Moderator to last night’s Walid Shoebat lecture, Professor Robert Rauchhaus, opened the presentation by urging audience members to respect the speaker’s freedom of speech and refrain from disrupting open discourse.
But when he opened the floor for questions, neither audience members nor the speaker followed the directions exactly.
With dozens of students waiting outside but unable to claim a seat in the overflowing Corwin Pavilion, self-proclaimed former Palestine Liberation Organization terrorist Shoebat spoke to those who were admitted about his induction into the world of terrorism and subsequent reform.
The reactions of the several hundred attendees ranged from supportive to visibly shaken by what they called Islamophobic rhetoric, an accusation Shoebat denied and said misinterpreted his message. Shoebat and several audience members entered into what at times was a shouting match over this point. Conversation about the speech – as well as Israeli-Arab relations – continued amongst audience members for at least two hours after the lecture outside the pavilion.
Throughout his speech, Shoebat described his past as a PLO terrorist prior to his conversion to Christianity, a religion he found while living in the United States.
After studying Judaism and Christianity, and beginning to “think critically” of fundamentalist Islam and Middle Eastern society, he said he renounced such actions and decided to preach against jihadism.
“Your country doesn’t get what is going on with terrorism,” Shoebat said of the U.S. “There are people pulling out the bloody stomachs and kidneys [of Jews] and holding them above their heads while children euphorically chant ‘Praise Allah!’ … I look at my country and ask ‘what is going on?’ It is part of the system, a cold-blooded process of indoctrinating the masses to view death as a victory.”
According to Shoebat, Americans mistakenly associate terrorist activity with small extremist sectors and organizations, when in reality terror could be more widespread.
“Americans think terror exists in organizations; they don’t understand terror can be a state, that we can have more than one Nazi Germany and this time they can have nuclear weapons.” Shoebat said.
Like many audience members, Santa Barbara Hillel Rabbi Allison Conyer – who spoke during the question-and-answer segment – said she was disturbed with the generalizations and dividing message Shoebat delivered.
“As a Jew and a Rabbi, I get upset when I hear people criticize Israel, Islam or Muslims without mentioning facts,” Conyer said. “We all know about terror and the bad stuff that occurs, but I want to know how we can unite.”