msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/26/2010 12:29:09 PM ET 2010-08-26T16:29:09

In the latest in a spate of anti-Muslim incidents over the last two days, an intoxicated man entered a mosque in Queens on Wednesday evening and proceeded to urinate on prayer rugs, New York police officials said.

The man, identified as Omar Rivera, reportedly shouted anti-Muslim epithets and called worshippers who had gathered for evening prayer “terrorists.” One witness told the New York Post the man was “very clearly intoxicated” and had a beer bottle in his hand at the time.

“He stuck up his middle finger and cursed at everyone,” Mustapha Sadouki, who was at the mosque at the time, said. “He calls us terrorists, yet he comes into our mosque and terrorizes other people.”

Rivera has been charged with criminal trespassing.

FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko told msnbc.com that New York City has not seen a change in the number of hate crimes reported by Muslims so far this year, but every report is taken seriously.

But recent incidents — including the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver and the desecration of a California mosque — have some members of the Muslim community worried that crimes against Muslims could reach crisis levels.

"Without a significant response by mainstream political leaders, this disturbing trend will only continue to grow," said Faiza Ali, a New York spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Start of a bigger trend?
Around 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, a drunk 21-year-old student named Michael Enright allegedly attacked a cab driver in midtown Manhattan who had identified himself as a Muslim.

The cab driver told police that the two struck up a conversation in Arabic before Enright turned on him, screaming “This is a checkpoint, mother----er! I have to put you down.” Enright reportedly proceeded to stab the driver’s neck and face with a Leatherman knife.

Earlier this week, a mosque in Madera, Calif., had been vandalized with signs referring to the controversial plan to build an Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to CAIR.

“No temple for the God of terrorism at Ground Zero,” one sign read. “Wake up America, the Enemy is here,” read another. Both were signed “ANB,” reportedly standing for the American Nationalist Brotherhood.

Imbrahim Hooper, another spokesman for CAIR, told msnbc.com that it is only after “times of severe crisis” like the Oklahoma City bombing or September 11 terrorist attacks that the organization has seen such an uptick in hate crimes against the Muslim community.

“I think we’re beginning to see the result of this manufactured controversy about the Islamic community center in Manhattan,” Hooper said. “I hope this is not an indication of a trend.”

Hooper said the organization attributes the increasing number of incidents involving anti-Muslim rhetoric to an “Islamaphobia machine” that includes right-wing news, blogs and other media outlets.

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When asked to specify exactly what media outlets are to blame, Hooper responded, “We don’t need more enemies right now.”

According to the organization’s most recent Civil Rights Report, New York is among the five locations in the United States with the highest number of CAIR civil rights complaints. Most of these complaints, moreover, are made as a result of occurrences in a Muslim location or mosque.

Hate crimes represent a very small number of the overall complaints filed by CAIR since it first began recording data on Muslim civil rights in 1995.

Since 2004, the percentage of complaints that were classified as “hate crime” has been on the steady decline, according to the report.

Msnbc.com's Ryan McCartney contributed to this report.

Video: NYC cab driver stabbed for being a Muslim

  1. Transcript of: NYC cab driver stabbed for being a Muslim

    OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York . The political background of the alleged assailant is confused and even contradictory. He worked as a volunteer videographer for a religious group which supported the Park 51 Islamic community center in New York and he may -- and he did say that he had just returned from Afghanistan , making a film there about a high school friend in the U.S. military -- was apparently deeply concerned about the people and the war there. While circumstances would suggest he may have been influenced by the Islamophobic hysteria of the last month, there are indications in the fast moving story that he may, in fact, have been more influenced by large amounts of alcohol.

