By Anna Hiatt
Thursday, October 30, 2008 | 1:18 am
Category: News > University > Student Life
Walid Shoebat and Kamal Saleem, two self-proclaimed ex-terrorists, spoke to a packed Wheeler Hall Wednesday night, drawing praise from some attendees while prompting angry responses from others over their claims to former acts of terrorism.
During the speech, titled "Why We Want to Kill You," the men discussed their involvement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, their childhoods and their subsequent conversions to Christianity. The event was sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans and organized by the Walid Shoebat Foundation.
Addressing about 700 attendees, Shoebat and Saleem condemned Islamic fundamentalism and called for Muslim moderates in the United States to show pride for this country.
"If this is your home and you truly love America, then America has the right to see you express that love," Saleem said.
The two speakers have drawn controversy for their support of the state of Israel and their espousal of Christianity as the solution to Islamic fundamentalism.
"It's not my job to reform Islam. It's Islam's job to reform Islam," Shoebat said. "It's my job to save this country."
In preparation for confrontational behavior among audience members, UCPD lined the walls and restricted attendees from loitering in the auditorium.
After the speeches, several audience members openly pointed out inconsistencies in the speakers' stories.
Walid Shoebat Foundation approached Berkeley College Republicans about two months ago to sponsor the speakers, said External Affairs Vice President Kimberly Wagner. She said she believes her organization is neutral, making it an ideal choice to host the speakers.
"They don't want to kind of have the reputation of always appealing to the Jewish groups," Wagner said.
This is not the first time Shoebat's visit to a college campus has sparked controversy. In October 2006, Columbia University was slated to host Shoebat as a speaker. About four hours before the event was scheduled to take place, the university cancelled the lecture.
After the debate at UC Berkeley, some students expressed outrage at what they believed was an attack on academia. Rowdy behavior among attendees spurred police to move to the microphones to keep order and make sure questioners adhered to the rules.
Freshman Adrienne Saltz said she did not like that the speakers made blanket statements about students on campus.
"I didn't like the fact that he generalized all Berkeley students as flaming liberals," Saltz said.
However, UC Berkeley alumnus Robert Tally said he enjoyed the speech and had tried to see the two men when they spoke at Stanford University in April 2007.
"I really think it's sad that the Berkeley students here want to dismiss him as a fraud," Tally said, further noting "the hostility. It's a little scary."