The Official Student Newspaper of Calvin College Since 1907
November 9, 2007
Volume 102, Issue 11
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Alleged ex-PLO raises eyebrows

On Monday night, a lecture by a self-professed ex-terrorist drew both students and local community members to the Commons Lecture Hall, filling it to its full capacity.

Campus safety director Bill Corner estimated that between 50 and 100 people were turned away.

“The reason people were turned away was because we are not allowed to exceed what the fire code would allow,” said Corner. “In addition, the speaker’s security did not want people in the hallway blocking exits from the room and did not want pathways blocked in the room.”

The lecturer, who works and speaks under the alias Kamal Saleem for security reasons, was brought to campus through the efforts of Calvin College Republicans (CCR), Saleem having made the acquaintance of junior Paul Gehm, CCR vice-chair, this past summer.

Saleem is one of the biggest speakers CCR has brought to Calvin in several years.

The lecture began with a brief video titled “In the Red Chair,” which featured Saleem giving a brief account of his childhood, conversion and current message, topics he would expound upon during his lecture.

Bill Stevenson, political science professor and advisor to the CCR opened the night with prayer and introduced CCR president Jared Rispens, who welcomed the audience, thanked the event’s sponsors (CCR, the Paul Henry Institute, Pi Sigma Alpha honors society and the Political Science Department) and brought Gehm forward to introduce the speaker.

“His message is one of hope and redemption,” said Gehm. “He can be viewed as today’s Saul-to-Paul conversion.”

Saleem began his lecture by thanking Calvin College for inviting him and explaining his need for an alias.

“They’re not there to love on you,” said Saleem in reference to radical Muslims. “They’re there to take you out. For this reason many things are vague.”

Saleem told the story of his childhood, being raised in a radical Muslim home and by the age of seven joining the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and being trained to fight.

“It was every dream that I had to fight the infidel,” said Saleem. He said that he learned to identify America as the enemy, but as an enemy that needed help — needed to be reached out to.

He showed a second video clip: a montage of footage from unidentified areas in the Middle East in which children marched in parades with guns or were shown with weapons. The clip alleged that children from a young age in Islam are taught to consider martyrdom as the highest calling and claimed that these teaching are also prevalent in Western Islam as well.

“This was my childhood,” said Saleem at the end of the film. He described missions he had as a seven-year-old to bring weapons to Israel and how the death of a young friend, Muhammad on one such mission saved his life.

“I know Muhammad is in heaven,” said Saleem. “This message today is not a hate message; it’s a wake-up call — an educational call.”

In his narrative he told how he came to the states in the mid-70s to recruit people to “fight for Allah.” After a car crash he was hospitalized and treated by Dr. Steve, a Christian who took him into his home for his recovery.

“That day, Kamal was catch of the day,” said Saleem referring to the fishers-of-men attitude of his caretakers. “They loved me unconditionally; my mother’s love was not like this.”

Once back at home, despairing of relationship with Allah, he described how he was holding a gun to his head to commit suicide when he heard a voice telling him to pray to the God of father Abraham. After he had done so, Saleem said Jesus revealed himself to him and miraculously healed him upon Saleem’s decision to follow him as Lord.

“The Muslims must be brought home,” said Saleem as he neared the end of his lecture. He listed three steps that must be taken by Christians living in America: educate yourself about Islam, reach out to the Muslims and love.

“Wake up today, because if you don’t, tomorrow, it’s on your head,” said Saleem. “We must be the voice in the wilderness. May God bless the United States of America.”

Throughout his speech, Saleem quoted extensively from both the Qur’an and the Bible.

In the question and answer session following the speech, students and community members voiced skepticism and irritation towards Saleem’s message.

The first question came from a Muslim man who said he had lived in the United States for 29 years and had been married to a Christian woman for 28 years.

“Are you charging money for this?” he asked. He added that he had checked Saleem’s first two quotations from the Qur’an and they were incorrect.

Saleem answered that the money was none of his business.

“The truth is the truth,” said Saleem in reference to the allegations of incorrect quotations. “The truth shall set you free.”

The second question came from a Muslim physician.

“Your message is wrong,” he said. “Don’t tell these innocent people lies.”

