Kamal Saleem Lecture in Midland Prompts Scrutiny

From the Midland Daily News (Michigan) in September:

Self-described “former terrorist” Kamal Saleem will be speaking in Midland on Sunday and Monday as part of an effort to “wake America” to the threat of radical Islam in the United States, an organizer of the event says.

“This man has a unique perspective on things,” said Midland resident Rebecca Smith, a member of Citizens Concerned for Our Nation, the group sponsoring Saleem’s talks at 2 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday at the Midland Center for the Arts.

Saleem is one of several US immigrants of middle eastern background who now make a living from visiting churches and conservative groups with lurid tales of their Muslim pasts – last November, Saleem and his associate Walid Shoebat joined Robert Spencer and Gen “Jerry” Boykin at an anti-Islam “Fort Hood Memorial” event, and Saleem and Boykin also spoke at an event organised by the Oak Initiative, a neo-Pentecostal Christian Right organisation led by Rick Joyner.

However, as with Shoebat, Saleem’s back-story has been challenged:

Saleem’s account of his life has been challenged by Douglas Howard, a professor of history at Calvin College. Howard, via e-mail, pointed to an article he wrote last year about Saleem’s book, “The Blood of Lambs.”

In that article in the Christian literary review Books & Culture, Howard questioned Saleem’s claims that “in my family was the Grand Wazir of Islam.” Howard wrote, “The term is ridiculous, a spurious title meant to mislead the innocent with an aura of authenticity.” In that review, Howard also said he saw “no reason to withdraw” an earlier assessment that Saleem is a “fraud.”

Howard’s review can be seen here. Books & Culture is published by Christianity Today, and Calvin College identifies with the Reformed tradition of Protestanism: this undercuts the usual response when doubts are raised about the likes of Saleem or Shoebat, which is to claim that critics must be left-wing extremists or pro-Islamists.

A certain Shakil Saghir has posted a critical review of Saleem’s presentation at Midland; Saghir challenges both Saleem’s statements about Islam and his purported personal narrative:

And before I end, I would like to write summary of my research on Kamal Saleem. He was born in 1957 and according to his claim, he was recruited by the PLO in Beirut, Lebanon when he was 7 years old, that would be 1964 or 1965. This cannot be true as the PLO was founded on May 28, 1964 in the West Bank and had its first armed wing in Southern Lebanon in 1969 and was not deployed to Beirut until the mid 1970s. His claim that he was a member of both the PLO (a socialist organization with Christians as members [e.g., Hanan Ashravi, George Habash]) and the Muslim Brotherhood (an arch rival of the PLO) and that he met Yasir Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi, Hafiz Al-Asad and Saddam Husain is ridiculous.

Saghir also draws attention to what purport to be statements by Saleem’s nephew, Mohammed Itani, that further debunk his story. The only source I can find for this is two reader comments posted to a blogpost here:

Kamal Saleem is my uncle his real name is Khodor Kamal Al Shami his daughter name is Sara and he is a liar and all the stories about his past is completely fake.I have all legal papers from the Lebanese government that prove my words. he had never entered the Islamic Brotherhood , he was a soufi with Rajabiya . Islamic Brotherhood in lebanon has different name.He used to work with my dad. A guy called Mr. Stockmann helped him to travel to the USA. His old girlfriend name is Juan .She used to sleep at my grandpa’s house but they never tortured her :) . His Father Haj Kamal was a blacksmith that used to work with christian people in Downtown Beirut. All Christians in the old market place know his father as a friend and they used to visit him until his death. His older brother married a christian woman called Madlen Khoury.

Rebecca Smith of Citizens Concerned for Our Nation has responded to the criticisms:

…Citizens Concerned for Our Nation has thoroughly looked at Professor Howard’s review of Kamal Saleem’s memoir, “The Blood of Lambs,” and its members have determined this review to be biased, for whatever reasons we cannot know.

I, personally, have spoken at length with Victoria Saleem, Kamal’s wife, and she has been very helpful and forthcoming with answers to our questions. She also provided contact information for several persons whom they have known for many years. I have had e-mail correspondence with Philis Boultinghouse, senior editor of Howard Books of Simon and Schuster. I have spoken with Lee Hough, literary agent for Lynn Vincent, who co-authored Kamal’s book, “The Blood of Lambs.” I have spoken with Marilyn Cummings, executive secretary to Pastor Mark Cowart, who was Kamal and Victoria’s pastor and is on the Board of Koome Ministries. I have spoken with Pastor Wayne Pendleton, who is also on this board. Every person whom I have contacted holds Kamal Saleem in high regard. With regard to Kamal’s book, nothing has caused Lynn Vincent, Lee Hough or Simon and Schuster to retract the book or any part of it. Lynn Vincent is an investigative journalist in addition to being a writer. Kamal’s story was vetted very carefully. Lynn Vincent also co-authored “Heaven is for Real” with Todd Burpo, and “Never Surrender” with Gen. Jerry Boykin…

In other words, various persons who have a vested interest in Saleem not being debunked are keen for him not to be debunked. The reference to Heaven is for Real as evidence that Kamal’s story has been “vetted very carefully” is particularly risible: the book consists of a little boy’s memories of a near-death experience, which involved a journey to heaven where he encountered dead relatives, the throne room where God the Father sits with Jesus and Gabriel on either side, John the Baptist,  various winged creatures, and Jesus’ “rainbow horse”. II Corinthians 12:2 pales in comparison. Vincent is indeed a journalist (for World magazine), but her work for Burpo, Boykin, and Saleem was as a ghost writer (another of her clients is Sarah Palin).

Pastor Mark Cowart, meanwhile, has featured on this blog previously, when he was named as one of Ted Haggard’s post-scandal counselors. I noted that back in 1999 Cowart had organised a children’s service which involved the mutilation and destruction (with “a blowtorch” and “a 30-inch sword”) of Pokemon dolls, which Cowart had decided were demonic.

Further details about Citizens Concerned for Our Nation have been provided to the Midland Daily News by one of its members, Tina Yoder:

In the early spring of 2010, a concerned parent from Midland Christian School was deeply concerned and burdened for the state of our nation. She felt in her heart that she should call together like-minded people from Midland and surrounding communities to gather for 40 days to pray for our country before the August 2010 primary elections. The Midland Daily News printed an article that invited all people with the same concerns to come together at the Midland County Courthouse on Main Street to pray an hour a day for 40 consecutive days, weekdays from 11 :30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and weekends from 1-2 p.m.

…As the 40 days drew to a close, a small number of us average American citizens felt called to continue this prayer vigil and a new target date of Aug. 28, 2010 was set. …Sept. 17, 2011 will mark 17 consecutive months that we have come together daily to pray. Winter cold, ice and snow and summer heat and rain have not deterred the group from meeting every day in the front of the courthouse.