Don’t split this cab

NEW YORK - AUGUST 26: Ahmed Sharif (R), 43, a taxi driver originally from Bangladesh, recounts an attack on him earlier this week that was instigated by his religious faith during a news conference outside of City Hall on August 26, 2010 in New York City. Sharif, a Muslim originally from Bangladesh, was attacked with a knife while driving his cab by a man who denounced his religion. Michael Enright, a 21-year-old film student at the School of Visual Arts who had recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, questioned Sharif about Islam before attacking him in the cab. Sharif suffered cuts to his neck and body. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Imagine if this had been an episode of “Taxicab Confessions.”

A young man hops into a cab and begins asking his driver where he’s from and whether he is Muslim. After a little small talk over Ramadan — it’s that time — the fare starts making odd references to a “checkpoint,” then pulls a knife and slashes and stabs the cab driver.

By now, you’ve no doubt heard about the attempted murder and hate crime allegedly committed by Michael Enright. What I only learned yesterday though when reading this New York Times article is Enright’s own religious beliefs:

Mr. Enright is also a volunteer with Intersections International, an initiative of the Collegiate Churches of New York that promotes justice and faith across religions and cultures. The organization, which covered part of Mr. Enright’s travel expenses to Afghanistan, has been a staunch supporter of the Islamic center near ground zero. Mr. Enright volunteered with the group’s veteran-civilian dialogue project.

Joseph Ward III, the director of communications for Intersections, said that if Mr. Enright had been involved in a hate crime, it ran “counter to everything Intersections stands for” and was shocking.

This is a surprising revelation. And I hate to say that. But the narrative out there has been that it’s those wacky right-wingers who hate Islam and do crazy things to show it. Here, though, we have allegations against a guy who doesn’t really sound like a liberal but was affiliated with a liberal Christian organization.

Oddly, a search Google search using these limits — enright liberal christian — returns nothing from the MSM except a few comments at Salon and Politico. Interesting.

But neither does N.R. Kleinfield use the term “liberal” in this NYT story, so maybe this angle has gotten some attention that I’ve missed.

Also of note, this story included an eloquent quote from my favorite Jewish conservative politician, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg:

“This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to.”

But this had been preceded by a quote, also from a prepared statement, from the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, that seemed totally out of line:

“As other American minorities have experienced, hate speech often leads to hate crimes. Sadly, we’ve seen how the deliberate public vilification of Islam can lead some individuals to violence against innocent people.”

It seems a lot of people want to tie every event involving Muslims these days to sentiments towards the Near Ground Zero Mosque. I went over this the other day in the post about the end of Ramadan. But there is no — absolutely ZERO — support for the proposition that Enright’s alleged attack was motivated, or even psychologically encouraged, by opposition to the lower Manhattan Islamic center.

Awad’s comment is straight spin and it deserved at least some exploration.

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  • thomas aquinas

    Dumbest quote ever: “As other American minorities have experienced, hate speech often leads to hate crimes. Sadly, we’ve seen how the deliberate public vilification of Islam can lead some individuals to violence against innocent people.”

    Two comments.

    First, is it being suggested that one can employ hate speech against majorities without any consequences? So, is hate speech only conditionally wrong or intrinsically wrong?

    Second, if hate speech leads to violence, wouldn’t free speech lead to hate speech, since hate speech is a form of free speech? So, on these grounds, we should ban free speech.

    Quotes like the above are downright evil, for they are intended to quash dissent by telling other citizens to hate the dissenter. The irony, of course, is that it is itself a form of hate speech, but of a passive aggressive sort.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Sorry for talking about non-journalistic matters, but seeing someone with the moniker “thomas aquinas” committing a logical fallacy is not something I can ignore. :)

    Second, if hate speech leads to violence, wouldn’t free speech lead to hate speech, since hate speech is a form of free speech? So, on these grounds, we should ban free speech.

    If murderers are sinners, and murderers should go to jail, then shouldn’t we put all sinners in jail? (If you wish to continue to use the “thomas aquinas” name, please at least look up the fallacy of the undistributed middle.)

  • Evanston2

    An interesting analysis of the NYT article by the WSJ’s James Taranto et al is here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703959704575453450937635686.html
    Taranto points out that the stabber’s background isn’t described until paragraphs 28 & 29. While Taranto insists that “The Times hasn’t exactly buried the lead here” I believe he is being generous. If I (Christian, retired Marine) had done the stabbing are there any guesses on what the headline and lede would say? Mr. Greenberg is right, there’s a lot of “straight spin” and editorial spin going on here.

