The Air Force Academy has invited three men who say they are former Islamic terrorists to speak at the 50th annual Academy Assembly, which opened today.
But the invitation to the four-day event, "Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today's Plague of Violence," has angered a national Muslim group, which calls the men "anti-Muslim bigots."
"It's as if they had (ex-Klansman) David Duke come to speak about race relations," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, known as CAIR. "Their entire presentation is based on the false belief that the root cause of all terrorism in the world is Islam and that it's evil and of the devil."
The assembly, founded in 1959, is an annual undergraduate student conference designed to tackle topics of contemporary significance, according to the Air Force Academy website. This year's event is not meant to discuss any religion but to train future leaders in the war on terrorism, said Maj. Brett Ashworth, Air Force communications director.
Wednesday's opening presentation, Inside Terrorism, features Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zak Anani. They are described by their publicists as "three former terrorists" who "practiced hatred against Christians, Jews and Americans" and were "part of sleeper cells in the USA."
CAIR's offer to send a speaker with an alternative view of Islam was rejected, Ashworth confirmed, because the conference isn't supposed to be about religion. . .
Walid Shoebat, one of the three, described himself Tuesday in a telephone interview as the son of an Arab father and American mother who was born in Bethlehem in 1960. He said he lived as a terrorist — "We killed, maimed and planted bombs" — before renouncing terrorism in 1978 when he came to America and became a Christian.
Shoebat shrugged off CAIR's objections, saying they are nothing new.
"I am a bigoted Zionistic Christian Islamaphobe and I take these (descriptions) as a badge of honor," he said. "When your enemies call you such names you are being effective."