War in Afghanistan and Iraq, bombings in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and, of course, 9/11 have cast Muslims as fanatics. Some now fear being targeted by the government as terrorists.

At the same time, many people yearn for mutual understanding and respect, said Ahmed Kobeisy, the imam and director of the Islamic Center of the Capital District.

At 7 p.m. today at the mosque, Kobeisy will lead a public discussion on the image of Islam in the media. It will include a screening of “Edward Said: On Orientalism,” a 1998 documentary on the Palestine-born Columbia University scholar and critic. Said was also a leading voice of Palestinians’ right to return to their homeland. He died in 2003.

Anti-Muslim bias didn’t begin with 9/11 or even the Iranian hostage crisis. For centuries, according to Said, the image of Islam in the West has been fraught with political and cultural tension. His 1978 groundbreaking work, “Orientalism,” demonstrates how representations of Islam and Arabs by the colonial powers of Britain and France say more about Western imperial ideology than about the reality of Muslim people. The film shows how difficult it can be to overcome centuries of misrepresentation. As an example of the power of perception over reality, it reminds us that early news reports said Arab-looking men were suspects in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. It turned out that the bomber was Timothy McVeigh who grew up near Buffalo.

Even Kobeisy has been a victim of cultural cluelessness. He was living in Syracuse, where he had moved in 1988, when a television reporter asked if he knew what Saddam Hussein was going to do next. He shot back: “Do you know what Clinton is going to do next? I’m here, and you expect me to know that — when you, here in America, can’t say what your president is going to do?”

For Kobeisy, today’s forum is a way for people to learn about Islam and that Muslims in America struggle between acceptance and persecution, between the ideals of a pluralistic society and the everyday realities of suspicion and distrust.


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