  • http://www.nytimes.com Paul Vitello

    “But neither does N.R. Kleinfield use the term “liberal” in this NYT story…”

    If you read the story, the behavior of the suspect in the case was bizarre enough to suggest that he was mentally ill — which turns out to be the judgment now of the corrections dept., which is holding him in a psychiatric detention facility. So. You’re saying the writer should have made it more clear that this mentally troubled person was probably “a liberal”? Isn’t this taking the culture war a little far, even for you guys?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I think we all know — whether we admit it or not — that if the facts were exactly the same except for where this young man worked, we’d be reading wildly different stories right now.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    I guess my comment requires clarification. When I mentioned the lack of a liberal reference in the story, I was referring to the Christian group, not Enright.

  • http://www.nytimes.com Paul Vitello

    ..so the writer shuld have mentioned more prominently that the mentally unstable suspect was working for a “liberal” organization — because, if he worked for a “conservative” organization that fact would have been mentioned sooner? I think you guys have to step back and take a breath. This is shadow-boxing, not media analysis.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    All I was suggesting was that if the organization in question were conservative that would have been mentioned — maybe early, maybe late, but at least at all.

  • Jeffrey

    “This is shadow-boxing”

    And rhetorically lazy. We don’t all know that and it’s empty to suggest it.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Anyone want to defend the way the Awad quote was handled?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JEFFREY:

    I’m with Brad. If this guy is from an evangelical network that, oh, is opposed to the mosque near Ground Zero, that fact is in the lede. No question. It’s also a motive, instead of mental illness.

    To me this looks like mental illness and it’s horribly ironic — and newsworthy — that someone from that group took this action. It’s a complete flip of logic. Stunning.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Awad’s comment needs to be challenged for his description of Muslims as a “minority”. What does this term mean? Who qualifies?

    If you followed the post-Prop-8 events in California it is clear that Mormons do not qualify for the protections this term brings.

    I still wonder if anyone will explore the possible agent provocature angle to this story. The attacker is so closely connected with pro-Park 51 groups, that it almost seems he was hoping to discredit the opposition be doing what he assumes they would do.

    I would not suspect this as much if I had not seen claims that those who are advocates of Park 51 are brainwashed followers of the Zionist leadership, and if the “ckeckpoint” being a violent attack could poke to anything except anti-Jewish understandings of check points in the West Bank.

    Lastly there is the fact that in some circles the term neo-conservative is best translated so that neo=Jewish and conservative=evil. David Brooks and Barry Rubin expand on this idea. Robert J. Lieber’s piece in the “Chronicle of Higher Education” probably best explains this issue, since it also manages to expose the extreme racism against Black Republicans held by many Liberals.

    I know this involves conspiracy theories at some levels. However, it is hard to avoid seeing a sinister motive in a stabbing that is then used to denounce the person’s opponants on an issue.

    One other possibility, which the media seems equally unwilling to investigate is if the stabbing was because this Muslim expressed opposition to Park51.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Is it possible the cabby was stabbed because he expressed opposition to Park51? Do we even know what type of Islam he followed? Maybe he said something else that outraged his passenger. I think more facts are needed to say anything.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Reading the story in depth, the main thing I come away with is that we have the story of the attacked, but not of anyone else.

    It appears that the attacker claims he was seeking to protect himself from being robbed.

    The other interesting line is the part about the passenger making fun of the rituals of Ramadan. This does not seem inconsistent coming from a religious lieral. Of course, it is unclear what Mr. Enright’s religious orientation is.

    I would say it is highly irresponsible of the Times to put the statements about the Park51 project and Awad’s claim this is reactions to rhetoric over the project (which has as its main goal pushing an attempt to end free-speech rights) before the explanation that there is no evidence that this is connected with Park51, and even less that it is because Mr. Enright dislikes Park51.

    My best guess is that Mr. Enright suffers from schizophrenia, at least if the cab drivers description of the events is accurate.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Evanston2,
    You have a good point. At least the headline should be “Person connected with a Pro-WTC Mosque group stabs Muslim cab driver”.

    This is the most compelling part of the story. Awad’s claim about rhetoric leading to violence ignores many things.

