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Tuesday, July 17 2018 @ 09:47 AM EDT

Muslims Protest Air Force Academy Guests

Associated Press

DENVER - A Muslim advocacy group is decrying the U.S. Air Force Academy's decision to invite three self-described former terrorists who the group said slam Islam with "hate-filled" rhetoric.

The D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said one of the speakers, Walid Shoebat, has said that "Islam is the devil."

Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani are scheduled to speak Wednesday at the 50th Annual Academy Assembly in Colorado Springs, where the topic of the four-day event is "Dismantling Terrorism."
Shoebat has published an online autobiography describing his journey from membership in the Palestine Liberation Organization to Israeli sympathizer. Saleem also is a former member of the PLO, and Zak Anani describes himself as a former member of several Lebanese terrorist groups. The three appear together regularly.

Maj. Brett Ashworth, an Air Force Academy spokesman, defended the decision, saying the purpose of the event is "to educate future officers and delegates from 50 colleges on the ideology and methodology of terrorists" and the three men could provide valuable insight.

But Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, said the men also denounce the Muslim faith.

"Islam is the devil? I mean c'mon!" Hooper said. "And these people are going to talk as experts to cadets who may possibly serve in parts of the Muslim world?"

Saleem, who said he quit the PLO in 1985 after converting to Christianity, said in a telephone interview there are always people who disagree with his views about Islam.

Others, he said, tell him, "Thank you for enlightening us."

Hooper said the three speakers have triggered protests at speaking engagements throughout the country, and he told Air Force academy officials that inviting the men to speak about terrorism would be like "inviting David Duke to speak about race relations."

He said CAIR offered to connect the Air Force with Muslims in Colorado who also could speak at the event to balance the discussion. However, he said he was told the topic was terrorism, not religion.

"The academy assembly has nothing to do with religion or evangelical Christianity for that matter," Ashworth said. "This is not going to be a discussion on Islam. It's a discussion on terrorism."

Religion has been a sensitive topic at the Air Force Academy in the past. A group of cadet graduates had claimed the academy violated their rights, saying evangelical Christian values were forced onto them. They filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed in 2006 after a judge said they couldn't claim their rights were violated because they no longer attended the academy.

An Air Force task force also concluded there was no religious discrimination at the Academy but noted some cadets and staff were insensitive. In February 2006, the Air Force adopted new guidelines cautioning top officers about promoting their religious views.

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