Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa met with local Muslim leaders Sunday to apologize for not answering their e-mails about the crisis in Lebanon and pledged to continue efforts to be more visible in Los Angeles’ Islamic communities, according to those who attended.
“It was gracious of him to say I apologize for the lack of communication,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella group of mosques and organizations representing 500,000 Muslims.
Syed characterized the hour-long discussion between Villaraigosa and the 10 Muslim leaders as a “constructive” exchange they hoped would help head off the kind of divisiveness that has roiled Arab and Jewish communities in the Detroit area, which has a large Arab population.
Villaraigosa called the meeting after local Muslim leaders held a news conference Friday to express their frustration that the mayor had attended a rally by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles but failed to respond to their repeated telephone calls and e-mail invitations to interfaith vigils for those killed on both sides in Lebanon.
Saying they were “fed up” at being “shoved aside and ignored,” the Muslim leaders scolded Villaraigosa for not representing all groups touched by the Middle East conflict and urged him to use his clout to promote mutual understanding.
Villaraigosa reacted by meeting with the leaders Sunday, explaining that a mix-up by his staff prevented him from seeing the invitations, said spokeswoman Janelle Erickson.
“The mayor did apologize that the staff didn’t place the meeting on his schedule sooner,” Erickson said. She said the discussion was “open and friendly.”
The mayor also assigned one of his senior advisors, the Rev. Leonard Jackson, to be his liaison to the Muslim groups and emphasized that he will continue visiting mosques and attending events in the Lebanese, Bengali and Iranian immigrant communities.
Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said Villaraigosa also underscored that he was against the war in Iraq. He also reviewed his Jewish Federation speech with the group to demonstrate that he wasn’t partisan but had called for peace in Lebanon and Israel to end the suffering of all innocent civilians.
Al-Marayati said the Muslim leaders were impressed with the mayor’s swift response to their public complaints.
“He demonstrated leadership today in taking responsibility and is determined to move forward in the most constructive way,” he said.
Other groups represented at Sunday’s meeting were four inner-city mosques; the Islamic Society of Orange County; the Council on Islamic American Relations; and the Council on Pakistan American Affairs.