Walid Shoebat grew up near Bethlehem, living what he calls “basically a very violent life.”
As a teenager affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, he says he tossed a bomb onto the roof of a bank and, with friends, nearly lynched an Israeli soldier.
“The whole notion of destroying Israel was part of our goal,” said Shoebat, 47, who now lives in the United States, has converted from Islam to Christianity and tours the country offering his controversial take on Islam and terrorism.
He will visit Michigan State University on Tuesday.
Critics say Shoebat’s conversion to Christianity skews his view of Islam, that he paints the fundamental fringes of the religion as universal and that his stories about his past are questionable.
“Either he’s a fraud or he should be detained by the Justice Department if he really was involved with a supposed terrorism attack in Israel,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“He has no credibility among people who know Islam, the Muslim world and the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Mohammed Ayoob said of Shoebat.
Ayoob is a professor of international relations at MSU’s James Madison College and author of the new book, “The Many Faces of Political Islam” (University of Michigan Press, $22.95).
“He, and others of his ilk, pander to the basest Islamophobic instincts of a small group of people, some of whom are rich and powerful, and make a living out of doing so.”
Eric Thieleman is co-chair of MSU’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, which booked Shoebat’s talk with funding help from the Virginia-based Leadership Institute.
“We’re in very volatile times right now,” Thieleman said. “Terrorism is still an issue. It hasn’t gone away. It isn’t going to go away. We needed to be prepared for everything.”
He said Shoebat is entitled to express his opinions.
“I don’t buy that he’s preaching against Islam,” he said. “It has nothing to do with that.”
The MSU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom – classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center – has brought other controversial speakers to MSU, including Minutemen co-founder Chris Simcox and British Nationalist Nick Griffin. . .
Shoebat says the only way to end terror is take away that confidence by crushing groups he calls “terror infrastructure,” including Hamas and Hezbollah. He compares today’s situation to the rise of Nazi Germany.
“For me to say, ‘We have a war,’ makes me an Islamophobe,” he said. “But the Naziphobes were right.”
Walid, of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said talks such as Shoebat’s distort the image of Islam.
“They seek to define the Muslim community not by its true productive, moderate core but by radical fringes,” he said.