By Mohamad Abdelfattah
After attending a wonderful ceremony celebrating and affirming religious tolerance at UCI, I decided to check out an event being put on by the College Republicans featuring three self-proclaimed former terrorists. I was disturbed to find out that the event was completely dedicated to demonizing the religion of Islam and its followers. It was the furthest thing from the spirit of the ceremony I had attended earlier that morning.
The alleged former terrorists Walid Shoebat, Zak Anani and Kamal Saleem each discussed their supposed radical Islamic lives of the past. The first to speak was Kamal, who described his intense childhood. He claimed, "at 7 years of age, I went on my first mission into Israel…we went through an underground tunnel with 50 kg of TNT on my back." I find it difficult to believe that at seven years of age this guy held 110 pounds of explosives on his back, when my own seven year-old brother has difficulty carrying his backpack to school everyday. Kamal's story seemed to be staged as part of a play – he kept referring to his notes and would raise his voice at certain times to dramatize his act.
Next up was Zak Anani who who told us that he grew up in Lebanon and at age thirteen joined a radical Islamic movement. Interestingly, his biography on Shoebat’s website indicates his level of “religiosity”: he refused to pray and actually killed a fellow Muslim for asking him to pray the early morning prayer! Yet, he claimed that his religion inspired him to kill hundreds – by the age of eighteen, he was allegedly personally responsible for the deaths of 223 people. By the way, he does not provide the context. Apparently his activities occurred during the civil war when most factions, Muslim and non-Muslim, were all busy killing each other; yet, somehow his actions committed as a Muslim stand out and indict the entire religion.
His hatred of Islam is intense. He said, "There isn't really radical Islam, they're either Muslim or non-Muslims.” In other words, our fight terrorism is in reality a war against all Muslims. The neo-con mantra “You’re either with us or you’re against us” has been translated into “You’re either Muslim or you’re non-Muslim.” Talk about religious intolerance.
The final person to speak was Walid Shoebat, a self-professed ex-PLO fighter. Walid claims to be Palestinian. He also makes the claim that he used to be a terrorist with the PLO, but provides absolutely no documentation or proof that would support his claims.
I will spare the readers the details of the terrorists’ stories and why I think they are mostly lies and fabrications. The more important issue is the point behind “touring” those three self-proclaimed terrorists around US college campuses. Even if the stories told by the speakers are true, it is obvious that such events are staged by intolerant right-wing groups to promote Islamophobic sentiments and justify the discrimination against Muslims in America and abroad.
Members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) are always accused of being hypocritical in that they organize events attacking Zionism and Zionists yet criticize events against Islam or Muslims. To rational human beings, the difference should be obvious.
Unlike Islam, Zionism is not a religion but a man-made political ideology (just like socialism or capitalism). An attack on Zionism is an attack on its racist ideas and the oppressive practices of its subscribers, not an attack on a specific religion or its followers.
On the other hand, events such as the one recently sponsored by the College Republicans that equate Islam, one of the three Abrahamic religions, to terrorism promote religious intolerance, to say the least. Had the College Republican event targeted political parties or groups (PLO, Hamas, Hizbullah for example) the situation would have been different and I may have considered some of the arguments presented. However, their speakers chose to misrepresent the whole religion of Islam and its 1.5 billion followers worldwide. That is straight up Islamophobia.
As an Muslim American I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know Muslims from all over the world, but I have yet to meet a "radical Muslim". Yes, we have all seen them on CNN and FOX News, but I am yet to see one in person. I am yet to meet a Muslim who declares "jihad" on innocent civilians or vows to kill every “infidel”. I am yet to see the avocation of killing Americans along with the "death to America" cry that our media portrays of every other Middle Eastern man with a beard or woman with a scarf.
I went to the College Republican event hoping to get a glimpse of what I have so often heard and read about. I must say I was disappointed. The speakers at Monday night’s event are well-overpaid. I could easily find ten people with Middle-Eastern accents to put on a more convincing act. And if their stories are indeed true, why aren’t these people rotting in Guantanamo?