Allen West Engages in Double Speak on Islam
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
BOYNTON BEACH — An overwhelmingly supportive crowd of 400 or more greeted new U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Plantation, at his first public meeting with Palm Beach County constituents tonight, but he still faced some tough questions.
It was the second packed house in four nights for West, who also drew about 400 people to a town hall meeting with Broward County constituents last week in Deerfield Beach.
Tonight’s standing-room-only crowd at St. Mark’s Catholic School applauded when West announced where his district offices are and when he said Congress needs to spend more days working in Washington.
There was applause and even a “whoo-hoo” from the audience when West announced he’ll be on the House Small Business Committee.
When West opened the floor for about an hour of questions, however, he said he wanted to hear first from people who didn’t vote for him.
His first questioner, Anole Halper of Lake Worth, brought up the 2003 incident in which West, then a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel serving in Iraq, fired a pistol near the head of an Iraqi detainee to get him to divulge information about a suspected ambush.
Halper mentioned “torture” before much of her question was drowned out by boos and groans from the audience.
“Having been a commander in combat, if you were one of my soldiers, I would have done the exact same action to protect you,” West responded.
“Obviously people want to continue to bring up something that happened almost eight years ago. I was taken out of command, I was fined $5,000, the matter is over,” said West, who was allowed to retire with a full pension after the incident.
West was also confronted by Nezar Hamze, executive director of the South Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, who brought up West’s past criticisms of Islam.
“You have consistently demonized and insulted my religion. … You’ve insulted the prophet,” Hamze said.
“I will always defend your right to practice a true religion under the First Amendment,” West said. But, West added, “I’m not going to stop speaking the truth,” and he began reciting violent incidents from Islamic history.
“Your version of Islam is exactly what the anti-Islam people are teaching you,” said Hamze, who said acts of violence “have nothing to do with Islam.”
Afterward, Hamze gave West some credit.
“It’s good that he’s opening the floor,” said Hamze. “He’s not afraid to take any questions.”
As in Deerfield Beach last week, West began the meeting by presenting a series of slides showing America’s long-term deficit and debt issues. He said changes are needed to the “big three” entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but didn’t go into specifics.
West got 54.4 percent in November to unseat two-term Democratic incumbent Ron Klein in a district that’s nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and was carried by Barack Obama in 2008.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee today launched radio ads and automated phone calls aimed at West and 18 other House Republicans around the U.S. who have been targeted for defeat in 2012.
“I couldn’t even have this job for 30 days and they’re already running attack ads on me,” West told the crowd. He added: “Never pick a fight with a guy that knows how to fight.”
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