There have been a lot of unsettling things about the way this Park51 controversy has unfolded, and one of the most deeply troubling ones has been the way that some far-right leaders have amped up their rhetoric. American Family Association director Bryan Fischer, for example, recently said that not only should the Muslim community center not be built downtown, but that there should be no mosques built anywhere anymore. “This is for one simple reason,” he wrote. “Each Islamic mosque is dedicated to the overthrow of the American government.” What’s surprising is not that he thinks that. He’s full of viewpoints like that. What’s surprising is that he assumes the atmosphere in America right now is such that not only will people not be bothered by this public statement, many will actually agree with it. Is America really ready to hear bigoted things about Muslims without offering widespread reprisal?
This has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats, as plenty of both fall on either side of the Park51 issue. It has to do with a growing sense of Islamophobia that is coming out into the open because of the heated rhetoric over the issue. A lot of people are yelling and a lot of people are angry. When you’re angry and you’re yelling, sometimes you let slip ugly truths, and sometimes you say things that aren’t true but you know will be hurtful. There’s plenty of that going on right now, on TV and in the streets of New York — and in an atmosphere like that, hate finds a very comfortable home.
On Monday night on Second Avenue in Manhattan, a 21-year-old man named Michael Enright got into a cab near 24th Street. He reportedly asked the driver if he was Muslim, and the driver indicated that yes, he was. At that point, according to NY1, the passenger pulled a Leatherman and slashed him in the throat, arm, and lip. Luckily, the 43-year-old driver was able to lock Enright in the back of the cab and alert 911. (Who knew those plastic barriers actually worked? And thank God.) Both were taken to Bellevue Hospital.
We don’t know any more than that, except that Enright has been charged with “attempted murder two as a hate crime, assault with a weapon as a hate crime, and other charges.” The eventual hospital destination indicates that there may have been something wrong, psychologically speaking, with the attacker. Thankfully, it’s also an isolated incident and there isn’t yet an evident reason to believe there’s a causal relationship between what’s going on in the news and the attack. But with the tension so high right now on the issue of tolerance of Muslims, the correlation between the two is troubling enough.