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|April 24-30, 2008
The ‘former terrorist’
Why Walid Shoebat claims Muslims want to kill you and
CU campus Republicans hope you hear his message
by Michael de Yoanna
When he was young, Walid Shoebat hated Jews. He had survived 1967’s Six Day War and was filled with vengeful malice after Israel defeated Arab allies and occupied, among other areas, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
So, his hard-to-verify story goes, he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization, which vowed to take up arms against the “illegal” Israeli state. To gain the PLO’s confidence, Shoebat made himself visible on the streets, vigorously protesting, even rioting, until he was finally arrested.
Eventually, Shoebat says in an interview with Boulder Weekly, “I expressed interest that I wanted to do something. And, of course, I found a bomb maker easily.”
So, he says, he took his bomb and planted it at a bank in Bethlehem.
“It exploded in the roof — nobody was hurt,” he says. “So I can say that my terror operation failed. Thank God.”
These ambiguous days of Shoebat’s former career as a terrorist ended, he says, when came to the United States in the late 1970s, although he continued seething with anti-Semitic and anti-American views.
That is until the early 1990s, when he attempted to convert his wife to Islam. As he scoured Jewish and Christian texts for convincing reasons why Islam was the right faith, he found “everything I was taught about the Jews was a lie.”
He could only blame Islam’s teachings for imbuing his soul with racist hatreds and soon converted to Christianity, the faith of Jesus Christ, with whom he shares Bethlehem as his place of birth.
Today, Shoebat, a self-described “peace activist,” is a popular man. His fascinating story has reaped him appearances as a “former terrorist” on national and international television, including FOX, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC and the BBC.
Shoebat has also lectured at many universities, including Harvard’s law school.
And on April 29, likely amid tightened security, Shoebat will speak to the University of Colorado on the invitation of the campus’ College Republicans. He expects to touch on the topic of his book, Why We Want to Kill You: The Jihadist Mindset and How to Defeat it.
He writes and lectures passionately about Israel’s right to exist while likening Islam to a Satanic cult bent on teaching its followers that they can reap the rewards of heaven by shedding their own blood as anti-Western or anti-Israeli martyrs. The Arab-Israeli conflict, he opines on his website, www.shoebat.com, is “not about geography but about Jew hatred.”
“The Arab refugee problem,” he comments, “was caused by Arab aggression and not Israel. Why should Israel be responsible for their fate?”
His view stands in contrast with many of the left-leaning, “brainwashed” American scholars he rails against. Those scholars argue that Israel deserves some of the blame for the plight of Palestinians, a conflict that traces back well before May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its sovereignty. Arabs launched a losing war after that declaration, and Israel expanded its borders beyond those that were envisioned in a United Nations’ plan to create new Jewish and Arab states in the Middle East.
Since then, the conflict has continued, with explosive violence that waxes and wanes, including terrorist attacks on civilian Israeli targets and the deaths of Palestinian civilians at the hands of the Israeli military.
Shoebat’s critics say Shoebat isn’t helping the situation. In fact, they say, given his influence, he seems to be hurting the people and situation he left behind, while supporting his lucrative life as a pundit and turning himself into a minor celebrity.
They say Shoebat distorts the facts that created the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the teachings of Islam. They say he reinforces negative stereotypes about Arabs. They charge he is a propagandist, even an outright fake, whose views cater to conservatives, Christian evangelicals and right-wing Israelis eager to prop up an Arab as a spokesman against the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Even the cover of the book, Why We Want to Kill You, sensationalizes the story of the divide. The cover displays an Arab man in a black mask and suicide bomb vest. There’s also a collage of horrific images — orange flames and black smoke billowing from New York City’s Twin Towers during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Shoebat admits the book is provocative and says it is meant to challenge the pity that he accuses many left-leaning Americans of harboring for terrorists.
“In the criminal-justice system there is no excuse for murder,” Shoebat says. “In the political system, there is an excuse for mass murder when a terror act happens. There is always an excuse. So in the book, basically, I conclude that there is no excuse for it because most of the miseries that are portrayed by the terrorist organizations, or in the brainwash that happens to students at school, are really fabricated miseries.”
Shoebat also attempts to debunk the notion that Israel’s occupation of lands claimed by Arabs is linked to terrorism.
