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Just say 'no' to terrorism: Walid Shoebat.

PHOTO: Alicia Solsman

Preaching From the Converted

A former radical PLO member turned evangelical Christian offers his critical take on Islam

I am a proud Islamophobe,” said Walid Shoebat, a Palestinian-American evangelical Christian, to a crowd of 50 people Saturday night at the Light of the World Christian Church in Latham. When you criticize Islam, he said, you risk being labeled a bigot. It is a risk he is willing to take.

“You heard Islam is a peaceful religion?” he asked the crowd. “Wake up.”

In his three-hour lecture, Shoebat drew numerous parallels between biblical references to the Antichrist and the Islamic world, claiming that every country the Bible says God will destroy in the end-times is a Muslim one. “What was in Mohammed,” Shoebat said, “was Satan.”

Shoebat [an assumed name], was born in Bethlehem and raised in the Islamic faith. He claims to have been a member of Palestinian Liberation Organization, once jailed by Israeli authorities after a failed bombing attempt. Now, he is an evangelical Christian, and he travels the country to warn against the threat of Islam, which he describes as “a political movement cloaked with religion.” Shoebat’s 180-degree turn has gained him widespread attention, and he has appeared on virtually every major news outlet.

“We are in a war with radical Islam,” Shoebat said in a private interview. “As Americans, we need to unite. This is not an issue of Republican, Democrat, left wing, right wing; it’s an issue of the survival of this nation. It’s an issue of our freedoms [sic] to criticize religion. We need to protect those rights, always.”

“Now we’re moving into an arena where no one can criticize the Islamic religion,” he continued. “People accuse you of being an Islamophobe or a racist. That’s become ridiculous.”

One of Shoebat’s critics, Sheila Musaji, is the editor of the American Muslim, formerly a print and now an online publication. In the essay “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War with the West,” Musaji called Shoebat “an extremist Christian terrorist. This is not a former terrorist. This is a man who used to hate Jews and now hates Muslims, who used to commit violence against Jews and now justifies violence against Muslims.”

But Shoebat argues that his message is not one of hate or love, but truth.

“That is what the Western mindset will always ask: Is peace attainable? And if the answer to the question isn’t a ‘peace’ answer, it is rejected,” he said. He compares the issue to dealing with a drug dealer: The police come in, there may be a shootout and officers may be killed, but the problem is resolved.

“It’s not a happy picture,” he continued. “You have to attain [peace] first of all by removing the thugs in the community that are teaching the fundamental, radical view of Islam. If you don’t remove those, the community is destroyed. We’re not fighting a real, serious war on terrorism. We’re not removing the thugs; we’re simply fighting the results. They’re not going to the source of what’s making the insurgents.”

He said that Islam must evolve from its origins, which he claims are based on violence. But can Islam evolve?

“In the West?” he asked, “Yes. In the Middle East? No.”

Shoebat’s newest book, Why We Want to Kill You, follows his previous book Why I Left Jihad, which details some of the biblical contents of his lecture. He urged the churchgoers Saturday night to give the book to their secular friends to warn them about Islam, which he told them “looks like a legitimate religion,” but exists only “to correct the Judeo-Christian world.”

The Latham crowd was receptive, and many brought or purchased books to be signed by Shoebat. During a question-and-answer session following the lecture, a young churchgoer asked Shoebat whether, if all faithful Muslims are perpetually at war, the tens of thousands of civilian casualties in Iraq could really be classified as “civilian” casualties.

Shoebat answered carefully: “Children are children, come on,” he said, but added that not all the civilians killed were innocent.

Shoebat often needs security at his engagements and has received several death threats, including one from his brother for leaving Islam behind. Even his event at Light of the World Church included a bag search.

“The more threats I get, the more I have to work harder,” he said. “The more I will continue.”

“I went from one extreme to the other,” Shoebat admitted. “I went from a Muslim fundamentalist to a Christian fundamentalist. The problem with Christian fundamentalists is that they preach a lot, and they give all the people a headache. They knock on the doors and try to proselytize and convert people to Christianity; that’s true. We give the world a headache. But the Muslim fundamentalists are raising a generation to take heads off. That’s a different story.”

