A number of Muslim religious leaders declined the opportunity to participate in Mayor Bloomberg’s annual interfaith breakfast on Dec. 30. The clerics said the boycott was designed to show their displeasure with the Police Department’s intelligence work and the mayor’s support for the NYPD.
Never mind that two of the 14 clerics who signed onto the boycott weren’t actually invited to the event. This piece of political theater was wrong-headed and counterproductive, not to mention ungrateful.
At no small risk to his popularity, Mr. Bloomberg has consistently supported plans to build an Islamic cultural center in Downtown Manhattan. The so-called “Ground Zero mosque” became a rallying cry around the country for anti-Islamic bigotry. Through it all, the mayor has been steadfast: he has supported the cultural center’s plans and has condemned demagogues who have mobilized hate and ignorance to block the construction.
The mayor should have (and no doubt has) received no small amount of gratitude from the city’s Islamic community. But the 14 clerics who chose to absent themselves from an interfaith breakfast—not a political event, remember, but a coming together of clerics of all faiths—chose to posture and pander, not unlike the cultural center’s critics, rather than engage in civil discussion.
Besides being less than gracious, their boycott of the mayor’s event may only worsen the alienation and isolation of the community they represent. Islamic leaders need to engage the wider community to build trust and to negate ignorant stereotypes. Boycotting civic events that are intended to bring about engagement achieves nothing except further isolation.
One Muslim leader who did attend the breakfast (about 60 did) wore a T-shirt reading “I am not a terrorist.” It’s not certain for whom the T-shirt was intended. But one thing is clear: the mayor has been forthright in his demand that New Yorkers treat their Muslim neighbors with respect and tolerance.
For that, he deserves thanks, not boycotts.