BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)--It wasn't the best way to start a conference on Islam in America. The Muslim taxi driver hired to pick up guest speakers at the airport dropped out at the last minute, fearing he would rouse the suspicions of the FBI.
"I think that tells you the fear and oppression in the air," said Agha Saeed, organizer of the one-day conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
The event, titled "Islam in America: Rights and Citizenship in a Post 9/11 World," quickly recovered when friends pitched in as volunteer drivers. But Saeed, who refused to identify the cab driver involved, said the incident illustrated what it's like to be a Muslim in America a year after the attacks.
"So many people have been interrogated. People hear these stories," said Saeed, national chair of the Newark-based American Muslim Alliance. "What's going on is the contagiousness of fear."
Conference speakers focused on what role Muslims should play now that their community has moved to the center of debates over such issues as racial profiling.
"We have to be a part, an integral part of the national discourse about American life itself," said Maher Hathout, chair of the American Muslim Political Coordination Council, an umbrella group of several organizations.
Also speaking at the conference was professor Sami Al-Arian, who was suspended by the University of South Florida after appearing on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. On the show, he was questioned about alleged links to terrorists and asked about a speech a decade ago in which he advocated "death to Israel."
Al-Arian, who has not been charged with a crime, has said the comment referred to a political regime, not actual people.
"If it wasn't for 9/11 this would not be an issue," he said. "Sept. 11 opened the window for them to attack me."