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The Forrest Gump of the Middle East
September 14, 2012 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Who's the most interesting speaker at this year's Values Voter Summit? It's almost certainly "former terrorist" Kamal Saleem, who claims to have smuggled weapons in to the United States and carried out missions for the likes of Yasser Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi, and Saddam Hussein before finding Christ and founding his ministry. He's appeared on The 700 Club, spoken at the Air Force Academy, and written a memoir, but Kamal might not have the history he claims to

(From the above Mother Jones article)
Over the last five years, Saleem's tale of terror and redemption has made him a minor celebrity among Christian conservatives. Part national-security wonk, part evangelist, he is one of a handful of self-described "ex-terrorists" who have emerged in the post-9/11 era to share their experiences.
Tales of Terror Don't Jibe
Middle East and religious scholars have long said many of Saleem’s historical references and understanding of militant Islam simply don’t add up.

So, if he sounds to you like an odd choice for an interfaith event, congratulations! You have more common sense than the committee that chose him and the mayor who declined to press for a new speaker.

It takes little digging to see he’s been accused of being a fraud for years. And it’s not due to anti-Christian sentiment or political correctness, as Saleem’s supporters contend.

You want daffy? He was quoted this summer telling a tea party gathering that President Barack Obama is covertly turning the nation to Islamic law.
Kamal Saleem’s ‘Ex-terrorist’ Story Does Not Add Up
For starters as author Chris Hedges points out, there is no such title as the “Grand Wazir of Islam.” Saleem’s “Grand Wazir” lineage claim is also bizarre due to the fact that the adjective “grand” would not be used in front of the term wazir (advisor) to begin with.
On Twitter, Michelle Goldberg is covering Saleem's speech. Currently: Saleem says OIC is working with HRC on a bill that would shut down all American churches and synagogues.
posted by 0xFCAF (64 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Who's Who at the Values Voter Summit 2012
posted by homunculus at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's like a mirror-universe Mike Warnke.
posted by JHarris at 2:45 PM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


(More accurately, a differently-flavored Mike Warnke.)
posted by JHarris at 2:45 PM on September 14, 2012


Dude sure knows his audience.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:46 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ha ha ha, you can't con an honest person. They could give a shit that this guy's story is an obvious farrago of lies, because it matches the line of snake oil they're selling. See also: Ahmed Chalabi.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:48 PM on September 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


The "values" espoused at the Values Voter Summit:
Women must “embrace MODESTY in dress and behavior,” one of the handouts read. Women dressed immodestly in church are “an insult to a holy God,” another said.
posted by kmz at 2:49 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


On Twitter, Michelle Goldberg is covering Saleem's speech.

Goldberg also wrote this today:

In Values Voter Speech, Ryan Defies Campaign Messaging on Abortion: The Romney campaign likes to say the election is all about the economy. Ryan, blasting Obama on social issues at the Value Voters summit, didn’t get the memo.
posted by homunculus at 2:49 PM on September 14, 2012


Women must “embrace MODESTY in dress and behavior,” one of the handouts read. Women dressed immodestly in church are “an insult to a holy God,” another said.

It's getting hard to tell these competing religions apart now.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on September 14, 2012 [32 favorites]


> “My men’s bible study group talks frequently about controlling our lust, thoughts, and eyes. Yes the problem and responsibility are ours, but is it really reasonable for the women of the church to make it THIS difficult for us?”

Sounds like church has gotten sexier since I stopped going.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:54 PM on September 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


Women must “embrace MODESTY in dress and behavior,” one of the handouts read.

"What a lovely see-thru mini-dress!"

"What, this old thing?"

GOD APPEASED

(Though I suspect that by MODESTY they really mean SHAME. That's weird of them.)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:59 PM on September 14, 2012 [41 favorites]


Sounds like church has gotten sexier since I stopped going.

It's the guitars and the lyrics on powerpoint. Go back to the stoic hymns sung to the traditional organ, and no one really smiles.

Church: it's serious business, and not at all sexy.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:00 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's getting hard to tell these competing religions apart now.

