Cliff May

An African-American woman who affects a Jewish-sounding surname as a running joke storms off the stage in response to what she regards as the slander of Muslims. Only in America.

But let me back up, in case you missed it: Last week, Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly appeared on ABC’s “The View” and argued against building an Islamic center adjacent to the consecrated ground where the World Trade Center once stood. When asked why he objects, he blurted out: “Because Muslims killed us on 9/11!”

At that point Whoopi (the nickname derives from “whoopee cushion”) Goldberg (see above) and co-host Joy Behar exited stage left in righteous outrage. Put aside for a moment whether O’Reilly is right or wrong about the Islamic center. Put aside, too, whether, by failing to put an adjective – e.g. “radical” or “extremist” – in front of “Muslims” he implied that all Muslims bear responsibility for the atrocities of 9/11. Consider simply this: how difficult it has become to discuss such questions.

By walking off the set, talk show hosts Goldberg and Behar were saying they will not tolerate talk about possible links between Islamic belief and terrorism. Co-panelist and producer Barbara Walters, to her credit, immediately said they were wrong.

But quick to support Goldberg and Behar was none other than John L. Esposito, Founding Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding – an institution that has accepted $20 million from a Saudi prince, an adherent of Wahhabism which is among the more extreme interpretations of Islam. Writing in the Huffington Post, Esposito presented no scholarly or even serious argument. Instead, he attempted to shut down debate by calling O’Reilly’s remark “baseless anti-Muslim rhetoric” reflecting the “anti-Islam hysteria sweeping over the U.S.”

To substantiate that claim, Esposito noted that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has called for a "federal law that says Sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States." He added that, “nobody is calling for Islamic Law…”

Among the obvious facts that ignores: Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris has gone into hiding after an American-born imam called for her to be killed for the “crime” of suggesting that an “Everyone Draw Mohammad Day” would bolster freedom of speech. In Europe, Theo van Gogh was murdered for the “crime” of making a film critical of the treatment of women under Islam. Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders is on trial right now, for the “crime” of expressing opinions offensive to Muslims. He is hardly the first European to face such legal consequences as Nina Shea recently made clear.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.