WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (IPS) - The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs came under heavy criticism earlier this month from Muslim and religious freedom advocacy groups after it invited to a conference three self-professed "former terrorists" with strong links to the Christian right.
Collectively known as the "3-X Terrorists", Walid Shoebat, Kamel Saleem and Zacharia Anani are front line soldiers in the U.S. "culture wars", a discursive battle over "values" and hot-button issues ranging from abortion to radical Islam.
To critics, they are frauds, accused of fabricating much of their past exploits as mass murderers in order to peddle their Islamophobia on the lecture circuit and on cable news networks, including Fox News Corp. and CNN.
The relationship between the evangelical Christian Right and 3-X runs deep, with connections to Reverend John Hagee's Christian-Zionist Christians United for Israel (CUFI), as well as Focus on the Family, part of the para-church organisations that promote social conservative public policy in the U.S., and have maintained close relations with the George W. Bush administration.
Shoebat says claims to be a former Palestinian Liberation Organisation operative who attacked Jews, planted bombs in Israel, and in 1993 converted to Christianity. He released a book in 2007 entitled "Why We Want to Kill You", and appeared in a purported documentary film called "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West."
The film was marketed in part by self-described "pro-Israel" groups, and featured interviews with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, dubious "investigative journalist" Steve Emerson, Itimar Marcus of the Israel-based Palestinian Media Watch, and Daniel Pipes, a controversial scholar of medieval Islamic history whose website campuswatch.com sparked criticism in 2002 for its alleged McCarthyesque attacks on Middle East studies professors.
Shoebat has received the support of other neo-conservative pundits too. His website features a quote from Frank Gaffney, of the Centre for Security Policy: "In the 25 years I have been in Washington I have never heard anything so extraordinary and the truth so eloquently told by someone like this [Walid Shoebat]."
In the summer of 2006, Shoebat also spoke at the "Night to Honour Israel", a three-day event presented by Pastor Hagee's CUFI, which aims to mobilise Christian Zionists as a political force, according to the San Antonio Express.
Shoebat, Saleem, and Anani are also slated to appear on a panel of ex-terrorists at the CUFI Washington convention in March. Other notable speakers include independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, Pipes, Gaffney, and Clifford May, president of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies.
Anani claims he has killed at least 223 people as a Lebanese militant during the early 1970s and was "almost beheaded" for converting to Christianity. A 2007 report in the Canadian Windsor Star cast doubts on his jihadi past; according to Tom Quiggin, a Canadian court-qualified expert of global jihadism, some of Anani's accounts did not correspond with actual historical events.
"Mr. Anani is not an individual who rates the slightest degree of credibility, based on the stories that he has told," said Quiggin, a senior fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security in Singapore.