×
Critics: Caner not only one with dubious past
Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service
June 23, 2010
5 MIN READ TIME

Critics: Caner not only one with dubious past

Critics: Caner not only one with dubious past
Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service
June 23, 2010

Liberty University is

expected to release a report this month on whether Ergun Caner, president of

the school’s Baptist Theological Seminary, fabricated or exaggerated his life

story as a former Muslim extremist rescued by Jesus.

Caner is no ordinary

ex-Muslim. His story has made him a favorite in conservative Christian circles,

and many credit the charismatic preacher with helping boost enrollment at the

school founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

At the same time, Caner has

become the poster boy for critics who say he’s just the latest charlatan in a

line of supposedly ex-Muslim terrorists who have found an audience among

Christian fundamentalists seeking to attack Islam.

Most worrisome, the critics

say, is that the self-styled former terrorists have been welcomed as “experts”

on Islam and terrorism by religious institutions, universities, media outlets,

members of Congress and even the military.

“These guys are to real

terrorists what a squirt gun is to an AK-47,” said Mikey Weinstein, president

of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who has battled claims of

religious discrimination at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs,

Colo.

“But this is not a joke.

This is a national security threat.”

Caner, 43, has repeatedly

claimed to have been raised as a Muslim extremist in Turkey, but moved to Ohio

as a teenager in 1978, and converted to Christianity. “Until I was 15 years

old, I was in the Islamic youth jihad,” he said in a November 2001 sermon at

the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. “I was trained to do that which

was done on 11 September, as were thousands of youth.”

In 2002, he wrote Inside

Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs, with his brother Emir,

the president of Truett-McConnell College, a Baptist school in Cleveland, Ga.

In recent months, however,

skeptical bloggers, such as London-based Mohammad Khan of FakeExMuslims.com,

and Oklahoma-based Debbie Kaufman of the Ministry of Reconciliation blog, began

unearthing documents and statements by Caner contradicting his own claims.

The Caner brothers’ own

book, for example, states they were born in Sweden, not Turkey, and spent most

of their time with their non-Muslim mother, not their Muslim father, after the

parents divorced in the U.S.

Records indicate the family

arrived in the U.S. in 1974, four years earlier than Ergun Caner has claimed.

So far, Caner and Liberty

officials have declined comment.

Chancellor Jerry Falwell

Jr., in a terse May 10 statement, said only that “in light of the fact that

several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a

formal inquiry.”

Other

terrorists-turned-Christians have invited scrutiny as well, including U.S.

citizens Walid Shoebat, author of Why We Want To Kill You, and Kamal Saleem,

who has worked for Focus on the Family, and recently wrote, The Blood of

Lambs. Like Caner’s book, their books purport to be insider explorations of

radical Islam.

Shoebat, who has said “Islam

is the devil,” claims to have been recruited by the Palestine Liberation

Organization as a teenager. In 1977, he has said, he threw a bomb on the roof

of the Bethlehem branch of an Israeli bank. The bank, however, has no record of

the incident, which was never reported by Israeli news outlets.

When asked by The Jerusalem

Post in 2008 why there were no records, Shoebat surmised that the incident was

not serious enough to merit news coverage. Yet four years earlier, he told

Britain’s Sunday Telegraph: “I was terribly relieved when I heard on the news

later that evening that no one had been hurt or killed by my bomb.”

On his web site, Saleem

claims to have carried out terror missions in Israel, fought with Afghan

Mujahedeen against the Soviets, and came to the U.S. hoping to wage jihad

against America. He also once claimed on the site that he was descended from

the “grand wazir of Islam,” until skeptics pointed out that it was a

nonsensical term, akin to calling someone the “governor of Christianity.”

Skeptics point out that

Shoebat and Saleem claim to have carried out their terrorist activities in the

1960s and 1970s, long before modern Islamic radicalism emerged in the 1980s.

They also question why, if their terror claims are true, they’ve been able to

retain their U.S.

citizenship.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman

for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Caner, Shoebat, Saleem and

others like them belong to an “industry” that is often perpetuated by

fundamentalist Christians.

“The people that are doing

this do it to make money, or get converts, or to get some personal benefit,”

Hooper said.

Muslims and non-Muslims

alike are troubled that these alleged former terrorists have been welcomed as

experts. They have appeared on CNN and Fox News and spoken at Harvard Law

School. In 2008, they were featured speakers at a terrorism conference

sponsored by the U.S. Air Force Academy, the findings of which were to be

distributed across the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.

With the U.S. engaged in

active combat in the heart of the Islamic world, Weinstein believes Christian

fundamentalists in the U.S. military are actively promoting

terrorists-turned-Christians — with potentially deadly consequences.

“These guys are spewing

Islamophobic hatred, and the Pentagon laps it up. This is the kind of prejudice

and bigotry that can lead to genocide,” said Weinstein.

Despite the evidence against

them, Hooper believes these people will continue to be welcomed by some

institutions because they preach what some audiences want to hear.

“As long as you attack Islam

and demonize Muslims, you’re going to get a platform,” he said. “It doesn’t

matter if your facts and background are wrong.”