Knifed Cabbie Sharif Meets Mayor Bloomberg; NYPD Finds Attacker Enright’s Journals
Ahmed Sharif is now home, but he is far from recovered from the near-fatal knife attack he suffered two days ago from drunken college student Michael Enright. It may be sometime before he is able to return to work; it may be sometime before he recovers psychologically.
But one thing is for sure. Sharif is convinced that Michael Enright targeted him because he was Muslim, and not because of the current controversy involving the Cordoba House/Park 51 project. But the two issues are irrevocably linked. From Reuters:
Ahmed Sharif, a 43-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant, said a passenger in his cab Tuesday asked if he was Muslim and celebrated Ramadan and then slashed his neck, face and shoulders.
Sharif, who was treated at a hospital for his wounds, met with Mayor Michael Bloomberg Thursday and described the attack at a news conference at City Hall.
“Of course it was for my religion,” he said of the incident. But asked if he thought it was related to the mosque debate, he said: “No, we didn’t talk about the mosque.”
The attack came amid increasingly heated debate over a proposal to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks from the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks that toppled the World Trade Center and killed nearly 3,000 people.
Opponents say the plan is insensitive to families of the victims of the al Qaeda suicide hijackers and the center could foster religious extremism.
Supporters, who include the mayor and President Barack Obama, back the proposal on grounds of religious freedom and tolerance. The debate has turned national ahead of November elections, as Republicans seek to wrest control of Congress from Democrats.
Sharif said sometimes he feels “very unsafe” driving a taxi, which he has done in New York for 15 years.
After he, his wife and their four children met with the mayor, he said: “Now I feel a little better than before.”
“Our mayor is continuing to help and to make sure I’m safe, that my family is safe,” he said.
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Well, I hope so. Lightning doesn’t strike twice. After this, I doubt any one will want to mess with him, not even phone harassment. But as a cab driver in New York, he is 30% more likely to be the victim of a crime, either from a random attack or from a robbery.
There are 800,000 Muslims who live in New York State, and they constitute 10% of the population. Fifty percent of the cab drivers in NYC are Muslim. They all belong to a union, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Naturally, this attack has run through the Muslim community like an electric current, and the cabbies are now especially nervous.
I’m concerned that Sharif, in the photos of him outside of City Hall, is opening his shirt and showing his wounds, not only to the press and media, to New Yorkers and to his community, but to The Faithful, meaning of Islam. I said before that the Muslim street is picking up on this. Such a display resounds across the ages: when adherents of a new desert religion were attacked without reason, and they opened their clothes to expose their wounds to other believers to show that they had suffered for their faith. In these modern times, transmitted on cable news around the world, Sharif’s stab wounds only means one thing for some: that an attack on one Muslim could be construed as an attack on all.
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“The rhetoric has risen to such a point that violence was inevitable,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the alliance. “Fearmongering leads to hate crimes. Fear-mongering is at the heart of what happened to Ahmed Sharif.”
Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, which was the city’s first building erected specifically to house a mosque, said: “When the incident happened two days ago it created worries and fear among the Muslim community.”
“It really created a lot of tension, fear, worry that this will happen to them … especially the women who symbolize Islam through their dress. It’s very, very scary, but we are working very closely with law enforcement,” he said.
Among Bangladeshi at home and abroad (Sharif is from Bangladesh), there is consternation:
Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, who teaches politics and public administration at Dhaka University in Bangladesh, said the assault was at odds with American values.
“We worry more because there are many Bangladeshi taxi drivers in America,” he said. “They behave as patriotic American nationals more than they consider themselves Muslims or Bangladeshis. Such violence against them is not desirable, and we believe all believing in democracy and liberty will condemn it.”
Waliur-ur Rehman, who heads a think tank, the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs, said he recognized that the majority of Americans are opposed to such violence.
“This is not the America we want to see. This is not Jefferson’s America, this is not Kennedy’s America,” Rehman said.
I hope that Sharif gets therapy from his union and spiritual support from his mosque during this time of trauma and disappointment.
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Sharif speaks English, but it is the English of a first generation American. He spoke on the steps of City Hall, and submitted to several interviews after he was invited to meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Sharif, who brought his wife and four kids – the youngest girl just a babe in arms – to meet the Mayor, called New York City his home.
“I feel like I belong here, (like) I was born here. I’ve been here for a long, long time,” he said. “This city must be safe for everyone…All color, races, all religions. Everyone. We live here side by side, peacefully. Lovely.”
In obvious pain, and sometimes overcome with emotion, Sharif said he is haunted by what happened.
“Still I have a view of the knife when I close my eyes,” he said.
