Why has hate become a part of mainstream conservatism? We saw an example of this Monday at The Heritage Foundation, a one-time quasi-respected conservative think tank. It appears that those days are gone, as Heritage has now become a platform for people denounced by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center for their hate-filled rhetoric.
So what happened Monday? You may have read Dana Milbank’s column in The Washington Post about the panel—on the “unanswered questions” around Benghazi—that turned ugly when Saba Ahmed, a law student at The American University and a Muslim, tried to counter what she perceived as the lumping together of all Muslims as being threats to America.
The conservative crowd cheered wildly as one of the panelists, Brigitte Gabriel, lectured the hijab-wearing Ahmed about the threat Muslims posed to America. Gabriel, an immigrant herself, even asked if Ahmed was an American citizen.
Milbank described an appalling scene. (Heritage disputes that it was that awful; Milbank says he was in the room and stands by what he wrote.) What he didn’t do, though, is go into the backgrounds of the panelists—a veritable Dream Team of Islamaphobes, birthers, and conspiracy nuts.
Two of the better-known people on the panel were Frank Gaffney and Brigitte Gabriel. Gaffney is well known for seeing the Muslim Brotherhood everywhere he looks. His anti-Muslim garbage has landed him with his own page on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) website. Gaffney has even tried to ban Grover Norquist, the head of the influential conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, from events. Why? Gaffney claims that Norquist has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Translation: Grover married an American-Muslim woman.
Gabriel is less well known. With her, we start by putting “Brigitte Gabriel” in quotes because that’s apparently her stage name. She was born Hanah Kahwagi in Marjayoun, Lebanon. I’m guessing she changed her name because when you are trying to get conservatives to buy your books and pay for your lectures, they like good ol’ American names as opposed to those “Ay-rab-sounding ones.”
According to her bio, Gabriel suffered at the hands of Islamic militants during the horrific 15-year civil war in Lebanon that pitted religious factions against each other. Unfortunately for us, Gabriel has imported from Lebanon to our country the mindset of dividing people based on religion and demonizing those of other faiths. (I’ve been to Lebanon and I can tell you there are so many better things to export to the United States than that.)
Gabriel has eclipsed Gaffney in one area. Gaffney might have his own page on the SPLC website, but the SPLC has bestowed upon Gabriel the additional “honor” of being named as one of the leaders of “The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.”
There’s more. Gabriel and the organization she founded, “Act for America,” has been called out by the Anti-Defamation League for its anti-Muslim rhetoric. Gabriel’s fear-mongering includes comments such as “tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities,” and “they have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department.”
In sheer conspiratorial nonsense, Gabriel, who claims that her bodyguards include “CIA undercover agents,” alleges that “Hamas has cells in over 40 states in the United States” and that there’s been a “systematic Islamic funding of our universities to brainwash our students.”
Obviously, the First Amendment is in effect at Heritage, so let them have who they want. Heritage says it only hosted the event, which was officially sponsored by something called the Benghazi Accountability Coalition. But still, since Heritage has given these people a platform, I reached out to the organization to see what hate speakers are next. Maybe they have a series planned of lectures against the groups the right usually has issues with. After all, one of Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Jason Richwine did write that the average IQ of immigrants in the United States is “is substantially lower than that of the white native population.”
So I spoke briefly to the Heritage Foundation’s Rebecca Buchheit about future plans. She declined to answer and asked I put my questions into writing. So here they are:
1. Any chance of a panel about an issue of African-American interest featuring Paula Deen, Donald Sterling, and a Klan member?
2. Or one about Jews moderated by Mel Gibson?
3. What about a panel about gay issues with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson?
Obviously those panels will never happen for good reason. But sadly a panel featuring people who have spewed the worst anti-Muslim hate causes little outcry.
In time, though, our history teaches that people who spew racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, etc., end up on the fringes of society. I’m confident that’s where the Muslim haters will end up as well. I just hope we get to that place soon.