“I show evidence that in many of the places that suicide bombing happens, there is no occupation,” he says, adding that “real roots” of terrorism are found in Islamic scripture. “Nobody wants to address this issue: The issue is a desire for salvation,” he says. “In the Islamic salvation, in this instance, the way to assure yourself to go to heaven is by shedding your own blood, not accepting Jesus dying for your sins, as Christians would do, but as giving your blood, you dying, for the cause of Allah.”
He says many Muslims are bound up in a “salvation trap” that is “growing like wildfire” despite a war on terror that he says is better described as an epic battle against “IslamoNazism.”
Asked if in his mind Muslims have any redeemable qualities, he says, “I think the Muslims are redeemable, but Islam as a principle is not.”
He points to Islamic sharia law and says it is used as a justification to kill outsiders.
“What part of ‘kill’ do you Americans not understand?” he says, adding that sharia “is not a set of religious laws for the sole purpose of spiritual raising, raising people spiritually. No, no, no. It is a set of constitutional laws, and that’s the problem.”
Such statements explain why the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, chided the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for having Shoebat and other self-described “former terrorists” speak at a prestigious conference earlier this year meant to provide recommendations on “dismantling terrorism” to Congress and the military/intelligence community.
CAIR, which seeks to further America’s understanding of roughly seven million Muslims and battle “Islamophobia,” issued
statements to the press and school claiming that Shoebat and his associates had made “bigoted and inaccurate” statements in the past. CAIR cited several examples, including Shoebat’s claims to Missouri’s Springfield News-Leader newspaper a year ago that there are “many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam.”
“Islam is not the religion of God — Islam is the devil,” Shoebat told the paper.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, reached via phone in Washington, D.C., called Shoebat the a darling of the “extreme wing of the pro-Israel lobby” and said Shoebat’s observations appear designed to do nothing more than whip up the post-9/11 hysteria that Muslims are only out to destroy Americans and Jews.
“He’s popular in certain circles because he’s more than happy to attack the faith of Islam and smear Muslims,” Hooper says. “When you label millions of American Muslims as Satan, what does that imply? Do we put them in camps? What is his aim? I think it is the role of mainstream followers of all faiths to marginalize extremist hate mongers like Shoebat.”
Shoebat’s Christian conversion has earned him an evangelical fan club of sorts. He recently addressed some 22,000 evangelical teens at a BattleCry Christian festival in San Francisco and two of his books, including Why We Want to Kill You, are listed as suggested reading on a Focus on the Family Web page analyzing the “Islamic fundamentalist threat to America.”
Shoebat’s invitations to lecture at universities disappoint Hooper.
“It’s disturbing that he’s invited to credible events held by credible groups,” Hooper says.
And bringing Shoebat to CU is costly — roughly $30,000. Shoebat says the expenses are largely security-driven because he has weathered past threats for expressing his views, at times fearing for his life.
Some colleges have struggled with Shoebat’s appearances, including Columbia University, which prior to a recent Shoebat lecture revoked at the last minute many of the invitations sent out by the school’s campus Republicans, citing safety concerns.
CU is aware Shoebat’s visit could spark controversy and is ready to address the accompanying security issues, says Bronson Hilliard, university spokesman.
“There are always security concerns for these kinds of visits,” he acknowledges.
In 2002, Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi visited the campus amid high security and was met by vocal protests from Jewish groups and their allies.
Hilliard added CU’s College Republicans are bringing in Shoebat and CU’s administration is extremely hesitant to play “Big Brother” or “micromanage” student events, except in rare cases where a speaker could pose a high threat to public safety.
Jack Anthony Roldan, vice chairman of the College Republicans, has yet to hear any rumblings of a protest. The group, he says, wants to highlight the issue of terrorism.
“We felt this would be a unique opportunity for students and community members to hear from two individuals who not only know terror organizations well, but were also a part of them and, at one point, our adversaries,” Roldan explains. “With the events of Sept. 11, the Madrid bombings, the nightclub bombings in Bali and the London bombings, it is evident this threat is growing and it is important for all of us to understand the roots of terrorism and what we can do to ensure our quality of life sustains.”
The event will also include another “former terrorist,” Kamel Saleem. The university’s cultural events board is providing about $10,000. The Walid Shoebat Foundation, according to Roldan, will provide the remaining amount.
“In a sense, Mr. Shoebat is not being directly compensated if his group is providing such a substantial amount to produce this event,” Roldan says.
