2016-06-30
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (RNS) In the aftermath of New York Republican Rep. Rick Lazio's labeling as "blood money" the funds a Muslim group donated to Hillary Rodham Clinton's senatorial campaign, Muslim voters in the United States have shown they won't stand for "that kind of political opportunism," speakers told a roundtable discussion on Muslim politics Monday.

"Muslims really rallied together after that," said Asim Ghafoor, a minority issues lobbyist, during the two-hour discussion. The event was sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance and Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.

"We didn't come out soon enough -- we didn't hold press conferences at the steps of City Hall like Hillary Clinton did -- but we made it clear that we're not going to stand for this guilt by association. I think 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 the American Muslim Alliance. News accounts quoted the group's leader as saying he supports armed force against Israel in certain situations.

In the following days, some Republicans made phone calls to New York voters in which they suggested Clinton and the Muslim alliance were linked to terrorist activity such as the bomb attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

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 this couldn't happen anymore," she added.

Still, the episode indicated "just how sophisticated" Muslim groups could be, Berry said, pointing out they successfully downplayed news that President Bush had also returned campaign contributions from Muslim donors.

"This was a person who had received our endorsement, and we had to look at how do we play that out," Berry said. "He returned Muslim contributions, too, but we didn't focus on that and it didn't get the same attention."

The charges also showed the ways in which ethnic minorities are frequently 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's First Amendment rights," Murphy said. "They should be welcomed to the American political process, not shunned."

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