—David Canfield

What a Week

Stop Making Sense

A prominent Chinese HIV/AIDS activist, Gao Yaojie, will be freed from house arrest in order to travel to the United States to accept an award from the human-rights group Vital Voices Global Partnership. During the 1990s, Gao, now 80, blew the whistle on unhygienic blood-transfusion conditions that were causing an AIDS
outbreak in China’s Henan province.
Chinese authorities initially warned Gao not to attend the VVGP awards ceremony and put her under house arrest to prevent her from traveling to Beijing to apply for a visa. In both 2001 and 2003, Gao was similarly blocked from accepting other awards.

Jonathan’s Law

The death of 13-year-old autistic boy Jonathan Carey on Feb. 15, after allegedly being improperly restrained by a care aide while riding in a van, added fuel to a state effort to allow parents and guardians of individuals who are mentally disabled to access confidential medical and investigative records. The current law does not allow parents to access such information. Carey was under the care of two aides from O.D. Heck Development Center in Niskayuna when the boy supposedly acted up and one of the staffers restrained him. After Carey stopped breathing, the two aides reportedly left the boy in the car while they finished more than an hour of errands and shopping before calling for help.

Blowing Smoke

The U.S. Supreme Court threw out an Oregon court decision on Tuesday that would have awarded $79.5 million in punitive damages to a widow suing Philip Morris USA—maker of Marlboro cigarettes—on behalf of her dead husband. Williams accused the company of “massive market-directed fraud” that for decades hid the true dangers of smoking; she said that her husband, who died of lung cancer in 1997, didn’t heed the surgeon general’s warning about smoking because the company marketed cigarettes as being safe. The Supreme Court overruled the original decision on the grounds that the punitive damages awarded far exceeded the actual damages. Philip Morris could be held accountable, the court said, only for the harm done to Jesse Williams and his widow, and not to the smoking population at large.


A new Web site calls out community members and causes a stir in Schenectady

It’s time to shape up or ship out.” That’s the message the creator of the recently launched Web site hopes to send to Schenectady residents who allegedly cause the community harm. EmpowerHood currently names two area men in its Hall of Shame and provides information about each, including the details of their alleged offenses, photographs, legal documents, and even license-plate numbers of those who frequent the business owned by one the men.

The Hall of Shame exposure is part of EmpowerHood’s carrot-and-stick approach to what its members say will make Schenectady a better place to live and work, but the practice begs legal questions about slander, defamation and the right to privacy.

Robert Alexson is the first man named in the Hall of Shame. He owns the Union Street Bed and Breakfast and is well known for hosting swinger parties on its premises.

Dana Swalla, who leads the EmpowerHood effort, lives near Alexson’s business and has been a vocal critic of the establishment for months. The Web site criticizes Alexson’s use of the 1362 Union St. business as a swingers club, his refusal to comply with a city ordinance requiring that such adult entertainment take place in industrial zones, and several additional “objectionable property uses,” such as the presence of a bus and crane behind the house.

EmpowerHood goes a step further in order to, as described on the Web site, “protect the neighborhood” from Alexson’s offenses by listing the license-plate numbers of individuals who frequent the establishment.

“If, in fact, she can testify, ‘I saw somebody get out of this car and go into 1362 Union St.,’ then I don’t see anything anybody can sue her for,” said Robert Stein, a copyright and libel attorney based in New York City. He said Swalla likely would encounter no legal repercussions if she chose to go a step further and identify the name associated with each license plate, an idea Swalla said she has considered and may choose to do in the future. “If she photographed them on a public street, then they’re fair game.”

The second “offender” named in the Hall of Shame, Andrew Wisoff, said the allegations the Web site makes against him are littered with misinformation and out-of-
context charges. EmpowerHood notes Wisoff’s pending lawsuits against the city of Schenectady, reports that he currently owes thousands in overdue taxes, and states that his rental properties are not up to code.

Wisoff said that he first heard of his being named to EmpowerHood’s Hall of Shame after reading a newspaper report. “Was I surprised? No. Was I angry? No.” Wisoff said his inclusion in the Hall of Shame is the result of the city’s attempt to “demonize” him for refusing to submit to city demands and continuing with legal proceedings against Schenectady.