    It seems if people attack Muslims because of dislike of Muslims those people are in the wrong. Yet if Muslims attack you because they dislike your actions, you are in the wrong and the Muslims are just acting naturally.

    This may be a slight exageration, but it at least at times seems to be the case. The NYT allowing Awad to blame this on those who oppose the WTC is the type of cheap-shot attempt to discredit those with ideas they disagree with that is the number one factor in making Sarah Palin the hero of millions of people in middle-America.

    We are tired of the condescending attitude of the New York Times and the “the government can take you house to give it to a big business crowd”.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Brad,
    I also was under the impression that what you meant was that your search would not have turned up the New York Times article, and so the fact that you search did not succeed in yielding results did not mean the MSM is ignoring the complicating factors.

    This story from the AP run by the Deseret News back on Wednesday gives a very different chain of events. The passenger being drunk is stated without question, the time line is changed, especially the Ramadan discussion. However the article says “Police said the mosque was not mentioned during the incident”, this is after the mention of the New York cab workers attempts to tie the incident to Park 51.

    I guess the changes in the story line and number of reported events are expected. The lack of the truly odd reference to a check point is excusable. However, what is with bringing in Park 51 when you then admit that no one claims it was mentioned.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Tom Hayes’ AP article published by the Deseret News yesterday, see this link, http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700060350/Slashed-Muslim-taxi-driver-to-visit-NYC-mayor.html , at least in the DN version opens with the mention of the contradictions of Enright.

    This seems to be the best way to do it. It also may indicate the true bizarreness of the case is at least hinted at in the MSM, although its nature and affiliation is not heavily explored.

    The article seems to have more time to tell us of Enright’s attire than anything else. The conflict between the AP’s story of “when he said he was Muslim then he pulled out the weapon” and the NYT/WSJ story that involves discussing Ramadan is pretty big.

    The AP entire fails, at least as extracted by the DN, to mention the shouting about a check point. This is the one thing that made me initially think this was the work of an anti-Jewish radical, who therefore supported Park51.

    That theory in turn derives from having earlier this week read some web comments on this discussion from someone claiming that opponents of Park51 had all been duped into their position by the Zionists.

  • Ann

    There is considerable speculation about Michael Enright and others when all the facts are not yet known. The liberal v conservative approach is sad and does not seem very productive.

    Maybe Enright’s only purpose for volunteering with Intersections International was to help with his travel expenses to Afghanistan.

    “For five weeks in April and May, Enright embedded with Task Force Leatherneck, a Marine unit fighting in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, coalition military officials confirmed. His aim was to film the soldiers’ stories for his senior thesis, “Home of the Brave.””

    Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/pals_say_ballistic_outburst_is_un_7QiIB0dNNgPC8o05AXZf3M#ixzz0xrxenKc8

    The national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad may have based his statement on an early report that was later denied by the NYPD:

    “When he was arrested Tuesday in midtown, Enright had a personal diary filled with pages of “pretty strong anti-Muslim comments,” a police source said.”
    http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/08/26/2010-08-26_untitled__2cab26m.html

    The above site had a later story that included, “Accused cabbie-stabber Michael Enright has a history of bizarre drunken behavior: He was busted last year in an East Side apartment building ranting about dead Marines.”

    “Cesar De Leon, 40, a Brooklyn actor who starred in a short Web spoof Enright made called “Sammy Adams,” said the young filmmaker was preoccupied with shell shock.

  • Ann

    While conservatives are stressing the Enright’ association with the Intersections International, the liberal are stressing Enright’ Facebook page that has been shutdown. Under “Michael Likes” there was a link to Greg Ball’s NY’s Tea Party candidate for the Senate.

    http://i84.photobucket.com/albums/k23/jukeboxgrad/enright-ballfacebook.png

    To see some of Enright’s videos:
    http://www.mediaite.com/online/exclusive-videos-by-michael-enright-alleged-assailant-of-muslim-cab-driver/

  • http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com Tom Degan

    It has always been easy to laugh at these people. Let’s face it; the extreme right wing is a satirist’s dream. But in the last year-and-a-half their message has gotten too strange to take with a mere grain of salt. Now they’re encouraging the citizenry to hate a certain minority based solely on their religion. Tell me, just what the hell does that remind you of?

    Deutschland! Deutschland!
    Uber Alles!

    Ah! The memories!

    And that message is resonating, too. On Tuesday evening some genius by the name of Michael Enright hailed a cab on East 24th Street. After a few minutes of amiable conversation he asked the driver if he was a Muslim. When the man answered in the affirmative, Enright produced a knife and proceeded to slash him about the face and shoulders. The victim, who is doing fine by the way, told the press, “This is the first time I felt like I didn’t belong in America.” The hysteria is palpable.

    http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

    Tom Degan
    Goshen, NY

  • John Pack Lambert

    The Wall Street Journal has published a new article on this story. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704147804575455973190870954.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    The main development is that Enright’s six note books mention no anti-Muslim feelings and made no references to the ground zero mosque.

    Even if Ann’s rant about the anti-Muslim diary had any source it would not connect this incident with the Park51 mosque debate.

    The fact that those who rant about “Islamophobic statements” ignore is that there have been widespread cases of US based terror cells.

  • Ann

    John Pack Lambert says: “Even if Ann’s rant about the anti-Muslim diary had any source it would not connect this incident with the Park51 mosque debate.”

    I provided a link. I also said in the lead in paragraph: “the early report that was later denied by the NYPD.”

    My point was we do not yet know why Michael Enright attacked the cab driver beside an alcohol problem and probably mental illness. The majority of individuals that commit violent crimes have some level of mental illness.

  • Evanston2

    John Pack Lambert, thank you for reading what others have said here. Even if they believe you are unfair, you care enough to put forth some effort.
    Ann (#22), it’s definitely a bit harsh to characterize what you say as a rant. I respectfully offer, however, that when you say that violent people have some level of mental illness, it’s a tautology. “Insanity” by definition means unhealthy behavior. Further, psychologists can make anyone seem unbalanced. Hey, my typing this sentence right now is probably due to some sort of syndrome. My question would be whether Mr. Enright has a history of violent behavior, and what circumstances (you mention alcohol) triggered it.
    Tom Degan #20, thank you for providing a good example of a “rant.” If you care to actually talk about journalism (not the story itself, but the coverage by NYT and others) that would be dandy.

  • http://nathanrein.com Nathan Rein

    Sticking to the journalistic questions, I think Mollie and Brad are right. If Enright had documented connections to some Tea Party-style organization, or to some evangelical group that had denounced Park51 or Islam in general, that’d be a very big part of the story. As it stands, however, I don’t think the fact that these contrary circumstances are being left out is the sign of any sinister or irresponsible misrepresentation of the facts, or proof of anti-conservative bias, or anything like that. As I see it, reporters write stories. The fact that Enright has this connection to Intersections International doesn’t add anything compelling to the story — it just makes it more confusing if anything. If he had a history of anti-Islamic connections, that’d make sense in this context — it would make the narrative more compelling, easier to understand. But no, he’s connected to an organization that says part of its mission is promoting cross-cultural and cross-religious understanding between Christians and Muslims. It’s surprising, but it’s hard to make a case for it being directly relevant. I mean, it’s quite possible (and seems to be the case) that Enright committed his crime in spite of his relationship with Intersections. It seems nonsensical, though, to suggest that he committed his crime because of his connection with Intersections. I’m not defending the coverage, but I don’t think it’s particularly surprising that it played out this way.

  • Evanston2

    Nathan (24), do you believe that Mr. Enright’s connection to Intersections International is an intriguing part of the story? Put another way, do you believe it is “News?” Even if its exact significance is hard to determine, that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting (sure spices up the story for me) instead of burying it in paragraphs 28 &29. I agree with you, Mr. Enright’s background isn’t an exact bookend to someone connected with Tea Party-style organizations but that doesn’t mean it isn’t compelling for readers. Is it surprising that traditional media outlets are losing money while Fox seems to be thriving? It may seem salacious to “proper” media but people seem to want all the facts — All — and not just those that fit a particular narrative (like, MAJ Hassan’s actions had nothing to do with his religion…or John Edwards has an awesome marriage…or the lede includes allegations that Tea Party rallies are racist…while building an Islamic center near where 3,000 people got squished is perfectly OK). Context is king, not only in the details of the stabbing story, but also in reference to major mistakes by major media. As Mr. Greenberg said at the conclusion of his post, “Awad’s comment is straight spin and it deserved at least some exploration.” A little less spin, a bit more explanation, please.


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