NEW YORK, Thursday 26 August 2010 (AFP) - New Yorkers, including the city's mayor, and several national US organizations, strongly condemned Wednesday the attack of a taxi driver believed to have been targeted because he is a Muslim.
The attacker, a 21-year-old man who was reportedly drunk at the time of the incident, has been arrested and charged with attempted murder as a hate crime after he attacked Ahmed Sharif on Tuesday evening.
The man was 43-year-old Sharif's first fare of the night, the Taxi Workers Alliance said in a statement. As the cab headed for Times Square, the passenger began a friendly conversation with Sharif about his religion, asking him if he was fasting in observance of the Muslim month of Ramadan.
After a few moments of silence, the man "suddenly started cursing and screaming," the statement said.
"He yelled 'Assalamu Alaikum. Consider this a checkpoint,' and then slashed Mr. Sharif across the neck. As Mr. Sharif went to knock the knife out, the perpetrator, continuing to scream loudly, cut the taxi driver in the face (from nose to upper lip), arm and hand," the alliance said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he had spoken to Sharif and "assured him that ethnic or religious bias has no place in our city."
The mayor said Sharif had accepted an invitation to meet with him at City Hall on Thursday.
"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to," Bloomberg said.
The Taxi Workers Alliance linked the attack on Sharif to the controversy surrounding plans for a mosque and interfaith center near the New York site of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The group said it was joining community, immigrant and Muslim organizations calling "for an end to the bigotry and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the debate around the Park51 Islamic Cultural Center."
The New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia denounced the attack as "particularly disturbing in the context of the toxic atmosphere of Islamophobia produced by opponents of the Park51 community project."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations also warned that inflammatory rhetoric emerging from the debate about the center, which critics say insults the memory of those killed on 9/11, was creating a dangerous environment.
"Sadly, we've seen how the deliberate public vilification of Islam can lead some individuals to violence against innocent people," said Nihad Awad, the group's national executive director. "Hate speech often leads to hate crimes."
Sharif, in remarks released by the Taxi Workers Alliance, described himself as "very sad."
"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.
"Right now, the public sentiment is very serious," he added. "All drivers should be more careful."