Saleem responded by reminding the audience of the role physicians played in aiding and carrying out terrorist attacks in England.

A Calvin student referenced Saleem’s statement that his friend Mohammed was in heaven.

“Must Muslims convert to Christianity to be saved?” he asked.

In response, Saleem professed his belief that his friend was innocent and not yet to the age of accountability, and children under this age go to heaven, according to teachings in Christianity.

Another question came from a Muslim physician and the President of the Muslim Association. He asked what Saleem would advise Palestinians to do in their current situation.

Saleem claimed that Palestinians were given Jordan to live in, and that unfortunately, they were not trying to achieve peace and would not be happy until they had all the land.

Not only did Saleem’s lecture raise controversy Monday night, history professor Douglas Howard has raised questions as to the truth of Saleem’s story.

“The History Department was asked to help sponsor this speaker,” said Howard, “and so I looked into him a bit and saw some red flags. I advised the history department to decline to sponsor.”

The more Howard investigated the more concerned he grew.

“I went to the sponsors of the event and said ‘I think he’s a fraud, we should cancel,’” said Howard. “I presented the evidence I had, but they were not convinced. We have had a lot of crazy speakers here at Calvin, and that’s fine, but it was the fraudulent part that bothered me.”

As part of his evidence, Howard pointed to a small video clip on Saleem’s website for Koome ministries in which Saleem claims a member of his family was the mufti, the Grand Wazir of Islam.

“Wazir is a variation of vizier,” said Howard. “The Grand Vizier was a political role in the Ottoman empire. No Muslim would ever claim that in connection with the role of mufti, which is a scholar of Islamic texts. Its like someone saying they were the governor of Christianity.”

Gehm jumped to Saleem’s defense on this.

“Grand Wazir can be used as a synonym for mufti,” said Gehm. “That’s how he uses it on his website. You can do the research if you want.”

Also a matter of concern for Howard was two men with whom Saleem often appears in speaking engagements. The three together are known as the three ex-terrorists.

One of the men, Waleed Shoebat, had large portions of his personal story denied by Rev. Alex Awad, President of the Council of Evangelical Chruches in Palestine. In a letter answering allegations made by Shoebat, Awad shows problems with his timeline and his poor knowledge of the Christian leaders in Palestine.

“We urge God’s people everywhere not to jump on this sensational bandwagon,” said Awad. “Christians are called by God to prayerfully use the gift of discernment.”

“We think [Saleem] has concocted a similar story after converting to this fundamentalist Christianity,” said Howard.

Howard was joined at the lecture Monday night by his friend, Habeeb Awad, a Palestinian Christian who is the international student advisor at Hope College.

“I’m quite disappointed,” said Howard. “I had told a lot of people I would be speaking up and challenging this guy, but the question session ended before we were able to.”

Both Gehm and Rispens remain convinced of Saleem’s sincerity.

“We really don’t want to get into a debate,” said Gehm. “We’ve done our research and give Professor Howard’s accusations due diligence. There is no doubt in our minds that Mr. Saleem is who he says he is. We don’t want to create any more controversy.”

Howard also found irritating the manner Saleem presented his story.

“What we had was a tent meeting revival sermon sponsored by academic organizations here at Calvin College,” said Howard. “His personal story gives him credibility as an anti-Islamic preacher — but it is not verifiable and without it he’s no different from other fundamentalist preachers and there’s plenty of those out there.

“We’re going to keep working on this guy and also work with the local Muslim population — try to repair some of the damage. It’s my hope to bring in some of the professionals and leaders of the Islamic association ... maybe put together a panel that would be of interest to different academic groups on campus before the end of the semester.”

Rispens explained his original hope in bringing Saleem to Calvin was to facilitate discussion on campus.

“We wanted to raise discussion about how Christians should respond to the Muslim world,” said Rispens. “We need to respond; we need to understand. We wanted to raise awareness.”

He said he hopes to have further discussions on this topic at upcoming meetings for CCR.

“It was good that people were able to see both sides [Monday] night,” said Gehm. “The most important part of the lecture was the message Mr. Saleem left us with: you have a responsibility to dig deeper. I really hope students take that to heart.”

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