A New York City cabbie is recovering after, police say, he was attacked by a passenger because he’s Muslim.
On Thursday, though, he left home for a private meeting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and taxi drivers and members of the Muslim community were there to show their support.
“No matter how wonderful this country is, no matter how wonderful this city is, there’s always somebody that acts disgracefully.” Bloomberg said. “It’s kind of hard to understand why, maybe they don’t understand our values and how lucky we are to live here.”
With his wife and four children in tow, recovering taxi driver Ahmed Sharif made his way through a crush of media at City Hall for a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg.
“It’s very sad that we are here today,” Bloomberg said. “This should never have happened.”
“Of course it was for my religion — he attacked me after he knew I was a Muslim,” Sharif said at a news conference after the meeting with Bloomberg.
“After I see the mayor, and all his support, and his word, this city must be safe for everyone,” Sharif said. “I feel a little better than before.”
On the steps of City Hall, taxi drivers and Muslim and community organizations joined Sharif in denouncing the alleged hate crime against him.
A criminal complaint alleges Enright asked if Sharif was a Muslim before slashing his face and neck with a Leatherman knife Tuesday night. Police said as the scuffle ensued, Sharif was able to keep Enright locked in the cab until he found an officer to arrest him.
“The perpetrator in the back seat looked at this man in the front, behind the wheel, and saw that he was vulnerable – one, because he is a taxi driver, and two, because he is Muslim,” Bhairavi Desai, of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said.
But was the assault sparked by the Ground Zero mosque controversy? Mayor Bloomberg weighed in.
“You never know what’s related. I wasn’t in the cab, I don’t know what was going through anybody’s mind,” he said. “But I can just tell you, whether it was related to anything or not, it is disgraceful.”
Police are still investigating the attack on Sharif. Investigators say they are looking into several journals found in suspect Michael Enright’s backpack that may have contained anti-Muslim comments.
“There was nothing really of substance gleaned by the officers,” said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. “But, as I say, we’re getting a warrant now to go into those journals in depth.”
Enright was so drunk and incoherent when he was arrested that he was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, police said.
Sharif, who immigrated from Bangladesh, has driven a cab for 15 years. He says the incident has left him feeling shaken and “very sad.”
Despite his injuries, Sharif continued to espouse his belief in the American dream.
“I work hard. I try to support my family and I believe in this country if you work hard and you’re honest, you’re good, you can have anything you want,” Sharif said.
A judge ordered Enright, 21, held without bail on charges of attempted murder and assault as hate crimes and weapon possession. Enright did not enter a plea during his arraignment Wednesday.
Defense attorney Jason Martin told the judge his client was an honors student at the School of Visual Arts, had volunteered in Afghanistan and lives with his parents in Brewster. He declined to comment outside court.
A group that promotes interfaith dialogue says Enright was one of its volunteers.
The Rev. Robert Chase says Enright did a video project that sent him to Afghanistan for about six weeks last spring. It documents the life of an average soldier. He was embedded with a unit there.
“We’ve been working very hard to build bridges between folks from different religions and cultures,” Chase said. “This is really shocking and sad for us.”
There’s word that Enright was carrying two composition-style notebooks on him that contained details of his experiences embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan but did not appear to contain any anti-Muslim rants, a law enforcement official said. Enright was allegedly carrying the journals in a bag along with an empty bottle of scotch.
Meanwhile, Gov. David Paterson is urging caution in the case. In an interview Thursday, Paterson said that even if Enright actually called the cabbie a Muslim before the slashing, such incidents often involve underlying mental health problems. The governor says the driver’s religion may not have prompted the attack.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group, condemned the attack and said that anti-Islam sentiment has bubbled up with new fervor amid the debate about the downtown mosque, and that it’s leading to more bias incidents.
In addition to the cab driver stabbing, in recent days a mosque in Madera, Calif., has been vandalized.
A man also stormed a Queens mosque, shouting at worshippers and urinating on prayer rugs, spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said. New York police said that the incident isn’t believed to be bias-related, that the suspect was drunk and didn’t know he was at a mosque.