An unusually large press throng covered Sharif’s arrival to meet privately with the mayor, who gave the cabbie’s children t-shirts that said “I love NY,” “I’m An Official New Yorker” and “NYPD.”
The baby got “I love NY” socks.
I notice that since the attempted murder, the clack from the right-wing/Tea Party/Faux Noise contingent–especially those who have been riding herd on the Cordoba House/Park 51 project–has appeared to subside a bit. When blood is spilled after they have repeatedly suggested killing or maiming perceived enemies to viewers and adherents, the cowards tend to beat a retreat. It reflects badly on them.
But hey, so many times they’ve incited or dog-whistled people to threaten or kill abortion surgeons (Bill O’Reilly with Dr. George Tiller), President Obama, left-wing foundations, and Muslims who have absolutely no connection to terrorist elements, but simply want to raise their kids and mind their business and be Americans. It’s a wonder that all the jail cells in the United States aren’t filled with these hatemongers.
And it has little to do with abrogating First Amendment rights. If someone says that they were listening to Faux, and got the nerve to go get their gun and shoot up a foundation–in this case, The Tides Foundation–from what Glenn Beck was saying, then Glenn Beck is guilty of inciting others to murder.
Meanwhile, Michael Enright, the perpetrator of the knife attack, was transferred to the Bellevue psych ward last night after spending some time at Rikers Island. Was there a suicide attempt? The police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, was not forthcoming, and the cops have assured themselves that this was an isolated attack unrelated to the controversy downtown. Even beleaguered outgoing Governor David Paterson weighed in on radio station WOR, saying that “even if Enright actually discussed the driver’s religion before the slashing, such crimes often involve underlying mental health problems. The governor said the driver’s religion may not have prompted the attack.”
I am not so convinced that it was an isolated attack, not in the atmosphere of the last few weeks, not with Murdoch’s Post devoting three front pages to the “mosque” controversy before the slashing. The authorities are involved with diffusing anger and keeping things calm, even to the point of squelching other information to the contrary. There were other anti-Muslim incidents that occurred almost at the same time, with another in Queens:
Two more incidents on the same day, though less violent, point to a rapidly escalating trend. In Queens on Wednesday night, a drunken man entered a mosque and urinated on the prayer rugs while yelling “terrorists!” On the same night, in Fresno, California, a mosque was vandalised: a window broken and a sign posted that read “No temple for the god of terrorism.”
Some media are reporting that Enright seemed harmless, merely drunken, and even “baby-faced.” Ha. Not my baby. And alcoholism as well as drug use tends to exacerbate mental health issues that someone may have, and would make someone act out. Especially when Enright yelled to cops that he was Jewish and a patriot, and he is neither.
The suspect was also responsible last year for a drunken rampage on the East Side, in which he bellowed about dead Marines in Afghanistan up and down the hallways and pounded on the doors of frightened residents.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the assailant had an empty bottle of Scotch and four notebooks in his bag recovered by police at the scene of the slashing near East 42nd Street. A preliminary review of one notebook showed that Mr. Enright wrote about time he spent as a videographer in Afghanistan where he spent several weeks embedded with Marines, Mr. Kelly said.
Investigators will study the journals “in depth” once a search warrant is obtained, he said. Police found Mr. Enright sprawled out and intoxicated near the taxi in which he allegedly slashed Mr. Sharif on his face, neck and arm, Mr. Kelly said, and the suspect made several statements to police after his arrest.
“You’re violating my constitutional rights,” Mr. Enright screamed, according to Mr. Kelly. He told detectives he was Jewish, Mr. Kelly said, even though Mr. Enright is not Jewish.
A law-enforcement official with knowledge of the case said Mr. Enright, who hails from Brewster, N.Y., repeatedly told arresting officers: “I’m a patriot.”
Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
Investigators obtained a warrant to search Enright’s six journals, but did not find any anti-Muslim statements. Kelly described the journals as a chronicle of his time in Afghanistan. Enright traveled there in April on a trip he took as part of a senior video project he was doing at the School of Visual Arts. As part of the work, Enright spent time embedded with U.S. troops.
The handwriting was difficult to decipher, and Kelly said officials have not done an in-depth analysis of the journals, but the cursory look did not reveal a motive or a deep-rooted racism.
They could have merely contained his notes for his films.
But Enright’s state of mind is indeed suspect. Did he identify so much with the soldiers serving in Afghanistan that he fantasized that he was one in his cups? There is no such thing as a harmless drunk, especially someone who imbibed as much as Enright is said to have done every week. There has also been a lot of speculation that Enright, a civilian in a war zone, also suffered from PTSD, but that has not yet been confirmed.