My discussion on Muslim involvement in American politics was given this past Friday night at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, MI.
I discussed this past Friday in two sermons about the two most important human rights in Al-Islam, the right to life and freedom to practice religion.
Ex-jihadist Kamal Saleem tells tales of palling around with Arafat, Qaddafi, and Saddam. But his story has some big holes in it.
As Michigan state legislators considered a planto curb illegal immigration last fall, they heard dramatic testimony from a man named Kamal Saleem. He warned the lawmakers that Islamic extremists were sneaking into the country with nefarious plans. “If we don’t pass this bill,” the fiftysomething Lebanese American told them, “we will be legalizing terrorism to be part of our culture.”
Saleem’s testimony was rooted in an extraordinary backstory: He purports to have spent half a decade recruiting Islamists in America—before finding Christ and laying down arms. “I came to the United States of America not to love you all,” he declared at a rally on the Capitol steps after the hearing. “I came to…destroy this country as a terrorist.”
Over the last five years, Saleem’s tale of terror and redemption has made him a minor celebrity among Christian conservatives. Part national-security wonk, part evangelist, he is one of ahandful of self-described “ex-terrorists” who have emerged in the post-9/11 era to share their experiences. He has spoken in state capitols, at the Air Force Academy, and at colleges and churches around the country. He has been a guest on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and started his own nonprofit, Koome Ministries, of which he was the only full-time employee in 2009. Tax records show Saleem earned $48,000 from the ministry that year—and had a $39,000 expense account—while Koome took in nearly $100,000 in donations and grants.
According to his memoir, The Blood of Lambs, Saleem, who grew up in Lebanon, broke into the terror biz at the age of seven by running weapons—strapped onto sheep—for Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat (who kissed his forehead at a public ceremony, “his breath bearing tales of garlic and onion”). As a teenager, he helped run a terrorist camp in the Libyan desert at the behest of Moammar Qaddafi. He visited Iraq, where he rubbed shoulders with Saddam Hussein. In the late 1970s, he traveled to Afghanistan, working alongside the mujahideen and CIA spooks to beat back the Soviets. A Kansas City Star columnist skeptically dubbed him the “Forrest Gump of the Middle East.“
Saleem claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has put a $25 million bounty on his head, and that there have been attempts to earn it: After a 2007 event in Chino Hills, California, he writes in his book, he returned to his Holiday Inn to find his room ransacked and a band of dangerous Middle Easterners on his trail. Saleem describes calling the police to alert them to an assassination attempt. Local law enforcement, however, has no record of any such incident.
That’s just one of many of Saleem’s tales that don’t stand up to scrutiny. (Through a spokeswoman, Saleem refused to comment for this story.) Doug Howard, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Michigan’s Calvin College, first encountered Saleem in 2007, when he was invited to speak at the school. Howard quickly became suspicious: For starters, Saleem claimed to be a descendant of the “Grand Wazir of Islam,” a position that doesn’t exist. Howard dug deeper and discovered that Saleem’s original name was Khodor Shami—and that for more than a decade before outing himself as a former terrorist he had worked for Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. (CBN declined to comment. Focus on the Family confirmed Saleem was an employee but would not comment further.)
A former friend also sheds light on Saleem’s past. Wally Winter, a nurse in Albuquerque, New Mexico, first met him when they both worked at a hospital in Abu Dhabi in 1979. Two years later, he got a phone call from Saleem; he’d come to the United States and needed help. Winter says he welcomed Saleem into his spare bedroom, opened a bank account for him, taught him how to drive, and helped get him a job at the hospital where he worked near Oklahoma City. When Winter moved to the city, Saleem came along. “He had no money,” Winter says. “I had to drive him wherever he was going.” The two were close; Winter would bring Saleem to his parents’ home on holidays.
Winter recalls his former roommate as a devout Muslim whose yarns often lapsed into wild exaggeration. “He could sell swampland in Louisiana,” Winter says. “I really do not believe the story about the terrorism. I totally believe that he would make up something like that to either make money or become well known.”
