Conservative author and media personality Ann Coulter spoke to more than 200 people at the University of Southern California on Wednesday, a night that included political jabbing inside and a gathering of protesters outside.
The event was part of "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week," a nationwide effort by the David Horowitz Freedom Center to "confront the two Big Lies of the political left; that George Bush created the war on terror and that Global Warming is a greater danger to Americans than the terrorist threat," according to Horowitz's Terrorism Awareness website. It was sponsored by the USC College Republicans and USC Objectivist Club and underwritten by both the Freedom Center and the Young America's Foundation.
Coulter, self-admittedly notorious for making controversial and offensive remarks, addressed why she believes the Democratic Party enables Islamofascism, criticized liberal stances on both international and domestic policy, with a focus on foreign policy in the Middle East and the Iraq War, and addressed the threat of religious fundamentalism.
She said that 9/11 was "the greatest hate crime in world history" and that Guantanamo Bay looks more like a freshman dorm than a detention center, in response to a recent report that some detainees have gained 20 lbs.
Much to the amusement of the audience, which, judging by frequent applause and the content of the Q-and-A session following the talk, was composed largely of Coulter supporters, the best-selling author doled out her signature jabs at the Democratic Party.
"There's always a conflict of interest when people who hate America are asked to lead it," Coulter said about the Democrats' midterm election victory, soliciting laughter from the auditorium.
For many, the heart of the debate over the week is the term "Islamofascist," a phrase loaded for both sides.
The term, which has been used by widely read journalists such as Christopher Hitchens in the years since 9/11, is meant to denote what Horowitz fears is a growing culture of fundamental Islamic terrorism.
"We are not branding all of Islam. Many Muslims are peaceful human beings," said Brad Shipp, national field director of the Horowitz Center.
Shipp said some aspects of extremist Islam today resemble Nazi Germany.
But some members of the Muslim community say the term affixes a negative connotation to the Islamic faith as a whole.
"Fascism is a national movement while Islamic extremism is a fragmented one," said Wais Hassan, a graduate student studying public administration at USC Sacramento, who was not at the event. "When you use fascism, you assume there is a united front trying to start World War III."
When asked by a Daily Trojan reporter to define fascism, Coulter said the reporter should look it up in a dictionary.
Organizers of the week, both at USC and across the country, said the goal of such speeches is to increase discourse on an issue of national importance.
Both Shipp and Kip Payne, vice-chair of USC College Republicans, said they felt a lack of discussion was the reason why college campuses were targeted for the week.
"We should be discussing terrorism because it is what is happening around the world," Payne said. "Any time an issue is discussed at a national research university like USC, it will get national attention."
"It's mind-boggling that more people are not marching in the streets protesting women being third-class citizens, the absent freedom of the press and other injustices," said Omri Ceren, a doctoral candidate in communication. "In the classroom, it's difficult to bring the subject up."
Others confirmed the need for debate and dialogue on Islamic extremism, but questioned th choice of Coulter as the event's speaker.
Shipp said representatives from campuses were asked to extend a hand to the Muslim community to encourage open debate and dialogue.
Both the Muslim Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine said that no such offer was made at USC.
Though organizers praised Coulter for her brash personality and bold, attention-grabbing statements, some critics say these characteristics are a detriment to promoting thoughtful discourse on controversial issues.
"I think she was a bad figure to pick," Hassan said. "She is not going to convince liberals because of her past. I'm not sure if she is an expert on the Middle East or was picked to get attention and press."
Coulter has recently been in the press for comments on converting Jews to Christianity that many interpreted as anti-Semitic. Coulter told CNBC anchor Donny Deutsche that Jews need to be "perfected" by becoming Christian.
Some attendees said Coulter's polemic remarks are appropriate for a political pundit.
"She's not a centrist," Ceren said. "Her job is not to persuade; it is to speak to the faithful. ... Her job is to express a conservative viewpoint."
Perhaps the most notable part of the event was that Coulter encountered no interruptions. In 2005, she cut short her speech because of jeering at the University of Connecticut, and in 2004 she dodged a pie thrown at her at the University of Arizona.
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