Shoebat expects some kind of confrontation and struggles to understand it, saying that his detractors are often vitriolic. To “the screamers” who show up to protest him, he says, “I like the point that Reagan made when a heckler told him, ‘Heil Reagan.’ Reagan said to the hecklers, ‘If it wasn’t for my generation, I assure you, you would be saying, ‘heil’ to somebody else.’”
When he was a terrorist, Shoebat says, he was considered a freedom fighter. When he renounced violence and embraced Christianity he was viewed as a traitor to Islam, he says, adding that his critics are hypocrites.
Yet Shoebat is dogged by questions about his past — critics and journalists have picked away at his story, raising the specter that he is not a former terrorist, as he claims.
Last month, The Jerusalem Post investigated Shoebat’s story that he bombed a Bethlehem bank — Bank Leumi. The paper was told there was no record of an explosion.
After “checking its files, the bank said it had no record of an attack on its Bethlehem branch anywhere in the relevant 1977-79 period,” the Post reported. “Shoebat told The Jerusalem Post that this could be because the bank building was robustly protected with steel and that the attack may have caused little damage. Asked whether word of the bombing made the news at the time, he said, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t read the papers because I was in hiding for the next three days.’”
Yet in 2004, the Post noted Shoebat had told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph: “I was terribly relieved when I heard on the news later that evening that no one had been hurt or killed by my bomb.”
Shoebat “could not immediately recall the year, or even the time of year, of the purported bombing” in an interview with the Post via phone.
“After wavering, he finally settled for the summer of 1977,” the Post wrote in its article.
When he learned of the questions surrounding Shoebat’s identity, Roldan contacted the State Department to be certain Shoebat and Saleem were not on a terrorist watch list.
“I was told they were in the clear,” Roldan says.
Roldan says he also reached out to an anti-terrorism and intelligence expert, who assured him Shoebat’s story is authentic. Roldan says he was left wondering whether the Post’s article was fair and thorough.
Shoebat admits his story is difficult to verify and says that there are people, including members of his family still in the region, who desperately want to discredit him because of his unwavering support for Israel. Just because the bank has no record of an incident, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, he says.
“If there is no injuries and no death, there is no record,” Shoebat says. “They try to put doubts by writing these articles against me, and things like that, even though I wanted to supply them with witnesses.”
He also claims the Post article’s author “snuck” the piece “through the features section” of the paper, knowing the story wouldn’t pass the sniff test of news editors.
Often, he says, the “media is not about the truth. Media is about sensation and making articles to try to have people read them.”
Shoebat also has a lengthy section on his website titled, “My Identity?” But Shoebat’s efforts to document his own story leave CAIR’s Hooper unimpressed.
“Walid Shoebat is either a self-admitted terrorist who should be locked up, or he’s a fraud,” Hooper says. “I think lack of action by government authorities makes it clear they know exactly who he is. Draw your own conclusion.”
Hooper says the Jewish, evangelical and conservative groups that back Shoebat would be smart to disavow Shoebat before they are embarrassed.
Shoebat will arrive in Colorado amid fresh news of potential peace concessions to Israel from Syria and the radical Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter this week reported that Hamas has agreed in writing not to be disruptive if efforts to create a separate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza were renewed.
Carter’s visit was criticized by Israel and met with extreme skepticism by the Bush administration, which, like Israel, considers Hamas to be terrorist. Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, defended the trip.
“The problem is not that I met with Hamas in Syria,” Carter was quoted as saying in the New York Times. “The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet these people.”
Shoebat in his interview dismissed the effort and called Carter an “idiot.” Carter, he says, doesn’t have the credibility to lead peace efforts in the Middle East, pointing to Carter’s presidency.
“Jimmy Carter refused to help the shah of Iran, and that’s what created the Islamic Revolution from the beginning,” Shoebat says.
“He was a very bad president, a very unfit president and a very bad friend for the Iranian people because had he really loved the Iranian people, he would have never allowed the ousting of the shah. The shah died as a broken-hearted man. He was an ally to America. That is a shame. Carter should be embarrassed to even write anything about peace or apartheid or any of his other rubbish that he’s writing.”
Shoebat adds that he’s looking forward to visiting Boulder and ready to confront its notorious “liberal bias.”
“Why We Want to Kill You”Back to Top
“Why We Want to Kill You,” featuring speakers Walid Shoebat and Kamel Saleem, will take place on Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. in the University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Ballroom. Doors open at 6 p.m. Advance tickets are available at the UMC Connection or at the door. No backpacks or bags allowed.