    Regardless, in our fifth story tonight: 21-year-old Michael Enright got into a New York City taxi last night, asked the driver if he was Muslim, got an affirmative answer, and then allegedly slashed the driver with a knife across the neck, face and shoulders. First, Michael Enright , who was today arraigned on charges of attempted murder two, as a hate crime and other related charges, the circumstances of his alleged crimes chilling in their own right. at approximately 6:14 last night, 24th street and 2nd Avenue , the 21-year-old Enright got into the cab of a driver who was subsequently identified as Ahmed Sharif , a 43-year-old, male. According to Mr. Sharif 's statement, Mr. Enright began asking friendly questions, quoting that statement, "Where he, Mr. Sharif , was from, how long he'd been in America , if he was a Muslim, and if he was observing fast during Ramadan ." Implicit in Mr. Sharif 's statement and confirmed by the NYPD , Mr. Sharif responded that he was, indeed, a Muslim. Returning to Mr. Sharif 's statement, quoting, "He, Mr. Enright , then first became silent for a few minutes then suddenly started cursing and screaming. 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." Assalamu Alaikum , a common Islamic greeting meaning "Peace be with you." Mr. Sharif called 911, stopped the cab and reportedly locked Mr. Enright inside until police arrive. Both men were initially taken to Bellevue Hospital in New York . Police say Mr. Enright was highly intoxicated, friends of his telling " Talking Points Memo " he has a drinking problem. Enright was later charged with the aforementioned hate crimes . Mr. Sharif is now recovering and in stable condition. Another portion of his statement, "I feel 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. Right now, the public sentiment is very serious, because of the Ground Zero mosque debate. All drivers should be more careful." The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance , along with Mr. Sharif , will hold a news conference tomorrow morning to call for an end of the bigotry and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the debate around the Park 51 Islamic cultural center , it says. Now, to Mr. Enright , and potentially bizarre amplification of his alleged crimes with a caveat that the information is still unfolding from various sources, much of this stems from a Facebook page. Mr. Enright was reportedly a volunteer worker for Intersections International , a multi- faith, multicultural organization which has publicly supported what is now known as the Park 51 cultural center . The executive director of the Intersections International is saying, quote, 'If this is the same Michael Enright who has worked with Intersections , this is totally out of his character." Mr. Enright has also reportedly made a film about the experience of a high school friend, a Marine serving in Afghanistan . Mr. Enright said he had been there recently for that purpose and there was indeed a film for which he was heavily attempting to get publicity. And now to this -- what might have been, what still could be one of the anecdotes to the kind of hate engendered by the hysterical opponents of Park 51. More on Mr. Enright in the moment. But, first, the rally today by family members of 9/11 victims in support of that Islamic center . More on that in a moment. And last night, once again calling out the lie of any so-called compromise on this issue, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaking at an Iftar dinner.

    MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK : There are people of every faith -- including perhaps some in this room -- who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate. But it won't. The question will then become: how big should the no- Mosque zone be around the World Trade Center site ? There's already a mosque four blocks away. Should it be moved? This is a test of our commitment to American values . And we have to have the courage of our convictions.

    OLBERMANN: Back to the subject of Michael Enright . Enright was trying to get publicity for that documentary. He had reached out to at least one reporter, wound up talking to her five times, trading e-mails with her. Katy Tur of our NBC station here in New York , WNBC , who joins us now from Queens . Katy , describe what impression you had of his demeanor, stability, temperament -- who was this guy?

    KATY TUR, WNBC REPORTER: You know, I got to tell you, the first time I spoke to this guy, I was struck by how incredibly polite he was. He was "yes, ma'am," "no, ma'am," very polite on the phone. Just wanted to get a point across of how he feels that soldiers really aren't getting enough attention back in the United States . And, basically, he was trying to get me to do a story on him on his documentary. He basically followed a family childhood friend as he enlisted, trained and then was sent off to Afghanistan . He was there for about six weeks. And when he came back he started editing the film. And the inter -- what's it called --

    OLBERMANN: Intersections International.

    TUR: Intersections International -- thank you -- contacted me and they said, we have this kid, Mike Enright . He's very talented and I think you'd be interested in the story. And so, that's basically how I got in contact with him.

    OLBERMANN: Did you get impressions from this? He'd been in Afghanistan , at least he said he was, and the film would be evidence of that. Did you get any impression after he e-mailed you about a story that you had done on this Park 51 controversy? Did you get any sense that he was opposed to Muslims or Afghans or the project or anything about it?

    TUR: Well, the story has been the biggest story in New York for some time now. And I 've done it a number of times. And after one I did just a few days ago, I got an e-mail from Mr. Enright that said, "Hey, I really appreciate your story on the mosque, I think you did a good job, I hope to hear from you soon." And I never got an impression that he was anti-Muslim in any way. I did feel like -- I heard from a friend of his that he had a very intense experience in Afghanistan , but not that he had a negative impressions of Muslims . You can see pictures that he posted up on Flickr with little Afghani children. So, the idea he's anti-Muslim came as real shock to those who knew him. Certainly it's a surprise to me who -- because he seemed extraordinarily stable, at least on the phone, from the times that I spoke to him.

    OLBERMANN: So, when the executive director of the group says, if this is the Michael Enright who has worked with Intersections , this is totally out of his character. Based on your limited interaction with him, do you agree with that statement?

