Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Attack on muslim taxi-driver an isolated incident say fellow drivers amid controversy over a planned Islamic Center near Ground Zero

Taxi drivers in New York interviewed by Reuters say the attack on a fellow muslim driver was an isolated incident, although it does worry them. The attack comes amid angry protests over a planned Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (RECENT - AUGUST 26, 2010) REUTERS - Amidst controversy over a proposed mosque at Ground Zero, many taxi drivers in New York say an attack on a fellow-muslim driver was an isolated incident, although they say it does make them more fearful.
43-year old Ahmed Sharif, a Bangladeshi immigrant, said he was stabbed by a passenger who asked him if he was Muslim and celebrated Ramadan. Sharif described at a news conference on Thursday (August 26) how the passenger slashed his neck, face, and shoulders.

"The knife was in front of my throat, when I go little bit back this came right over there. If this one if can put it here (pointing to his throat) I'm not supposed to be talk right now, I'm dead," said Sharif.

Sharif said he thought he was attacked because of his religion, but did not know if it was provoked by the angry opposition to a planned Islamic cultural centre and mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero, the site of the attack on September 11, 2001 on the Twin Towers. Sharif said he did not talk about the mosque with his attacker.

Since news of the planned Islamic centre was unveiled earlier this summer there have been several angry protests near Ground Zero.

U.S. President Barack Obama and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg have said they support the right of Muslims to build the centre, though the majority of New Yorkers oppose it. Polls have also found at least 60 percent of Americans are against building the centre about two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks that demolished the World Trade Centre and killed nearly 3,000 people.

"If they are so dead set on putting it here, there has to be a reason why it has to go here. If it's not about 9/11, then it wouldn't have to go here, it would go anywhere. This is a big beautiful city with lots of space, so why should it have to go here? It is like a slap in the face to the victims and their families," Dante Walls said to Reuters near the site.

Ken Sylman added, "It's an issue of where it will be, because of what has happened here, back then at that time. If there is any other place, but why here? And another thing is, the plans for it, when it goes up, it looks really lavish, really expensive. Where is that money coming from to build it? It's a silent answer to that, so I have my doubts about why here."

A man who would not give his name said, "No I don't like the idea. I don't think it should be built over there because of what happened over there, because I was down here when it happened, and we lost a lot of people."

New York is home to about 800,000 Muslims, around 10 percent of the city's population. About half of the city's cab drivers are Muslim, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

"For sure, I am afraid now, but it's an individual action I think, maybe this guy was sick, I don't know, but this does not usually happen, you know, but I am a little bit afraid," said taxi driver Mohamad Attia, who recently moved to New York from Egypt, when asked about the attack on his fellow driver.

"It's very unnecessary that thing happened. It is a very civilized society. I've been driving almost 20 years, never happened to me like that, maybe some individual have a personal problem. You don't see that too often and thank God it never happen like that," added Mohammad Raz.

Another driver said he couldn't understand the opposition to the proposed mosque.

"We have a lot of Muslims near Ground Zero, I go and pray there all the time. Last night I prayed there, nobody make a problem with that, so why they make a problem for this one?" asked Abboulaye Camara, a taxi driver and Muslim from Senegal.

When asked what he would do if a passenger asked if he was Muslim, taxi driver and Bangladeshi immigrant Matin Chowdhury said, "Right now, I would not even answer that. I try to find a safe place and drop him off, I think. I don't want this conversation, and I'd be more alert, to save myself."

Sharif's accused attacker, 21-year-old Michael Enright, is being held without bail on assault, attempted murder, and hate-crime charges.