Christian Right's Favorite Muslim Convert Exposed as Jihadi Fraud
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since AlterNet's publication of this story earlier in the day, Liberty University announcedthe formation of a committee to investigate the allegations against Ergun Caner, president of the university's theological seminary, laid out in Peter Montgomery's article. “Liberty does not initiate personnel evaluations based upon accusations from Internet blogs,” Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., said in a brief statement published on Liberty's Web site. “However, In light of the fact that several newspapers have raised questions, we felt it necessary to initiate a formal inquiry.” (H/t, Apprising MinistriesWeb site.)
Ergun Caner's rise to the top of conservative evangelical celebrity -- and to the presidency of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell -- was fueled by how aggressively he capitalized on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to portray himself as a personal example of the power of Jesus to save even someone raised as a jihadist, which he claimed to be.
There's only one problem with that part of Caner's story: it appears not to be true.
In 2001, Caner was pastoring a church in Colorado. After 9/11, he became a hot commodity on the speaking circuit as someone who knew about the evils of Islam firsthand. Before the shock waves from the terror attacks had died down, he was lacing his sermons with his own tale of having been raised in Turkey as the son of a religious leader and trained in a madrassa to wage jihad against Americans.
He said he'd learned about America from TV shows -- "Dukes of Hazzard" in some tellings, "Dallas" or "Andy Griffith" in others. He talked about learning English after moving to Brooklyn as a teenager. His personal testimony was used to sell books and videotapes. In one 2001 sermon, "From Jihad to Jesus," he said he didn't know much about Christians the first 17 years of his life because "there's not that many of them in Turkey." One CD was until recently marketed this way: "Do you believe God can change the heart of a hardened terrorist? Former Muslim Ergun Caner, who came to America to be a terrorist, shares his testimony of how he came to know Jesus Christ."
All that made for great post-9/11 storytelling. And it helped Caner and his brother, Emir, sell a lot of books. (In 2002 they published and promoted Unveiling Islam: An Insider's Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs , one of many books bearing the Caner name.) In 2005, Caner was appointed to his current post as president of Liberty University Theological Seminary.
In recent months, a group of Muslim and Christian bloggers have made an airtight case against many of Caner's fabrications using the kind of documentation -- videos, podcasts, recorded sermons -- the digital age makes possible.
The Life Stories of Ergun "Mehmet" Caner
Here's the basic outline of Ergun Caner's actual life story, as told in some of his books and public appearances and pieced together from public records in recent months by bloggers. Ergun Caner was born in 1966 in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Turkish father. His parents settled in Ohio a few years later and were divorced when Caner was 8. Caner lived with his mother and spent time and religious holidays with his father.
His parents tussled over the terms of the divorce settlement and the degree to which his Muslim father would control his religious upbringing. As a teenager, Caner became a Christian. His father disowned him after his conversion, but his brothers, mother and grandmother also eventually became Christians. Caner earned undergraduate and graduate degrees (some of which he misstated until a recent bio revision on Liberty's Web site), and entered the ministry.