It’s not altogether unusual to find anti-Islamic rhetoric in conservative circles these days, but a particularly vitriolic breed of Islamophobia was on full display on Monday at the Heritage Foundation, where speakers at a panel mercilessly mocked and berated a Muslim student who asked about religious diversity. The event was ostensibly convened to discuss the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, but according to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, the panel “turned ugly” when Saba Ahmed, a Muslim American student at American University, inquired about the lack of Muslims on the panel.
“We portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam,” she said during a question-and-answer session. “We have 8 million-plus Muslim Americans in this country and I don’t see them represented here.”
Ahmed’s seemingly innocuous question sparked the rage of panelist Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! for America, a grassroots group that promotes Islamophobia. When Ahmed finished speaking, Gabriel launched into a lengthy rant in which she scolded the student for even bringing up the question and argued that peaceful Muslims are ultimately “irrelevant” because religious extremism still exists in spite of them. The crowd then erupted into cheers for almost a minute, Milbank reported, giving Gabriel a standing ovation before panelist Chris Plante, a conservative radio host, accusingly asked, “Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?”