Modesty has been a big thing in some Christian churches for awhile now, as far as I can tell for pretty much the same reason as it is a big thing in non-Christian churches. Only it turns out the definition of "modest" is culturally relative (but don't say that to someone at the Values Summit!)
posted by muddgirl at 3:03 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Moammar Gadhafi, and Saddam Hussein

Is he Dinald Rumsfeld?
posted by Artw at 3:12 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kamal Saleem
Founder, Koome Ministries; Author, Former Terrorist


This shit is cracking me up. A. Why isn't there an ex-terrorist Christian movement that turns out to be a great place to form a terror cell? "I thought I was out but then at the New Jerusalem meeting Omar tempted me with his big beautiful jihad!" B. LOL.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:20 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


According to Saleem, Roe v. Wade is part of a plot to “bring Sharia law liberally in our face” and that U.S. currency in some parts of the country now reads “In Allah We Trust.”

Checks bills in wallet...NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
posted by perhapses at 3:26 PM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


So... If an actual totally crazy person went up there and started making stuff up entirely, would the Values Voters have any way of knowing? Would they care?
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


Wait, how could Roe v. Wade be a plot to bring sharia law to the US? Pre-19th century Christian thought had much the same timeline for "quickening" as does sharia law.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:30 PM on September 14, 2012


Make fun all you want but you know that they have the most delicious kool-aid ever.
posted by Talanvor at 3:30 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Artw: The phrase "distinction without a difference" leaps to mind.
posted by Atom Eyes at 3:31 PM on September 14, 2012


Women must “embrace MODESTY in dress and behavior,” one of the handouts read. Women dressed immodestly in church are “an insult to a holy God,” another said.

So...The Values Voter Summit is embracing Sharia Law?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:38 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


On "you can't con an honest man," above, you certainly can con an honest person. That's not to say the people Saleem bilked are honest, just that it isn't itself proof of dishonesty.
posted by JHarris at 3:38 PM on September 14, 2012


"I'd like to thank the organizing committee for inviting me to speak. As a former vampire and minion of Satan, I personally know how important your task is, as well as the magnitude of the evil forces you are fighting. I was once part of those evil forces until the day, when I was eating the remains of one of my innocent victims, I happened upon a small book in that person's front shirt pocket. And do you know what that book was, my friends? I'm sure you do, and I'm sure you're all very familiar with it. I wouldn't be here tonight if it weren't for Stephanie Meyer."
posted by perhapses at 3:41 PM on September 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


I just posted this in another thread, but in light of some of the wilder claims made by Saleem, I think it bears repeating here:

False Witnesses, Fred Clark, Slacktivist, 8 September, 2008
In my past life as an evangelical for social action, I had a much-photocopied dossier in my desk drawer from the Procter & Gamble corporation. This surreal document was the company’s sadly necessary response to the urban legend that the manufacturer of Tide, Crest and Dawn was some kind of satanic cult.

Briefly, the idea was that the CEO of P&G had at some vague point in the recent past appeared on some talk show — Phil Donahue, or Sally Jesse, or Oprah, the story mutated and adapted over time — and declared that he was a Satanist and that a portion of the company’s profits were donated regularly to the Church of Satan. (If you’re not familiar with it, Snopes has a good rundown of the history of this sordid, stupid lie.)

[…]

But in any case, no one is stupid enough to really believe such a story. The coworkers or relatives who fill your inbox with urban legends and hoaxes may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but none of them is stupid enough to believe this. And neither are those people who claim that they do believe it.
v.q. False Witnesses 2, Fred Clark, Slacktivist, 8 October, 2008
posted by ob1quixote at 3:42 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Grand. Wazir.

This is what happens when your sum total knowledge of the rest of the world comes from Disney musicals.
posted by The Whelk at 3:52 PM on September 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


none of them is stupid enough to believe this. And neither are those people who claim that they do believe it

Is there a line, then, that defines what some people are stupid enough to believe? Obama is a secret Muslim? Young Earth Creationism? Is there a When Harry Met Sally test to know when they are faking it?
posted by perhapses at 3:52 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


But in any case, no one is stupid enough to really believe such a story. The coworkers or relatives who fill your inbox with urban legends and hoaxes may not be the sharpest tools in the shed, but none of them is stupid enough to believe this. And neither are those people who claim that they do believe it.

