Self-proclaimed former terrorists share histories at Miller Auditorium
By Koty Neelis
Two former terrorists, Walid Shoebat and Kamel Saleem, spoke to approximately 900 people of all ages and faiths at Miller Auditorium Tuesday night.
Shoebat and Saleem talked about their personal histories as former Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists and their life journeys that ultimately led them to convert to Christianity and speak out against extremist Islamic terrorism.
Helping American citizens gain an understanding and awareness as to why terrorism exists was the overall message of the night.
Both speakers discussed how their life was rooted in terrorism at a young age and were taught to believe killing Jews would eventually lead them to their creator.
Shoebat’s story started from his childhood in Jordan and Palestine.
“When I was growing up I heard the Arab community call for the destruction of Israel, for us to throw all Jews into the sea,” he said.
After entering the United States, Shoebat worked as a counselor for the Arab Student Organization in Chicago and continued his anti-Israel beliefs.
It wasn’t until the early 1990s when Shoebat realized everything he had been taught about the Jews was a lie. Events like the Holocaust were taught to him as a young child as being purely fictitious.
After that, Shoebat became an advocate of his former enemies and shed his previous life by speaking out to tens of thousands of people to teach them the reason terrorism exists and to speak out for the side of peace.
Saleem had a similar story.
“I want to take you with me on a journey,” he said. “My dad looked at me and said ‘never trust a Jew.’ My mother told me whatever you do in your life it will either count for you or against you. I knew from my childhood I needed to work for my heaven. My mom, she said, ‘if you kill a Jew your head will light up before the heavens.’ This is how my childhood started.”
Saleem spoke out passionately regarding the attacks of Sept. 11.
“When I look at the American flag I see the blood of the Americans who stand for this country,” Saleem said. “When 9/11 took place, America didn’t know what to do with it. They hit the snooze button. Americans like to drink. Americans like to sleep. It’s time to wake up.
“I learned from an early age to live for the cause. That is what I dreamt as a 6-year-old.
“What you are fighting against today has been brewing since our childhood.”
Audience reaction was mixed. Glenda Hill, 59, a Kalamazoo resident said, “their speeches were very moving and passionate. As a Christian woman I was unsure of how I would feel about these two former terrorists. I didn’t know what they would say. I didn’t know what to expect. They surprised me. I feel sorrow for these decent men who had to grow up believing killing another person would get them to heaven.”
Eighteen-year-old Ryan Purmell had a different opinion.
“What they’re saying tells a story and gives a human light on terrorism but I don’t know if their speeches will actually stop anything from happening to the country. I get why they were terrorists or why there is terrorism but I’m just not sure it means anything.”
Shoebat and Saleem continue to tour the country in hopes of getting their message out to not only students but to U.S. citizens in general.