A cloud of doubt also hangs over Saleem’s frequent speaking partner, Walid Shoebat, another converted ex-terrorist who runs a ministry and whose books include Why I Left Jihad andWhy We Want to Kill You. Shoebat has offered contradicting statements on whether he uses an assumed name. An Israeli bank he claims to have bombed in the 1970s has said it has no record of the incident; a spokesman for Shoebat says that’s probably because the attack “caused no injury and minor damage.”
Wouldn’t authorities have some interest in someone who claims to have been involved in some of the biggest Middle Eastern militant movements of the 1970s and ’80s? Saleem claims that local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, have “reached out” to him to learn about “the Islamist mindset and tactics.” But Kathleen Wright, an FBI spokeswoman, says she has “no information that Kamal Saleem has spoken at an FBI-sponsored event.” She could not say definitively whether the bureau had ever been in contact with him. Winter, for his part, says he has never been questioned by authorities about his former roommate.
Ironically, this apparent lack of official scrutiny may be the strongest evidence against Saleem’s credibility. As Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, puts it, “The FBI or the Department of Homeland Security don’t let people who are terrorists into the country and not detain them just because they claim they got the Holy Ghost.”
This story originally ran in the March/April 2012 issue with the headline “Sleeper Sell.”
I am a part of this committee.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MI Imams Condemn Murder of Paratroopers, Rabbi and Jewish Children in France
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(WARREN, MI, 3/21/12) – The religious leaders (imams) of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) today condemn in the strongest terms the recent murders of three French Muslim paratroopers, a rabbi and three Jewish children, which were reportedly committed by a French national named Mohammed Merah.
Merah has been named as a chief suspect in recent shootings in which he allegedly killed three fellow Muslims for serving in the French military in Afghanistan as well as a rabbi and three Jewish children due to revenge of injustices perpetrated against Palestinian children by the Israeli military.
The imams reaffirm our previously stated position the Islamic teachings stress the sanctity of all human life and that respecting the rule of law is incumbent upon all Muslims.
The Qur’an, Islam’s revealed text, states: “Whoever kills a person, unless [as punishment through due process] for murder or mischief in the land, it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Qur’an, 5:32)
Though the imams recognize that many innocent civilians have been killed in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the imams also state that there is no justification for the wanton violence that has taken place in France in response to the previously stated injustices.
Prophet Muhammad said there is no excuse for committing unjust acts: “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.”
The imams offer their condolences to the families of the victims and pray for calm and peace.
The imams Council of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan represents a coalition of Muslim religious leaders (imams) in the Metro-Detroit area.
SEE: Who is French shootings suspect Mohammed Merah? (CNN)
SEE: Prosecutor: French shooter was planning new attack (CBS)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CAIR Joins Call for Justice in Shooting of Trayvon Martin
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 3/22/12) — A prominent national Muslim civil
rights and advocacy organization today joined the nationwide call for
justice in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager
allegedly shot by a neighborhood watch captain on February 26.
Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington-based
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said in a statement:
“CAIR and the American Muslim community join with all those who seek
justice in this troubling case. We are concerned that this tragic
incident is symptomatic of a growing level of racial and ethnic
tension in our society.
“We call on the Department of Justice to devote all necessary
resources to its review of the case and urge state and local
authorities to take appropriate legal and legislative actions to
prevent such disturbing incidents from occurring in the future.
“We hope this tragedy will prompt a national dialogue about how some
Americans are viewed as the ‘other’ or ‘suspicious’ based solely on
stereotypes or prejudice.”
CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy
organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam,
encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American
Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
Become a Fan of CAIR on Facebook
Subscribe to CAIR’s E-Mail List
Subscribe to CAIR’s Twitter Feed
Subscribe to CAIR’s YouTube Channel
– END –
CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper,
202-744-7726, E-Mail: email@example.com; CAIR Communications Manager
Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, 202-341-4171, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, March 22, 2012
CAIR-MI Executive Director
Zimmerman, who has a track record of calling the police regarding “suspicious” (meaning Black) males traveling through his neighborhood, pursued Martin for looking “suspicious” (Black wearing a hoodie) and shot him due to him carrying the very dangerous weapon of Skittles. Ironically, Zimmerman was arrested in 2005 for resisting arrest and committing battery against a law enforcement officer. Now, he has taken on the role of playing a keystone cop in following and questioning “suspicious” looking people.
