On June 16, Saba Ahmed became instantly famous when a video of her questioning panelists at a Heritage Foundation event on the Benghazi consulate attack went viral. During the Q&A portion of the event, the American University law student asked the panel why they paint all 1.8 billion Muslims with the same jihadist brush, and how they expect to change jihadist ideology through military force.
Panelists Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the neoconservative Center for Security Policy, and Brigitte Gabriel, founder and CEO of the anti-Islam group ACT! for America, promptly attacked her with an Islamophobic rant. Gaffney claimed “Sharia” was a violent ideology that Muslims want to impose on “everyone,” and Gabriel accused Ahmed of opportunistically taking “the limelight” at the panel where “the peaceful majority [of Muslims] are irrelevant.”
In an attempt to respond, Ahmed appeared on Hannity on June 19, only to be attacked in a similar fashion. “This was supposed to be about four dead Americans. This was supposed to be about Benghazi,” host Sean Hannity yelled. “Why was your focus there and not on what the forum was about?”
If the Heritage Foundation panelists or Sean Hannity had allowed Ahmed to continue, she could have explained just how urgently relevant her message is—especially at a time when extremist groups like the ISIS are becoming increasingly powerful. In this interview, we discuss the Heritage Foundation panel and how the solution to extremism might be found in Islamic scripture. This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.
In an article for The Washington Post in response to your experience, you wrote, “The radical extremist ideology can only be changed by the tolerant moderate peaceful teachings of Islam if we are to ever win this war.” What kinds of teachings?
There is one verse [in the Koran] that says there is no compulsion in religion. You can’t force people to convert. The religion depends upon faith and will. And it would be completely meaningless if it’s induced by force. The verse is 2:256.
There are a lot of peace verses. 60:8: This verse specifically talks about dealing with non-Muslims. The Koran states that we have to deal kindly and justly with those that don’t fight us. So how can anybody living in the Western world justify fighting? Verse 5:32 is about how life is sacred, and how if you take one innocent life, it’s as though you’ve killed all of humanity. And if you save a life, it’s as though you’ve saved all of humanity.
Your piece in The Washington Post also mentions a lobbying firm that you started. Can you tell me more about it?
We monitor all congressional hearings related to national security. Primarily, we monitor the armed services, homeland security and judiciary committees, on both the Senate and the House sides. We monitor intelligence hearings as well—anything that has to do with Islamists. The word Islamist is used in a lot of these hearings and that’s what we’re primarily targeting. I don’t like that word being used to define “terrorist.”