"Muslims really rallied together after that," said Asim Ghafoor, aminority issues lobbyist, during the two-hour discussion. The event wassponsored by the Interfaith Alliance and Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyersfor Human Rights.
"We didn't come out soon enough -- we didn't hold press conferencesat the steps of City Hall like Hillary Clinton did -- but we made itclear that we're not going to stand for this guilt by association. Ithink we did a good job helping Lazio get defeated."
Last October, Lazio blasted his Democratic opponent for accepting$50,000 raised last summer at a Boston fund raiser sponsored by theAmerican Muslim Alliance. News accounts quoted the group's leader assaying he supports armed force against Israel in certain situations.
In the following days, some Republicans made phone calls to New Yorkvoters in which they suggested Clinton and the Muslim alliance werelinked to terrorist activity such as the bomb attack on the USS Cole inYemen.
Clinton returned the money and denied supporting terrorism.
Lazio's charges were a setback for Muslim voters, said Maya Berry,director of government relations for the Arab American Institute.
"In America today, Muslims who do not engage in politics are safe --the problem is when you are a politicized Muslim," said Berry.
"We thought we had arrived at a point where things like thiscouldn't happen anymore," she added.
Still, the episode indicated "just how sophisticated" Muslim groupscould be, Berry said, pointing out they successfully downplayed newsthat President Bush had also returned campaign contributions from Muslimdonors.
"This was a person who had received our endorsement, and we had tolook at how do we play that out," Berry said. "He returned Muslimcontributions, too, but we didn't focus on that and it didn't get thesame attention."
The charges also showed the ways in which ethnic minorities arefrequently made scapegoats in the United States, said Laura Murphy,director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Making and accepting campaign contributions is part of everyone'sFirst Amendment rights," Murphy said. "They should be welcomed to theAmerican political process, not shunned."