Author and terrorism expert Brigitte Gabriel, the CEO of ACT! for America, spoke heatedly at the Heritage Foundation's Benghazi panel on Monday after being asked a question by a Muslim law student from American University. Gabriel's response made the audience erupt in cheers, with some even jumping to their feet. But that's not the end of it: the student herself even elicited applause at the end.
"I know that we portray Islam and all Muslims as bad, but there are 1.8 billion [followers] of Islam," the law student, who identified herself as Saba Ahmed, began. "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?"
After a response from Frank Gaffney, Gabriel began by thanking Ahmed for the question. Then she launched into a heated explanation of why radical Islam matters, even if the majority of Muslims are peaceful.
"There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today - of course not all of them are radicals!" Gabriel said. "The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent. ... But when you look at 15 to 25 percent of the world 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."
Gabriel continued to note that the majority of Germans, Russians, Chinese, and Japanese in the 20th century were peaceful people, but the radicals in charge massacred tens of millions of people.
"The peaceful majority were irrelevant," Gabriel said repeatedly.
"I'm glad you're here, but where are the others speaking out?" Gabriel asked, before being drowned out by a round of applause. "As an American citizen, you sat in this room and instead of standing up and [asking] something about our four Americans that died [in Benghazi] and what our government is doing to correct the problem, you stood there to make a point about peaceful, moderate Muslims."
Ahmed did not seem defensive or angry over Gabriel's response, kindly responding that "as a peaceful American Muslim," she would like to think that she is not "irrelevant."
"I'm just as much an American, and I'm very deeply saddened about the lives that were lost in Libya, and I hope that we will find justice for their families," Ahmed continued. "But I don't think that this war can ever be won by just the military. You have to bring Muslims to the table to address this."
The panelists all agreed that the dilemma cannot be solved by the military alone, before one asked Ahmed: "Can you tell me who the head of the Muslim peace movement is?"
The law student laughed and said: "I guess it's me right now. Thank you."
That's when the panel and the audience cheered her.
The exchange has caused some controversy on the web, with Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank describing it as "ugly taunting of a woman in the room who wore an Islamic head covering." Media Matters also picked up the story, and posted video of Gabriel's response via the Heritage Foundation's livestream.
Watch the video below to make your own decision about whether it was an "ugly" exchange (relevant comments start around 4:15):