Ahmed Sharif, a New York City cab driver stabbed by a passenger, says he was definitely attacked because of his religion. Sharif was stabbed repeatedly while driving his taxi on the East Side Tuesday. The suspect, a white man named Michael Enright, attacked him after first asking whether he was Muslim. Many are saying that this attack is part of a growing anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S.
The apparent hate crime attack on Mr. Sharif and the alarming wave of hate crimes against Latinos that Joe wrote about yesterday are connected in a number of ways. One of the major links is the way that these acts of violence are part of a larger social context that includes rising tide of hate speech targeting Muslims and Latinos.
The research connecting hate speech to hate crimes is mixed. When it comes to individuals explaining their motivation for hate crimes, there’s actually relatively little research that investigates motivations for hate crimes. One study that does this finds a range of motivations: thrill, defensive, mission, and retaliatory motivation (J. McDevitt, J. Levin, and S. Bennett, “Hate Crime Offenders: An Expanded Typology,” Journal of Social Issues, 58 (2):303-318). In the case of Enright’s attack on Sharif, this appears to be a “mission” hate crime, in which Enright was on a “mission” to attack anyone who was Muslim. Other research, such as Alexander Tsesis’ book Destructive Messages (NYU Press, 2002), demonstrate how hate speech gives rise to dangerous social movements.
The question really is where did Enright, a film student who was working on a project to promote cross-cultural understanding, get the idea that he should attack someone who was Muslim? No one knows for sure. The fact is that after traveling to Afghanistan to work on a film project, Enright returned to New York where there is an ugly display of hate speech downtown about the so-called mosque controversy. Could this have played even a small role in Enright’s violent actions last Tuesday? It seems more than plausible.
The fact is that the U.S., and even the country’s most diverse city, New York, are becoming more treacherous for people of color. And yet, this violence gets repaid with loyalty. Despite the brutal attack on him, the cab driver Mr. Sharif told supporters outside City Hall that he still loves New York.
“This is a city of all colors, races, all religion, everyone. We live here, side by side, peacefully.”