Last week, the prestigious United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs invited three self-described former terrorists who have boasted about murdering hundreds of civilians in the Middle East and blowing up a bank in Israel to speak to cadets about the evils of Islam and their experiences as alleged radical Islamic fundamentalists.
Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zacharia Anani claim they were once members of the Palestine Liberation Organization who "practiced hatred against Christians, Jews and Americans, have rioted, bombed and maimed" civilians. Anani maintains that he was trained to kill Jews as a teenager and claims responsibility for the deaths of 223 Arabs who he says he personally killed in "gang warfare." Shoebat and Saleem are US citizens and Anani is a Canadian citizen.
Shoebat, Saleem and Anani were asked by Air Force Academy officials to speak at last Wednesday's 50th Annual Academy Assembly on the topic: "Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today’s Plague of Violence” for which they were paid $13,000.
A day before they were due to speak to US Air Force Academy cadets, Meade Warthen, a US Air Force Academy spokesman, said Saleem, Shoebat, and Anani were invited to speak at the academy last week "about their experiences as terrorists so cadets can be prepared for leadership positions on the war on terror."
"The academy assembly has nothing to do with religion or anything with Evangelical Christianity," Warthen said in an interview. "They were invited to give a perspective from a terrorist point-of-view. But we have no control over what they say about any religion good or bad and we certainly are not going to guarantee that they won't say anything" critical about Islam or Muslims.
Getting inside the mind of a terrorist would seem to be an important issue, but these alleged ex-terrorists' close ties to apocalyptic end-times preachers such as John Hagee and Tim LaHaye has caused some to question the veracity of their credentials and wonder if their true mission is to proselytize.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org and a 1977 graduate of the Air Force Academy, said in an interview that the ex-terrorists are disseminating propaganda and maligning Islam and all Muslims as evildoers while preaching the virtues of fundamental Christianity in hopes of converting the "unchurched"--which ultimately is the goal of behind their lectures. Weinstein criticized the Air Force Academy's decision to invite Shoebat, Saleem, and Anani to speak to cadets saying that it's just another example of the Air Force Academy's long documented history of using unconstitutional, propaganda, fear, and military command influence to promote fundamentalist Christianity to its cadets and staff.
In 2005, Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, the deputy Air Force Chief of Chaplains, was quoted in a front-page, July 12, 2005, New York Times story saying the Air Force reserves the right "to evangelize the unchurched."
The distinction, Richardson said at the time, "is that proselytizing is trying to convert someone in an aggressive way, while evangelizing is more gently sharing the gospel."
Weinstein filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force in October 2005 after Richardson's comments were published alleging "severe, systemic and pervasive" religious discrimination within the Air Force. The federal lawsuit was dismissed, but the Air Force agreed to withdraw a document that authorized chaplains to evangelize members of the military.
Weinstein says the inclusion of the ex-terrorists as guest speakers is the US Air Force Academy’s way of continuing to proselytize.
In September, MRFF filed a lawsuit in federal court against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and US Army Maj. Freddy Welborn, on behalf of an Army soldier stationed in Iraq. The complaint filed in US District Court in Kansas City alleges that Jeremy Hall's an Army specialist currently on active duty in Combat Operations Base Speicher, Iraq, First Amendment rights were violated when Welborn threatened to retaliate against Hall and block his reenlistment in the Army because of Hall's atheist beliefs.
Prior to the ex-terrorists appearance at the US Air Force Academy last week, the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an Islamic civil rights organization, said last week that it asked academy officials to invite members of Colorado’s Muslim community to “offer balancing perspective to what the "hate-filled rhetoric" of the invited speakers.”