As someone raised in right-wing evangelicalism (now agnostic/atheist), I assure you, there are plenty of people who will believe any number of ridiculous things. Sometimes it's because they're stupid, sometimes it's because they're misled by somebody they trust, sometimes it's because it fits the narrative they want to believe. But with the right cultural/psychological factors in place, some people will believe anything.
posted by Rykey at 4:00 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Damn you, The Whelk! I was about to unveil myself as a prince, who once faced the galloping hordes, and a hundred bad guys with swords! Who sent those goons to their lords?
Why, little old me! And I even have a menagerie with 53 peacocks, 75 golden camels, AND 95 white Persian monkeys!

I had a couple talks lined up with Fortune 500 companies as a foreigner with special insights into the current market trends. Back to the drawing board. It's quite a shame. Those CEOs really liked my menagerie.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:07 PM on September 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, basically, this is a continuing thing. Whoever the evil-of-the-moment is, you can make a fairly good living if you have zero ethics by doing a bit of self-promotion and getting some church groups to believe that you are an ex-whatever. Ex-terrorist, ex-Muslim, ex-Satanist, ex-Wiccan, ex-Mormon, ex-Freemason, ex-Catholic, any number of things, somebody will believe it. Some people have done multiples of these and somehow gotten away with it. See: Mike Warnke, Bill Schnoebelen.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:12 PM on September 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Consider the number of people in America who claim to believe that abortion is murder (at least 100 million, if you believe the polls) versus the number of people who actually act like abortion doctors are murderers (a handful).

You can't square that without the concept of a belief that is only nominal.
posted by 0xFCAF at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2012


Grand. Wazir. This is what happens when your sum total knowledge of the rest of the world comes from Disney musicals.

Really? I was thinking it's more likely a deliberate false cognate with the term "grand wizard," from that other institution that a bunch of conservative southern evangelicals may be familiar with (which I am not searching for or linking to because I'm on my work computer).
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


College football is indeed grand, but I don't see what wizarding has to do with it.
posted by oddman at 4:27 PM on September 14, 2012


Is this something I would have to have watched the entire Harry Potter series to understand? Because I only got up to Prisoner of Azhkeban.
posted by sneebler at 4:30 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rykey: […W]ith the right cultural/psychological factors in place, some people will believe anything.
That's precisely the author's point. Near the end of part one, Clark writes, They are not suffering from a mental defect, but from a moral one. They have chosen to bear false witness, and they do so knowingly. He concludes part two thusly:
That requires more self-deception than any of us is capable of on our own. That degree of self-deception requires a group.

This is why the rumor doesn't really need to be plausible or believable. It isn't intended to deceive others. It's intended to invite others to participate with you in deception.

Are you afraid you might be a coward? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel brave. Are you afraid that your life is meaningless? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend your life has purpose. Are you afraid you're mired in mediocrity? Join us in pretending to believe this lie and you can pretend to feel exceptional. Are you worried that you won't be able to forget that you're just pretending and that all those good feelings will thus seem hollow and empty? Join us and we will pretend it's true for you if you will pretend it's true for us. We need each other.
v.q. A follow up from two days later, They Need Help
posted by ob1quixote at 4:36 PM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Values Voter Summit would actually be a great idea for an ecologically-minded coupon sharing group.
posted by perhapses at 4:36 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had the misfortune to attend one of those scammy Get Motivated conferences (link leads to a scathing and IMO accurate review) a few years back. They are a way that the conservative right preys on their own by luring them in with cheap tickets and promises of celebrity motivational speakers and then conning them into signing up for a series of expensive workshops on how to make money through day trading or some such bullshit.

If the Values Votes conference speakers work the same way as the speakers at Get Motivated do (and many of the speakers overlap), the talks probably go something like "hard luck story, thank our troops [applause], slam on Democrats/people without values [hearty chuckle], suggestion that WE are superior to the rest of the world just via our attendance [murmurs of agreement], condemnation of those people who don't love America [loud murmurs of agreement], thanking our troops again [riotous applause], sales pitch [heading to be the first to line up at the tables to sign up for expensive seminar], blessings of God on all attendants even though the liberals would try to prevent it [enthusiastic Amen a if to both thank God and say "in your face, liberals, I'm an American."]"

