On April 16th, three ex-terrorists—Kamal Saleem, Zak Anani, and Walid Shoebat—shared their experiences as terrorists and urged the U.S. to rethink how to combat terrorism. The presentation began with a dramatic representation of the United States, sleeping, jolting awake after 9/11, only to hit the snooze button and fall back asleep again. The resounding goal of the three ex-terrorists was to alert America to the realities of radical Islam. While they succeeded in conveying this message, they did not build any bridges between the West and moderate Muslims.
Kamal Saleem explained that he was indoctrinated when he was six years old. From his mosque he was sent to a terrorist training camp where he was taught that the Day of Judgment will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Christians, and that the highest honor is to die for Islam. He cited verses from the Quran that can lead to these assertions. He was based in the Palestinian Territories and worked for a branch of the PLO whose mission was to cleanse the state of Jewish blood.
Zak Anani had his first kill when he was thirteen and specialized in daggers. He was conditioned so that life meant nothing. He argued that “some people will tell you: Islam is loving and peaceful. This is not really the truth.” Like the other speakers, he strongly criticized Islam and rejected the political-correctness that dominates discussion of Islam in American universities.
Walid Shoebat argued that terrorism has nothing to do with occupation; terrorism has nothing to do with poverty; it has everything to do with ideology. Shoebat also decried the fact that he is labeled an “Islamophobe” for making such assertions. He further claimed that as students we have been indoctrinated to be tolerant of Islam, although Islam is intolerant of our Western values.
During the question and answer section of the presentation, moderate Muslims in the room revealed just how alienated they felt by the presentation. One of the three ex-terrorists told one of the questioners that if he was a true Muslim, and if he followed the word of the Quran, then he should be waging jihad. That is ridiculous. Islam can exist without Shariah law.
The three ex-terrorists converted from Islamic-extremism to a pro-Western ideology, but they still bear the psychological scars that were inflicted upon them in their childhood. The levels of polarization, inflammatory rhetoric, and hostility to the other, filled this discussion as quickly as it tends to during debates regarding the Middle East. By viewing issues in black and white extremes and rejecting moderate-Islam, they do not bring the world any closer to peace. Rather than explaining the root causes of terrorism in any depth, the speakers essentially argued that Islam causes terrorism.
By rejecting moderate Muslims, the three ex-terrorists alienated much of the audience who would have otherwise agreed with what they had to say. Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia have proven that Islam is not incompatible with democracy, and hundreds of thousands of Muslim-Americans have proven that Islam is not incompatible with Western values. America has a responsibility to promote the spread of human rights and women’s rights throughout the world, but America does not have the right to dictate religious affiliation. The speakers did not offer any viable solutions to terrorism other than confronting Islam.
Nevertheless, the historical events cited by the speakers, and a glance at weekly headlines, point to a high correlation between acts of terrorism and individuals who profess to be of the Muslim faith. Terrorism comes from extremism, whether that extremism comes from religious, cultural, political, or social roots. Therefore, a good dose of moderation could combat terrorism by combating extremism. Moderate Muslims should continue to work to discourage terrorist acts, and once fundamentalist groups are banished to the extremes, they will be deprived of the funding and the glory off of which they currently thrive.