To be frank, I was appalled when I heard about this murder, but I was not shocked at all. As a Black male, who was raised in the South, my parents and grandparents warned me, as so many Black boys continued to be warned, that when traveling in certain areas on foot or driving through certain areas, to be extra cautious. “Don’t walk with your hands in your coat pockets… Don’t be too loud… Don’t argue with White men that provoke confrontation… Don’t look at officers in their eyes too long… Don’t make sudden moves when pulled over by police and keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times…” There is a long history in America of fatal shootings of Black males based upon racial animus.
At the heart of the discussion regarding the shooting of Martin is the question of how can we curtail the tendency of many to demonize or other-ize people due to bigotry, or as a mechanism, driven by insecurities, of uplifting one’s self over others. Black men have been subjected to such demonization since the days of slavery with overseers, then from officers and “concerned citizens” like the White Citizens Council in post-Reconstruction America. Now, there are armed militias in the southern border states, who do the same with Latinos under the guise that they are watching for criminals crossing the border, as if the majority of Latinos in those states aren’t documented and don’t abide by the law when in fact this is not the case.
Zimmerman saying that Martin looked “suspicious,” which prompted him to start a confrontation, had me thinking about how young, brown Muslim males are currently seen by many in America as suspicious, just like young Black males, be they Christian or Muslim. Would Zimmerman have acted the same way if he saw a young Arab-American honor roll student named Ahmad Ali walking down the street wearing a white robe, or if he saw a South Asian class president named Muhammad Hussein walking down the street wearing jeans and a hoodie? I can’t say for certain that the outcome would have been the same, but the mentality of people like Zimmerman would prompt the same suspicion.
I hope that through Martin’s tragic death, we can have more conversations about getting to know each other, and decrease the tendency of other-izing each other as Americans. The stakes are too high if we do not. Just ask Trayvon Martin’s parents.
Islamophobia, xenophobia and racism are alive and well in the GOP as the presidential primaries take place today in Alabama and Mississippi.
Let’s look at the facts:
Only twelve percent of GOP voters in Mississippi think that President Obama is a Christian, and a shocking three out of ten GOP voters in Mississippi want interracial marriage to be ILLEGAL while another two out of ten aren’t sure if interracial marriage should be legal. In other words, only half of Mississippi GOP voters are comfortable with interracial marriages.
National Public Radio (NPR) had a piece this morning titled, “Romney’s Rivals Try To Woo Southerners,” which in part covered voters reactions to a discussion with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich yesterday in Alabama.
Regarding how entrenched Islamophobia is within the GOP in Alabama, one misguided soul named Judy Sellers made a statement related to President Obama, “I really don’t think that a nation that falls on Muslim leadership, potentially, is going to be a nation that’s going to survive.”
Not to mention last night that birthers are still questioning if Obama was even born in America.
Notice that many Islamophobes such as Pamela Geller are also birthers, and many of these Islamphobes identify with the politics of the GOP.
Given that many of the bigots within the GOP don’t want to be seen as anti-Black given that it’s not politically correct to be overtly anti-Black (just make Reagan-esque comments like “food stamp president”), using Islamophobia and xenophobia have a level of socio-political tolerance in America. It’s a strategy that Islamophobes have used for the last four years such as with the anti-Muslim movie “Obession” to rally the GOP voters against Obama.
As far as the reflection of anti-Black sentiments and the interracial marriage issue, which more overtly reflects the racist mindset still held by many Whites in the Deep South, they attempt to cover their racism with saying that they aren’t anti-Black but have concerns for the children of such marriages being confused about their identities. Islamophobia and xenophobia need no explanation, however.
Let’s see in the summertime with the Super PAC money flowing into the election if they will run ads in the South exploiting Islamophobia and xenophobia to get voters out to the polls against Obama. If so, they will be continuing the message that Obama is not like you, and he’s soft on Muslims, which implies that he might be one and also whispers that he’s Black.