The U.S. Air Force Academy just can’t seem to get it right. Six major cheating scandals in four decades. Endemic sexual harassment against female cadets. Christian evangelical officers proselytizing non-Christian cadets. But in February 2008, on the occasion of their fiftieth annual assembly, the Academy brass outdid themselves.
They presented three discredited Islamophobes who spewed religious bigotry and advocated religious war, in the process trampling on the First Amendment and exposing the Air Force to international ridicule.
Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani all claim to be "reformed terrorists." The three men’s narratives "border on the fantastic," as a Feb. 7 New York Times story delicately put it, including their claims that they killed hundreds of people while still children. Even members of Shoebat’s own family apparently believe that his stories of terrorism are fabricated. Most experts have concluded that they are frauds.
"It’s like inviting O.J.Simpson impersonators to a conference on domestic violence," Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told InFocus. "They’re snake-oil salesmen, but unfortunately they’re not really funny, because they have the capacity to severely damage national security." (The three men collected $13,000 for the Colorado Springs caper, according to The New York Times.)
However ludicrous their claims may be, the trio provided Academy brass with yet another opportunity to push the bigoted worldview of the Religious Right, this time under the guise of educating about terrorism. According to Shoebat, Saleem and Anani, the reason why they quit the terrorism racket was because — wait for it — they converted from Islam to Christianity! While supposedly an investigation of terrorism, the appearance of the men was yet another pretext for rightwing elements at the Air Force Academy to promote their noxious brand of Christian fundamentalism at a publicly-funded institution.
But the "X-Terrorists," as they melodramatically fashion themselves, also promoted the idea that a Christian crusade against Islam is the will of God. "Islam is the devil," Shoebat has said, along with many other defamations of Islam. If Air Force brass claims not to know of his bigotry — or that most experts believe the three men are frauds — they are criminally incompetent. If they did know but invited them anyway, they’re guilty of retailing hate speech and extremist ideology as reputable academic presentations. (MORE)