I knew it would happen; it was not a question of if but when: a New York City taxi driver, Ahmed Sharif, was recently slashed by a passenger because he is a Muslim. You would think that Sharif would be filled with anger, but yesterday on the steps of City Hall he professed love for his city, for his country, and a desire to just live in peace.
Twenty-five years ago Sharif came to the United States from Bangladesh. His dream, like so many who came before him, was to come to here for a better life. Lost in all the hubbub about the so-called Ground Zero mosque are the people like Sharif who want to live here because it is supposed to be the land of the free, the home of the brave. Isn’t it strikingly obvious enough that people from Muslim countries want to come here, leaving places of oppression for a fresh start in our country? It is a story told again and again over the decades. The “golden door” noted on the base of the Statue of Liberty beckons people from all over the world to seek the dream of freedom.
Sharif was driving his taxi in the city on Tuesday night, working hard to support his wife and four children. All was well until a drunken passenger, Michael Enright, a 21-year-old student at the School of Visual Arts got into Sharif’s cab and asked him if he was a Muslim. Enright then reached around the security partition and stabbed Sharif several times. Somehow Sharif was able to get out of the car, lock the perpetrator in the taxi, and get the police, who arrested Enright.
Mayor Bloomberg invited Sharif, his wife, and children to City Hall. Bloomberg gave the children gifts and used the opportunity to talk about Enright and his disgraceful actions. Bloomberg to his credit did not use the occasion to discuss the mosque controversy, but it inevitably came up as a reporter asked Sharif if he felt the attack was because of the mosque situation. Sharif, showing a dexterity for handling reporters that more politicians should have, said, “We didn’t have a talk about the mosque.” Here’s the case of a man who should be angry, should be outraged, but he handled the question well instead of fanning the flames.
Thankfully, Sharif is going to be okay, but the wounds he bears are not solely the responsibility of his attacker. Politicians on both sides of the debate regarding the mosque here in New York City are just as culpable, for they have used this controversy to stoke the fires of their own agendas, regardless of how much that enrages people and makes the issue hotter than furnace of hatred that caused Enright to attack Sharif.
Meanwhile, across the oceans somewhere in a dank and dusty cave, the architects of 9/11 and their minions are huddled around a fire and laughing their heads off. They couldn’t have asked for a better gift than to have an American attack a Muslim on the streets of New York. One might say to the other how it would have been better if the cabbie had been murdered. Another might wish for a few more Muslims to be attacked and killed. The more the better for them. Nothing helps them more in their recruiting efforts. Nothing.
9/11 seems long ago now, but for many of us who lost people that day, it is always present. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is not dead; it’s not even past.” New Yorkers will never forget 9/11, and no one in the United States should either, but in remembering those loved and lost, we also have to remember the essence of what makes this country great, making it shine like a beacon of hope for everyone else in the world.
We should take a good look at an innocent man like Ahmed Sharif. He is not responsible for those planes that ruined our city, or the mosque that people fear will ruin it too. No, Sharif is just a working stiff; like most of us, he is trying to get through each day, work hard, and get his little piece of the American dream. If someone tries to stop him or others like him from attaining that, then they are not any better than the terrorists who flew those planes on 9/11, but you know as well as I do that we are better than that. Much better. Now is the time to stop and show the rest of the world.