A Heritage Foundation panel formed to discuss the White House's handling of the Sept., 11, 2012, terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, went off-course Monday and turned into a broader discussion on the West versus radical Islam.
The event, which was attended mostly by conservatives, gained widespread attention after the Washington Post's Dana Milbank reported that the panel's speakers engaged in the “ugly taunting” of Saba Ahmed, a young Muslim woman who is currently enrolled at American University as a law student.
“We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam,” she said to the panel. “We have 8 million-plus Muslim Americans in this country and I don’t see them represented here.
“But my question is how can we fight an ideological war with weapons? How can we ever end this war? The jihadist ideology that you talk about: It’s an ideology. How can you ever win this thing if you don’t address it ideologically?” she asked.
Panelist Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, was the first to address her question, telling Ahmed that “there isn’t anybody on this panel who thinks all Muslims are the problem.
“I think we absolutely do need to deal with this as an ideological war,” he added.
The panel’s Brigitte Gabriel, who is part of group a called ACT! for America, was next to address Ahmed’s question.
She didn’t hold anything back.
“We are here to discuss how four Americans died and what our government is doing,” Gabriel said, chiding Ahmed that the purpose of the panel was to discuss Benghazi, not address the issue of radical Islam.
“We were not here to bash Muslims,” she continued, “you were the one who brought up the issues about ‘most Muslims.’ Not us. And since you brought it up, allow me to elaborate with my answer.”
Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian by birth, launched into a speech:
There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today. Of course not all of them are radicals! The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent, according to all intelligence services around the world. That leaves 75 percent of them peaceful people.
But when you look at 15 to 25 percent of the world’s Muslim population, you’re looking at 180 million to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization. That is as big [as] the United States.
So why should we worry about the radical 15 to 25 percent? Because it is the radicals that kill. Because it is the radicals that behead and massacre.
When you look throughout history, when you look at all the lessons of history, most Germans were peaceful. Yet, the Nazis drove the agenda and, as a result, 60 million people died. Almost 14 million in concentration camps; 6 million were Jews. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.
When you look at Russia, most Russians were peaceful as well. Yet, the Russians were able to kill 20 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.
When you look at China, for example, most Chinese were peaceful as well. Yet, the Chinese were able to kill 70 million people. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.
When you look at Japan prior to World War II, most Japanese were peaceful as well. Yet, Japan was able to butcher its way across the Southeast Asia, killing 12 million people, mostly killed with bayonets and shovels. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.
On Sept. 11 in the United States, we had 2.3 million Arab Muslims living in the United States. It took 19 hijackers, 19 radicals, to bring America down to its knees, destroy the World Trade Center, attack the Pentagon and kill almost 3,000 Americans that day. The peaceful majority were irrelevant.
So for all our powers of reason and for us talking about moderate and peaceful Muslims, I’m glad you’re here. But where are the others speaking out?
The crowd rose to its feet and rewarded Gabriel with applause.
“And since you’re the only Muslim representative in here, you took the limelight, and instead of speaking about why our government —” she paused for a moment.
“And I assume — are you an American?” she asked in a tone that was not meant to question the student’s motives.
Ahmed answered yes.
“So as an American citizen, you sat in this room and instead of standing up and saying a question or asking something about our four Americans that died and what our government is doing to correct the problem, you stood there to make a point about ‘peaceful’ moderate Muslims,” Gabriel continued.
“I wish you brought 10 with you to question about how we can hold our government responsible. It is time we take political correctness and throw it in the garbage where it belongs.”
The crowd again erupted in applause.
Fellow Heritage panelist Chris Plante, a talk radio host, yielded the floor back to Ahmed.
“Thank you for your responses,” said Ahmed, a trace of nervousness easily detectable in her voice. “And I do really hope that other Muslims will start showing up at these conservative forums. But as a peaceful American Muslim, I would like to think that I’m not that irrelevant.
“I’m just as much of an American and I’m very deeply saddened about the lives that were lost in [Benghazi] Libya and I hope that we will find justice for their families. But I don’t think that this war can ever be won by just the military. You have to bring Muslims to the table.”
Plante interjected: “I think everyone agrees that it can’t be won just militarily.”
But “can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?” he asked.
“I guess it’s me right now,” Ahmed laughed into the microphone, prompting applause and laughs from the panelists. “Thank you.”
Oh, and in case Milbank doubts the panel's claim that the Benghazi attackers are “sipping frappes with journalists in juice bars," that actually happened.
As the New York Times reported in 2012: "Witnesses and the authorities have called Ahmed Abu Khattala one of the ringleaders of the Sept. 11 attack on the American diplomatic mission here. But just days after President Obama reasserted his vow to bring those responsible to justice, Mr. Abu Khattala spent two leisurely hours on Thursday evening at a crowded luxury hotel, sipping a strawberry frappe on a patio and scoffing at the threats coming from the American and Libyan governments."
So, going back to Milbank’s original characterization of the event: Was Gabriel abrasive and sharp? Yes. Confrontational? Yes. Did Gabriel make controversial statements regarding the so-called peaceful majority? Oh boy, yes.
But did the panel, as Milbank reported, engage in the “ugly taunting” of a young Muslim student?
Well, see for yourself: