On Tuesday night, a NYC cab driver was stabbed several times by Michael Enright, a reportedly “intoxicated” passenger. Enright allegedly stabbed Ahmed H. Sharif after Enright asked him whether or not he was Muslim. According to USA Today,
In a statement Wednesday the from New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Sharif warned his fellow cabbies. “Right now the public sentiment is very serious” because of the ground zero mosque debate, he said. “All drivers should be more careful…I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before,” he said.
The incident sparked immediate debate among pundits, bloggers, and blogger-pundits alike, as many tried to analyze whether the stabbing was not only a hate crime but a reflection of growing Islamophobia in America (Max Fisher over at The Atlantic Wire has a good run-down of the commentary). Juan Cole didn’t blame Enright (who apparently works for Intersections International, a New York-based “global initiative dedicated to promoting justice, reconciliation and peace across lines of faith…and other boundaries that divide humanity,” which had recently announced their support for Park 51, previously known as the Cordoba House, more famously dubbed as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’.). Cole blamed the Republican National Committee. He wrote:
I have said for some time that the American Right’s scapegoating of ordinary American Muslims– Muslims who serve in the US military, die for our country, invest in our cities, find cures for diseases, save our children’s lives in hospitals– would eventually cause pogroms and get people killed. A New York cabbie came close to dying for the sake of the G.O.P. Tuesday night.
So what ultimately drove Enright to stab this cab driver? Was it the messaging of the RNC, as Cole suggests, that incited violence? Or was this an isolated incident that shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of a larger phenomenon?
It’s a tough question. Taking the stabbing as a reflection of growing Islamaphobia in America would ultimately be the same thing as buying into the notion that Faisal Shahzad, the wannabe Time Square bomber, was a reflection of homegrown extremism, wouldn’t it? At the same time, at what point do isolated incidents – Pastor Terry Jones calling for a bonfire of Qurans on September 11th in Florida, protests and fear-mongering over Park 51, and a stabbing – all motivated by a fear/hatred/intolerance of Islam – become part of a wider trend? Moreover, if the media didn’t disproportionately cover these issues within the Islamaphobia context, would we be having this conversation?
Update: (via @alexlobov and @venkatananth) Another day, another drunken anti-Islam incident. This time, “an intoxicated man entered a mosque in Queens on Wednesday evening and proceeded to urinate on prayer rugs,” reported MSNBC. In Fresno, California, there have been a spate of hate crimes committed against a mosque. The imam walked into the Madera Islamic Center today to find a pair of menacing signs, including one that read, “Wake up America, the enemy is here.“