11:50 am Dec. 30, 2011
Hussein Rashid, a Harvard-educated Manhattan resident and religion professor at Hofstra University, wore a T-shirt today with the following message on it: "I AM NOT A TERRORIST."
The occasion he had dressed up for was Mayor Michael Bloomberg's interfaith breakfast this morning, where Rashid sat quietly at a table near the back of the room, between two Jewish participants. (One wore a yarmulke and one didn't.)
Rashid, who at one point joined in a standing ovation for Bloomberg, said he wanted to make a statement about the city police department's surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods and residents, a program that was detailed in a series of Associated Press stories that began appearing in late August.
"I think that what has been happening with the NYPD and the Muslim community in New York is just deplorable," he told me and another reporter after the breakfast. The NYPD, he said, "has gone on a spying spree."
At the breakfast, whose guest-speakers and included an Imam from Queens, Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not address the controversy.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the breakfast attendance was "very robust" and defended his department's activities in light of what he said were inaccurate news accounts.
"I'm not certain who was here, who wasn't here," he said to reporters. "We believe we're doing what we have to do pursuant to the law to protect the city. We understand some people may question what we do. I think some of the issues that surfaced in these articles are half-truths, are things that are not true. But we understand. That's life in the big city."
When an Associated Press reporter asked Kelly to identify any of the "half-truths" or inaccuracies, Kelly said, "I'm not going to get into that."
He also said that none of the guests at the breakfast had mentioned anything to him about the surveillance program.
The breakfast was held in the New York Public Library, and was attended by 367 people, up from 315 last year, according to a Bloomberg spokesman. The only disruption at the event came at the beginning of Bloomberg's remarks, when a priest stood up and said religious institutions should not be barred from hosting their events at public school facilities.