Anyhow, watching some of the past Values Voters speeches, I don't think this description is too far off the mark. I often wonder "how much money do attendees get bilked for?"
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:44 PM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, basically, this is a continuing thing. Whoever the evil-of-the-moment is, you can make a fairly good living if you have zero ethics by doing a bit of self-promotion and getting some church groups to believe that you are an ex-whatever.

It's a grand old tradition. There were a bunch of ex-Catholic priests wandering about on the hardcore Protestant lecture circuit in the nineteenth century, many of them incredibly shady.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:49 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The "ex-Satanist" douches are exactly who I thought of.

And the Value Voters attendees don't believe him either. If they really believed him, they'd be placing him under citizen's arrest!
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:51 PM on September 14, 2012


Kamal Saleem tells Values Voter Summit that Clinton plans to 'Shut Down' Churches, College Professors work with Terrorists
posted by homunculus at 6:02 PM on September 14, 2012


Its nice that a week dominated by news about a con artist pretending to be a Jew in order to con Muslims in a way that ostensibly benefits Christians can end with news about a con artist pretending to be a Christian to con Christians in a way that ostensibly benefits Christians. Its like somebody got all "Bars" on their con artist roulette machine.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:13 PM on September 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


And now a few words on values from our legislators:

Rep. Michele Bachmann: Obama U.S.'s Most 'Dangerous President'

Sen. Jim DeMint Likens Teachers Striking In Chicago To ‘Thugs’ In The Middle East

Rep. Steve King: Obama and 'His Leftist Minions' are Working Every Day to Undermine America

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher: Obama is 'Pandering to Radical Islamic Forces' and to Blame for Ambassador's Death
posted by homunculus at 6:18 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man I wish I had Leftist Minions
posted by The Whelk at 6:45 PM on September 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


<derail>Does contemporary usage of 'Christian' always imply 'USian protestant evangelical Christianity'? Because those guys are narrow-minded, hypocritical dicks. That is all.</derail>

posted by j_curiouser at 6:56 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


What I like about the Ex-bogeyman-now-Christian scam is that the person pulling it only adds to their credibility by being shady as all get-out.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:06 PM on September 14, 2012


Oo, fantastic point, gracedissolved. My all-time favorite frequent flyer is Laurel Rose Willson, a/k/a Lauren Stratford, survivor of Satanic ritual abuse, a/k/a Laura Grabowski, Holocaust survivor.

The sad thing is that I think she was sincere in her delusions and exploited by others. Poor woman, may she rest in peace, but shame on all of the people who made money from her painful imaginings.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:21 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


According to the website of Saleem's ministry, he claimed that he was descended from the "Grand Wazir of Islam"

to obscure both the title and geographical location of the cleric to whom I am related. At the time, I had not yet spoken publicly of my Lebanese birth and I feared – and still fear – for the safety of my family in the Middle East. I chose “grand wazir of Islam” to hide the fact that I was speaking of my blood relationship to a prominent Muslim Cleric in Lebanon. (For the record, the term “wazir” is related to the more familiar “vizier,” which means “knowledgeable advisor.”)

...seems legit.
posted by dhens at 7:37 PM on September 14, 2012


Saleem’s “Grand Wazir” lineage claim is also bizarre due to the fact that the adjective “grand” would not be used in front of the term wazir (advisor) to begin with.

Grand. Wazir.
This is what happens when your sum total knowledge of the rest of the world comes from Disney musicals.

I was thinking it's more likely a deliberate false cognate with the term "grand wizard," from that other institution that a bunch of conservative southern evangelicals may be familiar with



Grand Vizier

Vizier -sometimes spelled vazir, vizir, vasir, wazir, vesir, or vezir)[2] is a high-ranking political advisor or minister in an Islamic government
posted by ActingTheGoat at 7:40 PM on September 14, 2012


PS I do not actually think Saleem's explanation is legit.
posted by dhens at 7:47 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's something really quite beautiful about the ceaseless narrative innovation that really makes modern conservatism unique. Here you have a character who seamlessly integrates terror, Christ and anti-government themes by confessing to a conspiracy! How bold! Would the writers of 24 ever have imagined such a thing? If they had, would they ever have dared to show it?

