America

NY Attack On Muslim Cabbie Spurs Calls To Cool Rhetoric

It's not clear what if anything the attack on a New York City cab driver, a Muslim and Bangladeshi immigrant allegedly by a white 21-year old college student from upstate New York, had to do with the controversy over the proposed Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan.

But some observers have feared from the start of the superheated debate over the proposed Islamic center which would contain a mosque only a few blocks from Ground that hostility toward the project could lead to violence.

New York Gov. David Paterson said during an radio interview on WOR-AM:

"This is what the terrorists really want. This is the terrorists getting a yield on their investment when they attacked this country and blew up the World Trade Center. That we're now fighting each other. This is making their day."

Council of American Islamic Relations executive director, Nihad Awad, said:

"As other American minorities have experienced, hate speech often leads to hate crimes," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. "Sadly, we've seen how the deliberate public vilification of Islam can lead some individuals to violence against innocent people. It's time for responsible leaders to speak up to stop irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric."

The case has some some unusual aspects because of the background of the alleged assailant, 21-year old college student Michael Enright.

Enright was a volunteer in Afghanistan with the non-profit group called Intersections that's dedicated to global understanding and reconciliation. To say the least, work for such a program usually isn't found in the background of someone alleged to have committed a hate crime.

Enright also made a movie on the experience of a former high school classmate's Army unit before and during its deployment to Afghanistan.

According to the cab driver and New York City police, Enright allegedly attacked cab driver Ahmed H. Sharif, age 43, after entering his vehicle in lower Manhattan on Tuesday evening.

After asking the driver if he was a Muslim and receiving an affirmative answer, Enright uttered the Arabic greeting, A Salaam Alaikum, then said something like "Consider this a checkpoint," then began stabbing the driver with a Leatherman knife.

The driver locked his doors and drove until he spotted police. According to news reports, Enright allegedly bolted from the cab and tried to get away but was quickly caught.

Police and the cabbie said he appeared drunk, with police saying he was so incoherent they brought him to Bellevue Hospital for an initial psychiatric evaluation. Enright remained in custody Thursday without bail.

The attack on the cab driver was not the only anti-Muslim incident drawing the attention of New Yorkers.

An allegedly drunken man identified as Omar Rivera, is accused of entering a Queens mosque during prayers on Wednesday, shouting obscenities and anti-Muslim epithets and, urinating on prayer rugs.

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