Private universities hold closed lectures and debates all the time; it fosters frankness. But there are some debates which should be aired far and wide. Tonight’s talk by three ex-terrorists at Stanford University is one of them. But Stanford has barred the media and the general public. That makes the exclusive California university one of too many top-tier schools to decline full exposure for Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorist-turned-Christian convert whose unusual, tortuous story should be widely publicized. Airing out a dramatic story with relevance to the ideology of terrorism is better than bottling it up.
The school cites security risks, following Princeton’s cancellation of a scheduled 2005 Shoebat appearance as “too inflammatory” and Columbia’s decision to bar the public at the last minute from an appearance on its campus in New York City last October. The two additional ex-terrorists slated to appear tonight at Stanford are the Lebanese-born ex-Fatah member Kamal Saleem and the ex-militant Zak Anani, also Lebanese. Both men are also converts to Christianity in their adulthood.
Here’s a flavor of what Mr. Shoebat purveys. “The hope of the future is to destroy terrorism, and you have to destroy the theology behind terrorism just like you destroyed Nazi Germany,” he told a reporter last year. The best known of the small but increasingly vocal number of recanted Middle Eastern terrorists making the rounds of the U.S. and foreign media right now, his life story zigzags recent Middle Eastern history. He joined the PLO as a young man, participated in terrorist attacks against Israel and was arrested and jailed in the “Russian Compound.” He then began a remarkable transformation against radical Islamist terrorism which included a conversion to Christianity. Appearances the last three years include FOX, CNN, the BBC, newspaper interviews and various religious institutions.
Security is necessarily tight for such appearances and venues can change at the last minute for obvious reasons. We certainly understand the need to ensure safety for controversial guests and their audiences. But it’s all worth the effort — there would be no other explanation for the continued trouble so many institutions take to host Shoebat. In fact, we’re not sure what Stanford is so worried about. If churches and temples with minimal experience hosting controversial guests can handle Mr. Shoebat without major incident, then certainly a major university should be able to, also.
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