I don't think you can call the GOP a political movement, anymore. It really doesn't do it justice. Political movements are slow, deliberate, cliche broadcast affairs like daytime television. Perhaps it's something more like a game? A massively multiplayer experience where most of the content is user-generated. The game has an internal logic that's self-evident to insiders but what's striking is the way it incorporates outsiders into the game world. Even those who refuse to play the game , who dismiss the game as nonsense are, in fact, playing the game and advancing it. This may be the first time a significant chunk of the population has disappeared into a game world (though who really knows how many souls have been swallowed by more traditional MMOs?) but it certainly won't be the last. In this light the crisis presented by these new ever-more-elaborate games is that of containment. Games are supposed to be restricted to a well-defined space, they're supposed to have boundaries, limits, walls between them and real life. But modern games have managed to subvert such boundaries and allowed game characters and game logic toshow up in the real world. What can rational people do when they turn on the television and Christ-loving, former terrorists are making "real" political speeches? What will they do when Mario shows up at the presidental debates and demand lower taxes and an pre-emptive invasion of Bowser's kingdom?
posted by nixerman at 10:29 PM on September 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


The GOP is a political movement and a very interesting one. Started off as a party dedicated, in part, to freeing the slaves, changed over time into a party which advocated for businesses and the rich but still had a progressive wing, and now the twin infections of Southern Democrats and Conservative Christians have turned the party into an ideologically rigid beast which conflates country with party and is structurally something which any old school Communist functionary would recognize instantly with a level of admiration.

Enemies of the party are enemies of America. Democrats cannot, by definition, be moral or patriotic, and if they manage to gain power, they are instantly illegitimate simply because they are not Republican and therefore not American.

In my more pessimistic days, I can't see how this situation can continue. Either Republicans eventually snap out of it, or things will fall apart.
posted by honestcoyote at 10:48 PM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Whelk, I have lefty minions. They are the worst.
posted by Tevin at 11:41 PM on September 14, 2012


Nixerman, that is brilliant.
posted by blue shadows at 11:49 PM on September 14, 2012


What will they do when Mario shows up at the presidental debates and demand lower taxes and an pre-emptive invasion of Bowser's kingdom?

Yeah, I always thought Bowser was a pretty stand up dude. Fucking Mario.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:08 AM on September 15, 2012


GOD APPEASED

I'm guessing I'm not the only one who heard this in their heads as spoken by the Mortal Kombat announcer.
posted by Edgewise at 12:19 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Leo Taxil, call your office.
posted by Yakuman at 12:40 AM on September 15, 2012


According to Saleem, Roe v. Wade is part of a plot to “bring Sharia law liberally in our face” and that U.S. currency in some parts of the country now reads “In Allah We Trust.”

Boy, can I sell a boatload of Ubik to these people.
posted by ersatz at 6:36 AM on September 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


nixerman is obviously living in the Reality-Based-Community.
posted by bukvich at 11:02 AM on September 15, 2012


Santorum: 'We Will Never Have the Elite, Smart People on Our Side'
posted by homunculus at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2012


You know,in regards to the Santorum quote that homoculus just shared, several years back, a co-worker was working hard to convert me to Christianity. He quoted some bit of scripture that said almost exactly that as a way to explain why I wasn't responding.

From the outside, that quote sounds insulting, but I suspect on the inside there was a ton of nodding in agreement.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2012


Is there a When Harry Met Sally test to know when they are faking it ?

....Oh....oh.. oh, God, Yes! Yes! OH, GOD! OH, GOD! OH-MY-FUCKING-GOD, YES! *Unnnnnh!* YES!

...and so on and so on...

posted by y2karl at 2:27 PM on September 15, 2012


Mitt Romney’s War On Fap-Americans
posted by homunculus at 5:45 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Important note related to that last link: just three years ago a couple of people were sentenced to a year in jail for obscenity. Until I came across that I thought that people being tried and going to jail for obscenity was a 1960s Lenny Bruce thing, not a 21st century thing.
posted by XMLicious at 9:18 PM on September 15, 2012


Another Mike Warnke?
posted by RuvaBlue at 10:02 PM on September 16, 2012


Right Wing Islam Obsession at the Values Voter Summit

An Ex-Terrorist Walks Into a Conservative Conference...
posted by homunculus at 11:18 PM on September 16, 2012


We'll see if Saleem starts claiming to be the Grand Wazoo, or maybe Sheik Yerbouti.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:12 PM on September 18, 2012


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