Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Convert stirring up controversy

Critic: Ex-terrorist's speech at Augustana will 'ignite Islamophobia'

Jon Walker • • September 21, 2008

A former Islamic terrorist appearing this week in Sioux Falls will discuss his former faith's contempt for Christianity and the United States in a time of world turmoil.

Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian, will speak Thursday at Augustana College.

"We're not attempting to stir up controversy. It's already there," said Mark Chase, president of the Siouxland Evangelical Association, a sponsor.

"He's going to share his story on how he went from being taught to hate and how now as a believer in Jesus Christ, he has a love for the Jews," Chase said. "But in it, he will expose the Islamic teachings and how they are taught to hate."

Mohamed Sharif, one of the founders of the Islamic Center in Sioux Falls, disputes Shoebat and wishes sponsors had sought out a more conciliatory messenger.

"I consider him an extremist," Sharif said. "Maybe they have a good intention, but they ignite Islamophobia that spread after 9-11. This will add fuel to the Islamophobic phenomenon."

Sharif said Islam has no agenda to undermine the United States nor teach hatred of Jews or Israel. "No, it recognizes Judaism as one of the great religions of the world," he said.

Also sponsoring Shoebat are LifeLight, Priority Associates, KNWC, the HopeLine and Campus Crusade for Christ.

A spokesman said Augustana has a long history of hosting speakers with diverse views. The college sponsors some. For others, it rents space.

The list includes Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and former Sen. James Abourezk, a frequent critic of Israel. Al Gore spoke at Augustana, as did the elder George Bush, Queen Noor, Rudy Giuliani, Mexico's Vicente Fox, Maya Angelou, Colin Powell, Mikhail Gorbachev, Newt Gingrich and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Reach reporter Jon Walker at 331-2206 or 800-530-6397.

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