Tonight on CNN, Anderson Cooper will be doing "a special investigative report about a self-proclaimed former Islamic terrorist who is making good money from American taxpayers with a story that just doesn't add up."
This self-proclaimed terrorist, Walid Shoebat, was one third of a traveling anti-Muslim sideshow called the "3 ex-Terrorists," and is now a very popular solo act on the Islamophobic fear-mongering speaking circuit. The other two members of Shoebat's trio were Zachariah Anani, and Kamal Saleem.
In between his many tax-payer funded speaking engagements, Shoebat is a popular speaker at events such as Tim LaHaye's Pre-Trib (Pre-Tribulation) Research Center conferences and John Hagee's Christians United for Israel (CUFI) events. Anani is a Lebanese-born Canadian citizen who claims to have killed 223 people while a Muslim terrorist. Saleem, under his real name, Khodor Shami, worked for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network for sixteen years, was hired by James Dobson's Focus on the Family in 2003, and founded Koome Ministries in 2006 to "expose the true agenda of [Muslims] who would deceive our nation and the free nations of the world."
As the research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), I first became aware of Shoebat, Anani, and Saleem back in early 2008, when they were invited to speak at the U.S. Air Force Academy's 50th Annual Academy Assembly, on the topic "Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today's Plague of Violence," for a fee of $13,000.
After demands by the MRFF for equal time to counter the anti-Muslim screed of the Shoebat and his fellow self-proclaimed ex-terrorists turned evangelical Christians, the Air Force Academy eventually allowed MRFF founder and president, and Academy graduate, Mikey Weinstein, MRFF Advisory Board member and Islam expert Reza Aslan, and MRFF Board member and former Ambassador Joe Wilson to speak to (deprogram) the cadets.
As Reza Aslan wrote on Anderson Cooper's blog when all this was going on back in 2008, the claims of the three ex-terrorists about their exploits as Muslim terrorists have long been questioned by academics and terrorism experts who have found a plethora of unlikelihoods and outright impossibilities in their stories. Here are a few highlights:
According to Tom Quiggin, Canada's only court-qualified expert on global jihadism, and a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police intelligence and national security expert, "Mr. Anani's not an individual who rates the slightest degree of credibility, based on the stories that he has told."
Among other things, Quiggin points to Anani's claim of killing hundreds of people after joining his first militant group in Lebanon at age 13. Anani, now forty-nine, would have been 13 in 1970. However, the fighting in Lebanon did not begin in earnest until 1975, and religious-based terrorism was practically unheard of there until after 1979. According to Anani, he left Lebanon for Egypt to attend Al-Azhar University at age 18, three years earlier.
Professor Douglas Howard teaches the history of the modern Middle East at Calvin College in Michigan, where Kamal Saleem spoke last November. He was shocked to hear Saleem claim that a member of his family was the "the Grand Wazir of Islam."
"Wazir is a variation of vizier," Professor Howard explained. "The Grand Vizier was a political role in the Ottoman empire. No Muslim would ever claim that in connection with the role of mufti, which is a scholar of Islamic texts. It's like someone saying they were the governor of Christianity."
Professor Howard described the talk at Calvin College as "a tent meeting revival sermon sponsored by academic organizations."
The Village Voice also reported on the Air Force Academy Assembly, which was co-sponsored by the American Assembly, a policy forum affiliated with Columbia University. Here's what some of the eighteen New York students who attended the Assembly had to say about Shoebat and his fellow ex-terrorists:
[Omar] Khalifah, who is from Jordan, says he was shocked and offended by the proselytizing he saw. "We left our study for one week to try to find solutions, not to listen to a person who is speaking as a preacher, as if he is in a church," Khalifah says. ...
... Khalifah and other New Yorkers say they were initially annoyed at the trio's alarmist rhetoric, including claims that jihadist ideology is being taught in 90 percent of American mosques, and the characterization of Islam as an inherently violent religion. But they were truly offended by Shoebat's announcement that converting Muslims to Christianity was a good way to defeat terrorism.
Columbia law student Ernest Jedrzejewski compares the presentation to a Christian tent revival. "All we needed was a light from above and someone to suddenly get over an incurable illness," he says.