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Coulter's appearance at USC prompts ovations, protests

Hoots of appreciation and shouts of opposition echo on the campus as the author and TV commentator joins a controversial forum.

October 25, 2007|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

As Muslim students and their supporters protested outside, commentator Ann Coulter told a USC audience Wednesday night that Americans should get tough on terrorists and "stop genuflecting before Islam."

Coulter's speech to a supportive audience of about 230 in Annenberg Auditorium was part of a nationwide series of events on college campuses that has been dubbed "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" by its organizer, Los Angeles author and activist David Horowitz. Another 100 or so watched on screens in the auditorium lobby, not far from about 150 protesters from Muslim, Jewish and Christian student and community groups.

Coulter, who spent as much of her hour-long appearance bashing Democrats as discussing Islam, was greeted in the hall with laughter, cheers and several standing ovations.

"The fact of Islamo-Fascism is indisputable," she said. "I find it tedious to detail the savagery of the enemy . . . I want to kill them. Why don't Democrats?"

Many audience members hooted in appreciation.

The activities on dozens of colleges and universities this week have included speeches, films and presentations. The speakers have included Coulter, Horowitz and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R- Pa.). "This is a greater threat than the Nazis or the communists because these people have modern technologies," said Horowitz, a leftist-turned-neoconservative. "They want to exterminate Jews and impose religious law on everyone through the state."

Horowitz said in a telephone interview this week that he did not intend to brand all Muslims as Islamo-Fascists, saying he differentiated between those he considered moderate and radical Muslims.

But the campus events -- and the name Islamo-Fascism -- have sparked outrage and concern from Muslim groups and supporters across the country, who say the events essentially demonize an entire community. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee wrote to schools where the events are scheduled, saying the speakers will be spreading a message of hate.

"Horowitz says this is not an attack on Islam," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "But we say specifically that it is an attack on Islam, on the Muslim community and particularly on Muslim students who attend the schools where these events are being held."

Hardly a stranger to controversy, Coulter, meanwhile, prompted a new flurry of criticism this month by telling a television talk show host that Jews need to be "perfected" and that the country would be better off if everyone were Christian. Jewish leaders and others have condemned the remarks as the rationale behind 2,000 years of anti-Semitism.

On Wednesday night, during a question-and-answer session after her speech, one junior majoring in communications questioned her tactics -- though making clear that he is "a very proud Republican" and a fan of hers. Did her inflammatory style, he asked, sometimes muddle her message?

"No," she said, smiling, before turning to another questioner.

Later, the student, Joshua Sharp, said, "She's a rock star in the way she articulates the Republican position. But she makes controversial comments that detract from her message. But I respect her."

Others don't.

"I think it's appalling that the university would sponsor an event that targets a race or ethnicity for its beliefs," said Ali Mir, a USC graduate and former president of its Muslim Student Union, who watched the speech in the lobby.

Zainah Alfi, a current vice president of the student union, emphasized that most protesters objected to Coulter's ideas, not her right to speak at the university.

The protesters who gathered outside the auditorium, chanted, shouted and carried signs, such as "Fight the Real Fascist, Down with Coulter" and "Hate Cannot Drive Out Hate."

Another sign noted the diversity of the protesters: "Thank you, Ann, for uniting Jews, Christians and Muslims."

Along with Ayloush's organization, others represented included the Progressive Jewish Alliance of California, MEChA, the Anti-War Coalition and the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.

The Rev. Louis Chase, president of the interfaith group and pastor of Hamilton United Methodist Church in South Los Angeles, was among the protesters. "I have problems with Ann Coulter's characterization of the perfect society as a Christian nation, both as a pastor and a theologian," he said.

Steve Puzarne, a cantor who frequently sings at a Pacific Palisades synagogue and who heads the newly formed Pilgrimage of Peace, said he took issue both with Coulter and with what he called the demonization of Muslims.

"As I see it, these are very much cut from the same cloth," Puzarne said. "And I'm quite distressed that the Jewish community, which has responded vociferously to her comments about Jews, has remained relatively silent during her much longer history of hate speech about Muslims."

The term Islamo-Fascism, Puzarne said, is "beyond demagoguery."

There were no altercations between the protesters and those who came to hear Coulter speak. Afterward a long line formed as her fans waited for her to sign copies of her books they brought with them or purchased in the lobby.

rebecca.trounson@latimes.com

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