local Islamic leaders say include about 1,000 people concentrated mostly in south Brevard -- and could set back outreach efforts begun in recent years.
Bedier said Shoebat in particular paints a broad brush of Islam -- a religion with 1.5 billion adherents -- as a violent faith that fosters terrorists.
"These are people that are not offering solutions. We'll communicate that to the organizers and let them know that we'd be glad to come and offer a different perspective on Islam," Bedier said, adding that he doesn't believe the claims of Shoebat and the others. (MORE)