Viewpoint: They were terrorists

BY RADHIKA UPADHYAYA

Published February 2, 2007

How often does a girl like me get the opportunity to mingle with ex-terrorists? Not often. This is precisely why I was so excited to hear the three ex-terrorists who came to speak at Rackham Auditorium on Tuesday.

I came at least a half hour early to the presentation, and I was only half surprised to see a group of protesters standing outside. Their signs had phrases like "Zionism is Racism." On my way in, I received a handout discrediting the speakers as "Israeli propagandists" and another yellow handout advertising a walkout. I was sure the protesters had some merit in whatever they were trying to do, but at this point, I was just eager to get in.

The function began with an introduction by Ryan Fantuzzi, the vice president of the University's chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom. He informed the crowd that he was aware that "members of far left, Arab and Muslim organizations" were present to stage a walkout and Fantuzzi requested they kindly disrupt the presentation early on so that the rest of the audience would be able to peacefully enjoy the remainder.

Fantuzzi then claimed that the protesters were wearing the color yellow as the color yellow is associated with Hezbollah. Somewhere between the boos of the crowd, the shock of the Hezbollah comment and the cheers from a small man wearing an American flag as a cape, I suddenly became extremely uncomfortable and aware of the hostility suffocating the room.

After a few moments, Fantuzzi had thankfully left the stage and the first speaker, Kamal Saleem, began to speak. Saleem was an overly confident middle-aged man who boasted of the danger he endured as a 7-year-old terrorist. His stories were actually pretty interesting until he started to explain how his Islamic background bred him with the hatred to kill infidels like Americans, Jews and Christians. I was having difficulty hearing his complete explanations due to the heckling from the back. Sure, Saleem was offensive, but I was annoyed that the speaker had to strain so much to spit out a few words over the rude interruptions.

As Zachariah Anani, the second speaker, was about to share his story about why he rejected the Quran, the protesters walked out. The idea of a walkout at such a significant event seemed kind of disrespectful to me at first, but for the most part, their silent walkout actually appeared pretty sophisticated. There were, of course, a few obnoxious hecklers who made the exit seem a little less graceful, but all in all it was a successful statement made by the departure of about a third of the audience. As the protesters departed, the third speaker, Walid Shoebat, announced in a disgustingly patronizing tone that American Idol would be starting in 20 minutes.

I cringed at his comment, but that was only the start of Shoebat's theatrical antics. Shoebat loved belittling the protestors. He challenged them with comments like "You know I would love to debate you and squish you like a worm" and "You're chickenshit." What was worse, though, was how the crowd just ate it up.

The audience broke out into thunderous applause and gleeful uproar anytime a protestor was verbally attacked. I swear that when one heckler had to be escorted out of the auditorium, the ground shook like it does in the Big House.

I have to give Shoebat credit, though, for being such a crowd-pleaser. He too began his speech with anecdotes about being a Muslim with dreams of bringing skulls of his Jewish and Christian victims to the gates of heaven. To demonstrate his reform, he began acting as a devout evangelist on stage. He denounced Middle Eastern culture while singing praises of Western ideals. The crowd loved him for letting Jesus and America save him from the dark side.

By this time, I was tired of all the preaching and Islam-bashing. Kudos to another offensive hit Shoebat made, however, when he mentioned a "Hindu Sikh" in one of his stories. Perhaps the saved ex-terrorist forgot Hinduism and Sikhism were different religions.

All in all, the presentation was disappointing because Saleem, Anani and Shoebat have so much potential to enlighten audiences with experiences from their past and their personal views of the world. Instead, the speakers just stood there kissing American butt and making broad offensive generalizations. The poor guys felt like puppets of the Islam faith and terrorism, but I guess they didn't realize they were puppets for YAF, too.

Radhika Upadhyaya is an LSA freshman.