The Heritage Foundation hosted a Benghazi panel on Monday that took a turn for the worse when a Muslim law student asked the panel a question about their portrayal of Islam as universally bad. Their answers, detailed in Dana Milbank's Washington Post column, quickly turned introduced a comparison to Nazi Germany.
As Milbank notes, the panelists' intense, angry response to a question from the "soft-spoken" student — along with the standing ovation it triggered from the crowd — was something of an "unexpected turn" to the panel. However, it is perhaps not so surprising when you know that two of the Foundation's panelists were Brigitte Gabriel of ACT! for America, and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. Gabriel is a prominent anti-Sharia activist who is a regular commentator on Fox News. Gaffney is one of the architects of a conservative approach to national security that advocates for the profiling and surveillance of Muslim Americans.
Here's a video of the relevant segment, lifted from Heritage's livestream of the panel (via Media Matters):
Gaffney himself often takes a soft tone when responding to accusations that his ideas are bigoted or dangerous. In the video, he speaks first after American University law student Saba Ahmed asks the panel to address "how can we fight an ideological war with weapons," and questioned the panel's portrayal of Islam as inherently bad. Gaffney, as he often does, makes a distinction between "moderate" and "bad" Muslims. However, his argument includes the implication that the "moderate" Muslims would become radicalized if they were simply more devout to their own religion. In other words, it's a complicated and subtle response, but it still does the thing that Ahmed's question criticizes: Gaffney's approach to combating terrorism involves the assumption that any follower of Islam is uniquely suspect.
Then, it was Brigitte Gabriel's turn. She claimed that of the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, 180-to-300 million are "dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization," even though "of course" most Muslims are not radical. But then she added that the "peaceful majority were irrelevant" because, for instance, 19 Muslims were responsible for September 11th. Gabriel went on to compare "peaceful" Muslims to Germans during the Nazi regime, saying that “most Germans were peaceful, yet the Nazis drove the agenda and as a result, 60 million died.” To suggest otherwise, she later added, was "political correctness" that should be "thrown in the garbage."
We'll let Milbank give his (somewhat dramatic) account of the exchange:
“Are you an American?” Gabriel demanded of Ahmed, after accusing her of taking “the limelight” and before informing her that her “political correctness” belongs “in the garbage.”
“Where are the others speaking out?” Ahmed was asked. This drew an extended standing ovation from the nearly 150 people in the room, complete with cheers.
The panel’s moderator, conservative radio host Chris Plante, grinned and joined in the assault. “Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?” he demanded of Ahmed.
“Yeah,” audience members taunted, “yeah.”
Ahmed answered quietly, as before. “I guess it’s me right now,” she said.
The panel was part of a series of discussions on Benghazi, co-run by the Heritage Foundation and the Benghazi Accountability Coalition, run by Andrew McCarthy. McCarthy, who now writes for the National Review, has collaborated in the past with Gaffney on anti-Sharia policy documents.
This post has been updated