At first, it seemed like Delray Beach Rep. Adam Hasner just had one of those typical, post-9/11 freakouts, panicking at the prospect of a Muslim group's lobbying trip to Tallahassee. Then two weeks ago, we learned that Hasner had agreed to participate in the "Free Speech Summit" headlined by Geert Wilders, the member of Dutch parliament whose rhetoric against radical Islam tends to upset even the religion's most Westernized followers. Now in response to calls by the Council of American-Islamic Relations for his resignation as House Majority Leader, Hasner issued this defiant, offense-as-the-best-defense statement:
"I am not going to allow the right to free speech be stifled by a group like CAIR that has legally documented ties to the Muslim Brotherhood - a radical organization that is on record as stating they want to destroy America from within thru the imposition of Sharia law."
Leading the St. Pete Times' political editor Adam Smith to put a question to his audience of political junkies.
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Anyone else wondering if Hasner might in fact appreciate CAIR's aggressive attacks elevating his profile?
Yes, I wonder. And let's be frank: It's not just that he loves getting his name in the paper; it's the context in which it appears. Hasner is Jewish and his 87th district covers a sizable portion of Boca Raton. There's generations of Old World hostility and paranoia between Jews and the Muslim world. Stoking those fears for political gain is a dirty, low-down trick.
But hey, he's a politician. And so it's up to voters in his district to not reward this behavior. That means making Hasner understand that whatever anxieties they may harbor about followers of Islam, they recognize the need to look for common ground rather than dig up old graves.
The Free Speech Summit is at 6 tonight and though it was originally scheduled to be staged at the Delray Beach Mariott, the website now is treating the exact location as a secret. This morning I e-mailed a message to someone called "Dr. Michaels," the apparent custodian of that secret. I just received an email back from Tom Trento, a Lake Worth man involved with the event. He enclosed a press release that says tonight's event is actually in Boca Raton. It did not say where in Boca, nor did it offer an explanation for the change of location. The release also announces a press conference tomorrow in which the speakers at tonight's summit will give a statement about "the threat of free speech from radical Islam and the public attack this week of House Majority Leader Adam Hasner by the Council for American-Islamic Relations." In other words, "Make room for us in the next two news cycles, please!"