Muslims skip NYC mayor’s event to protest spying

NEW YORK (AP) — Some religious leaders attending Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s interfaith breakfast Friday expressed solidarity with Muslims upset about police department surveillance in their communities while more than a dozen leaders boycotted the yearly gathering that is meant to be a showcase of tolerance.

“I wouldn’t like it to happen to my house of worship,” Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin said at the breakfast of the spying program first revealed by the Associated Press. “I would be hurt if it was my faith group that was in this situation or predicament. ... I see it as the mayor choosing one faith-based group to target.”

The absence of 15 Muslim clerics and civic leaders made little difference to the size of a breakfast roster that totaled more than 360, but it made their concerns about police infiltration of Muslim neighborhoods and mosques a topic of conversation for many.

Some worried aloud about what the surveillance meant for the privacy of their own congregations, while others dismissed the boycotters as agitators who were missing the point of an event meant to foster communication between religious communities and city officials.

“We just need to have dialogue. And if you don’t sit down and have the dialogue, you’re really not going to get very far,” said Katherine Vizcaino, a Muslim who said the boycotters were “trying to make it a controversy where there really doesn’t need to be.”

Bloomberg didn’t directly address the boycott during the event, though he did quote his father as telling him that “discrimination against anyone is discrimination against everyone.”

He also said: “We have to keep our guard up, but if we don’t work together we’re not going to be able to have our own freedoms.”

The mayor’s comments were a disappointment for Hussein Rashid, an Islamic studies professor at Hofstra University who had hoped Bloomberg would speak about the Muslim community’s concerns. The mayor won the admiration of many Muslims when he spoke out last year in support of an Islamic cultural center and mosque planned near ground zero.

Hussein, who wore a blazer over a T-shirt reading “I am not a terrorist,” said leaders of all faiths at the gathering had been supportive when he spoke to them about the matter.

“I was able to talk to them about the fact that if I’m a potential suspect, by being next to me, you’re a potential suspect as well,” he said. “So this isn’t a Muslim issue. This is a civil rights issue.”

Hussein and others spoke to members of Bloomberg’s administration at the breakfast in the hopes of setting up a meeting between city officials and concerned Muslims.

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