    TUR: I would love to say that it's totally based -- not in his character. But I -- from the limited interaction that I have had with him, I really couldn't tell you that. He was very polite on the phone. He was very nice. He just wanted to get his point across that the Afghanistan war is not being paid enough attention in the media and in the United States . He really wanted to create more of a dialogue between civilians and veterans. He was working with families of fallen victims. I got the impression he really wanted to get out the words of soldiers, not necessarily that he had anything against Muslims or their faith. So, this came as a surprise certainly to me, but certainly more so to those who knew them.

    OLBERMANN: My dear friend Katy Tur of WNBC in New York -- good work, great thanks.

    TUR: Thank you, Keith .

    OLBERMANN: Let's bring in the president of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations , Zead Ramadan . Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

    ZEAD RAMADAN, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: My pleasure, Keith .

    OLBERMANN: Obviously, it will be charged as a hate crime . Are there other explanations for this? If the man had a drinking problem, if he'd just back from Afghanistan and was trying to promote coverage of the wars and veterans and ally veterans with civilians -- could there be another explanation for this?

    RAMADAN: You know, this is very puzzling. Whether consciously or subconsciously, this gentleman started slashing away at someone after he asked him if he was a Muslim. So, that was a direct -- that was a direct connect.

    My theory is -- and my question is really: what made him tick? Is all this horrible rhetoric that's out there these days really causing people to turn from, you know, freedom of expression, to violence?

    OLBERMANN: Is -- what do you -- how do you -- how do you approach this from your point of view and from the important issue that is at hand here, which is this late surge of Islamophobia ? If, in fact, this is not somebody who is otherwise Islamophobic , but perhaps was -- just -- who knows, posttraumatic stress disorder, I don't want to try to diagnose him here.

    RAMADAN: Right.

    OLBERMANN: We'll be doing that for the next few days. But, obviously, this is a very nuanced story. It's more than just some guy -- the stuff we've seen at mosques around the country and the naked stupid hatred of the fellow in Kentucky who said a Baptist church next door to his flower shop would be fine because the Baptists would respect parking zones and Muslims would not. It's not that kind of story.

    RAMADAN: No, these are pathetic excuses for the hatred and the fearmongering that's been, you know, spewed over the area, you got to stop the Islamization of America with Robert Spencer , who's basically our modern day Jim Jones . And he's poisoning people over the Internet . And, unfortunately, these people who think they're on his side, he's throwing him under the bus. And they're making these ridiculous comments and they're going out there and they're attacking Muslims . In Brooklyn , just a couple of months ago, there was a Bangladeshi man on a construction -- he was a construction worker on a break from lunch and he was approached by three teens. And they asked him, are you a Muslim? And he said, yes, and they said go back to your bleeping country . Then they attacked him. And the man was in a coma.

    OLBERMANN: Right.

    RAMADAN: He's currently out of a job, can't support his children. But this is the kind of rhetoric. And now, these are teens. They could not be prosecuted as adults. I'm telling you, teens, how are these teens being affected by the rhetoric and hate and fearmongering that they're listening to on the net, over the air?

    OLBERMANN: But it would be irony if this man became representative of all the bad that's going where he was perhaps not guilty of it in that same way.

    RAMADAN: Unfortunately.

    OLBERMANN: Let me ask you something positive about this.

    RAMADAN: Sure.

    OLBERMANN: The mayor of the city of New York forcefully asserted himself last night into this event. And restated his opinion that compromise is by itself a defeat of religious freedom and what this country is about.

    RAMADAN: Right.

    OLBERMANN: Don't we need -- I think Mayor Bloomberg has shined in this occasion in a way perhaps he never has before -- but don't we need, desperately need other leaders of all faiths and political stripes to step up in the same way?

    RAMADAN: You know, Keith , I was there last night and it was a very moving speech. Once again, you know, Mayor Bloomberg 's a student of history and he knows he wants to stand on the right side of history once it's told years from now. He does not want to stand on the side of McCarthy . He wants to stand on the side of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington -- the people who worked for decades to create and ratify a Constitution to protect all Americans , all Americans , negligent of their religion, race or creed. And I think he's doing an honorable job. I just wish -- and I heard you talk about it and I completely agree with you. I think some Democrats have to step up and some people just have to step up and say, listen, I'm going to be on the right side of history here. I don't want to be person who's remembered as a persecutor of my own -- of my own people, my fellow Americans .

    OLBERMANN: Zead Ramadan , New York chapter of Council on American- Islamic Relations -- good luck with

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