Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani are the three stooges of the Christian right. These self-described former Muslim terrorists are regularly trotted out at Christian colleges-a few days ago they were at the Air Force Academy-to spew racist filth about Islam on behalf of groups such as Focus on the Family. It is a clever tactic. Curly, Larry and Mo, who all say they are born-again Christians, engage in hate speech and assure us it comes from personal experience. They tell their audiences that the only way to deal with one-fifth of the world's population is by converting or eradicating all Muslims. Their cant is broadcast regularly on Fox News, including the Bill O'Reilly and Neil Cavuto shows, as well as on numerous Christian radio and television programs. Shoebat, who has written a book called "Why We Want to Kill You," promises in his lectures to explain the numerous similarities between radical Muslims and the Nazis, how "Muslim terrorists" invaded America 30 years ago and how "perseverance, recruitment and hate" have fueled attacks by Muslims.
These men are frauds, but this is not the point. They are part of a dark and frightening war by the Christian right against tolerance that, in the moment of another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would make it acceptable to target and persecute all Muslims, including the some 6 million Muslims who live in the United States. These men stoke these irrational fears. They defend the perpetual war unleashed by the Bush administration and championed by Sen. John McCain. McCain frequently reminds listeners that "the greatest danger facing the world is Islamic terrorism," as does Mike Huckabee, who says that "Islamofascism" is "the greatest threat this country [has] ever faced." George W. Bush has, in the same vein, assured Americans that terrorists hate us for our freedoms, not, of course, for anything we have done. Bush described the "war on terror" as a war against totalitarian Islamofascism while the Israeli air force was dropping tens of thousands of pounds of iron fragmentation bombs up and down Lebanon, an air campaign that killed 1,300 Lebanese civilians.
The three men tell lurid tales of being recruited as children into Palestinian terrorist organizations, murdering hundreds of civilians and blowing up a bank in Israel. Saleem says that as a child he infiltrated Israel to plant bombs via a network of tunnels underneath the Golan Heights, although no incident of this type was ever reported in Israel. He claims he is descended from the "grand wazir" of Islam, a title and a position that do not exist in the Arab world. They assure audiences that the Palestinians are interested not in a peaceful two-state solution but rather the destruction of Israel, the murder of all Jews and the death of America. Shoebat claims he first came to the United States as part of an extremist "sleeper cell."
"These three jokers are as much former Islamic terrorists as 'Star Trek's' Capt. James T. Kirk was a real Starship captain," said Mikey Weinstein, the head of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The group has challenged Christian proselytizing in the military and denounced the visit by the men to the Air Force Academy.
The speakers include in their talks the superior virtues of Christianity. Saleem, for example, says his world "turned upside down when he was seriously injured in an automobile accident."
"A Christian man tended to Kamal at the accident scene, making sure he got the medical treatment he needed," his Web site says. "Kamal's orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist were also Christian men whom over a period of several months ministered the unconditional love of Jesus Christ to him as he recovered. The love and sacrificial giving of these men caused Kamal to cry out to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob acknowledging his need for the Savior. Kamal has since become a man on a new mission, as an ambassador for the one true and living God, the great I Am, Jehovah God of the Bible."
This creeping Christian chauvinism has infected our political and social discourse. It was behind the rumor that Barack Obama was a Muslim. Obama reassured followers that he was a Christian. It apparently did not occur to him, or his questioners, that the proper answer is that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim, that persons of great moral probity and courage arise in all cultures and all religions, including Islam. Christians have no exclusive lock on virtue. But this kind of understanding often provokes indignant rage.
The public denigration of Islam, and by implication all religious belief systems outside Christianity, is part of the triumphalism that has distorted the country since the 9/11 attacks. It makes dialogue with those outside our "Christian" culture impossible. It implicitly condemns all who do not think as we think and believe as we believe as, at best, inferior and usually morally depraved. It blinds us to our own failings. It makes self-reflection and self-criticism a form of treason. It reduces the world to a cartoonish vision of us and them, good and evil. It turns us into children with bombs.
These three con artists are not the problem. There is enough scum out there to take their place. Rather, they offer a window into a worldview that is destroying the United States. It has corrupted the Republican Party. It has colored the news media. It has entered into the everyday clichÃƒ©s we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. It is ignorant and racist, but it is also deadly. It grossly perverts the Christian religion. It asks us to kill to purify the Earth. It leaves us threatened not only by the terrorists who may come from abroad but the ones who are rising from within our midst.
Chris Hedges, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, is the author of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America."