There was a clear disparity in mindsets on display at the City Hall press conference featuring recently attacked Muslim cab driver Ahmed Sharif this afternoon. On the one hand, you had Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Alliance, who had an overtly political message.
"We feel very strongly that many of these so called politicians, most them aren't even in office anymore, while they can hide behind a podium and bully pulpit, its the ordinary working person on the street who faces the consequences. We have no doubt that speech of ignorance and fearmongering fearmongering leads to hate crimes. Fearmongering leads to hate crimes. Fearmongering is at the heart of what happened to Ahmed Sharif."
Another speaker, Aliya Latif, the civil-rights director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said,
"We must ask ourselves what made Mr. Sharif's assailant tick. Hate speech can lead to hate crimes, especially when there's constant vilification of Muslims on talk radio, in newspapers, and on the internet. Leading the charge are ... politicians, who are fanning the flames of fear and hatred for cheap political points."
But when Sharif was asked whether his attack had any connection to the mosque debate, he said, "No, we didn't have a talk about the mosque." That's not to say that Sharif doesn't chalk up the incident to Islamophobia; it would be impossible not to, considering what was said to him. "Of course it was for my religion," Sharif said. But to him, the attack seemed more a traumatic personal ordeal than a component of a broader anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic climate. After Desai gave an impassioned speech about equality and tolerance which drew loud cheers and applause with the final line, "This isn't Arizona, this is New York City, how can this happen in our city!?!" Sharif motioned like he wanted to add something. But he only mentioned that, had he been stabbed in the throat as deeply as he had been on his arm, he would have died.