Stanford limits audience for talk by ‘3 ex-terrorists’

They bill themselves as the “three ex-terrorists” and speak at campuses around the country. They like to be provocative and seem to invite controversy by characterizing the radical Islamic movement as a new form of Nazism. Their efforts to attract attention got a boost this week when Stanford University called their scheduled appearance Monday controversial and said members of the press and the public would be prohibited from attending. “This is a Stanford event and we have chosen to make sure this is a Stanford event where students can have an exchange of ideas in a constructive way,” said Elaine Ray, director of the Stanford News Service. “It’s not unusual to have an event that is not open to the public.” After students and the speakers’ representatives criticized the decision, the university said selected journalists would be allowed to attend. The three “ex-terrorists” are Middle Eastern men who say they engaged in violent activities as young Muslims before converting to Christianity. Walid Shoebat, an Israeli-born Palestinian, has been on the lecture circuit since 1993 and recently teamed up with the other two, Kamal Saleem, a Palestinian, and Zachariah Anani, who is Lebanese. Shoebat, 46, said in a telephone interview Friday that he calls himself an ex-terrorist because as a teenager he belonged to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and planted a bomb on the roof of an Israeli bank in the late 1970s. The bomb exploded but did not harm anyone. He was never charged. He was later arrested in Israel for allegedly inciting violence but says he spent only a few weeks in custody because his mother was a U.S. citizen and he had a U.S. passport. He moved to the United States in 1978 at the age of 18. Calling himself a fundamentalist Christian, he devotes his speeches to warning about the danger of a radical Islamic movement that he believes is bent on ruling the world. He has written several books, including “Why I Left Jihad” and his most recent, “Why We Want to Kill You.” “These are patriotic American topics we are talking about — how to protect America from radical Islam,” says Shoebat, who openly supports Israel. “We saw the error of our ways. We want to waken America to the threat of radical Islam.” Saleem was also a member of the PLO, and ferried explosives from Lebanon into Israel before he was shot by Israeli security forces, Shoebat said. He later moved to the United States and converted to Christianity after Christian doctors saved his life from injuries suffered in a car accident. Anani was born in Lebanon, where he joined a militia at age 13 and killed 223 people during the fighting of the 1970s, according to the speakers’ website, He says he met a Christian missionary and abandoned Islam before moving to Canada. Critics have questioned his body count and said that even if true, that would mean he was a militia fighter or insurgent, not a terrorist. Shoebat said he has spoken at 50 universities over the years, as well as synagogues and churches, mostly without incident. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, his message became increasingly popular and the number of public appearances soared. Together, the speakers charge less than $10,000 for appearances, said a spokesman, Keith Davies. The views of Shoebat and his colleagues draw fire from some Muslims who say theirs is a peaceful religion and should not be blamed for extremist violence. Last year, Columbia University limited attendance to Shoebat’s lecture at the last minute, and Princeton canceled his appearance. At Stanford, where the appearance is sponsored in part by the Stanford College Republicans, spokeswoman Ray noted that the university, as a private institution, was not required to serve the broader public. “We have a lot of events that are not open to the community,” she said. *