He insisted that he is not the inattentive landlord the Web site may suggest. “This is all typical landlord-tenant garbage,” Wisoff said. “That Web site takes this totally out of context.”

As for the claim that he owes the city back taxes, Wisoff said, “That’s just plain wrong. In fact, I just found out that I overpaid by $5,000.”

Wisoff plans to send a written response to the Web site’s allegations, which Swalla has agreed to post.

Swalla said she consulted an attorney before unrolling the Web site to ensure the statements did not cross the line of slander or defamation. “That’s why I’m sticking to information that’s publicly available,” she said. “I’m also careful to phrase things as being my opinion.”

Even though the Web site’s Hall of Shame section has incited the most debate, Swalla emphasized that the site also is designed to promote what she believes are Schenectady’s best businesses in its Hall of Fame as well as provide tips for residents to improve their community.

“I think a lot of people feel really helpless that they can’t make a difference themselves, and I think what makes [EmpowerHood] unique is it kind of helps people use the system to their advantage,” Swalla said. “Not a lot of people know, for instance, that you can get the name of a property owner by calling the assessor.”

Although Swalla said she would like to think there aren’t more people who deserve to go into the Hall of Shame, she expected that it, as well as the Hall of Fame, would expand in the future.

—Nicole Klaas

Troy’s Got It Coming

The push for a food co-op keeps getting stronger

Kevin Blodgett and plenty of his neighbors in Troy are eager to bring a full-service grocery store to their downtown community. More than 150 households have paid the onetime fee of $140 to become members of the Troy Community Food Cooperative.

Blodgett said that he and a half-dozen other Trojans have spent the past year working as a core committee, undertaking the preliminary work to figure out just exactly how one goes about starting a co-op.

“We have visited other co-ops, talked with consultants,” he said. Just last week, much of their hard work paid off, when the members of the co-op elected its first board of directors. Now criticial decisions—such as what foods will be carried—can be addressed.

It is a big step, Blodgett said, but “now we are looking into how we are going to get the money.” Initial estimates place the cost of opening the co-op’s doors at $1.4 million.

Are they anywhere near that goal?

“No,” he said. “But all the major fund-raising haven’t even started yet.”

According to Cooperative Development Services, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping start co-ops, once membership reaches a certain level, he said, it gets easier to attract large sums of money.

“You get a bunch of really committed people at the start to do the leg work,” Blodgett said, referring to the usual model for successful launches. “Then you start looking for members to elect the board, then you go out and get a bunch [of] members. And once you get the members you can go to three sources of fund-raising.” These sources are bank loans, grants and private investments.

“But you can’t do much of any of it until you have a lot of members, cause nobody takes you seriously,” he said.

In that respect, the Troy cooperative is lucky in that it already has a retail space. Alane Hohenburg purchased the old Pioneer Market at 77-81 Congress St. (between Third and Fourth streets) with the specific intention of starting a co-op.

Hohenburg has been agitating for a co-op since 2005. It as a crucial element, she believes, to the continuing growth of downtown Troy.

As anyone who lives in downtown Troy knows, there is little in the way of grocery shopping: The closest large chain grocery stores are in Watervliet or Brunswick; there’s also a smaller chain market in the old Price Chopper space in Troy Plaza. Uncle Sam Health Food on Fourth Street is popular but caters to a specific crowd; and Stewart’s Shops offer a very limited food selection.

The co-op, Hohenburg said, “must be community responsive. With the old Pioneer Market, we would be in a central spot, in an area that the people in the neighborhood need the service.” As of now, she said, the plan is to offer 30 percent conventional foods, such as you would see on any grocery shelf, and 70 percent organic, minimally processed foods. Hohenburg said that the hope is that the co-op will be a place where everyone in the neighborhood, rich and poor, can shop

Blodgett, who is a member of the outreach committee, said his main function now is to go to public functions, such as Troy’s Farmers’ Market, to feel out what the community wants from a co-op and to answer the community’s questions. They are still more than 300 members shy of the number they feel is needed to get the store under way.

For more information, visit www.troyfood

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

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