Foreign Reaction to U.S. Anti-Muslim Events, Part III: Assorted Incidents

by Steven R. Corman, Jeffry R. Halverson, and Chris Lundry

So far in this series we have looked at two high-profile anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S.  Part I focused on the Park51 project, the so-called Ground Zero Mosque.  In part II we looked at the controversy surrounding the “International Burn a Qur’an Day,” scheduled for Saturday.  In addition to these high-profile cases, a number of similar but lesser known anti-Muslim events have occurred in the U.S. Some, but not all, have received attention from foreign Muslim media outlets.

The Attempted Murder of Ahmed H. Sharif

On Tuesday, August 24, 2010, a film student, Michael Enright, slashed Ahmed H. Sharif’s throat, face, and arms with a knife, after asking about Sharif’s religion during a taxi ride. Enright faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of attempted murder.

The majority of reports in the Arabic press and blogs appear to be standard Reuters or AP accounts of the incident. One Arabic article accessed through a general news portal (“Good News 4 Me”), akin to Yahoo!, begins by saying that racism and the ugly bigotry of Western civilization showed itself when Michael Enright (a full body picture of Mr. Enright is displayed) stabbed his Muslim driver who was fasting during Ramadan. After that provocative opening statement, the story is a standard account. That said, the story does include a picture (see below) of the Muslim taxi driver’s bloody face from the moments immediately after the attack.

Ahmed H. Sharif following the attack

Ahmed H. Sharif following the attack

A similar example, this time from a Jordanian website, cites standard information from CNN, but it too has a huge image of the Muslim driver’s bloody face. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is the anonymous readers comments section. There we find some readers invoking God to help the Muslims against the enemies of Islam, crush the infidels, and remarks about American terrorism and racism.

An Egyptian story, again pretty standard, contained remarks in the readers’ comments section which suggested that the Sharif attack was an act of terrorism and a continuation of the Crusades, a remark about the injustice of blaming peaceful Muslims for terrorism, and suggestions that the USA has used terrorism against poor countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. That said, other posts by readers rebuked these views and stressed looking at the context of the attack, and not contributing to further hatred or backward thinking.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, the native country of Mr. Sharif, an editorial in the August 30th edition of the newspaper New Age commented that: “The ‘clashes of civilization’ theory, sponsored and propagated by the western establishments, may have taught Enright that Muslims in general are enemy and may have led him to attack the politically innocent Muslim cabbie.” Overall, the editorial frames the incident as a by-product of the longstanding “anti-Muslim political rhetoric” in the U.S. political establishment, particularly among Republicans, heightened since the Park51 dispute.  The author notes that “some Republican leaders have not hesitated to draw analogy between Nazis and Muslims.” The editorial concludes on a positive note, however, by stating that: “Thankfully, there are saner minds in US society like the more than 40 religious and civic groups who announced a coalition in support of the [Park51] project on the ground of religious freedom and tolerance.”

There were also standard reports of the story in the Moroccan site hespress.com on Afghan Arzu TV News, and al-Quds, and similar reporting from Indonesia’s mainstream Surya and Tribun Timur as well as Hizbut Tahrir, whose story features a graphic image of a bloodied knife.

Tennessee Mosque Arson

In the early morning hours of August 28th, 2010, someone poured flammable liquid on four pieces of construction equipment and set fire to one at the site of a planned new Islamic center and mosque just outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The site was previously the scene of anti-Muslim protests, and hundreds of opponents had packed a Rutherford County Commission meeting in mid-June to protest the construction of the mosque.

The Arab-American news site, al-Watan, carried a story that mentioned the Tennessee arson incident only in passing. It’s included in an article on the heated debate over the Park51 project entitled “American Muslims ask for more Protection due to Growing Hostility.” The same article is posted on the website, almoslim.net, which is based in Saudi Arabia. Another standard article is posted on DoniaNews.net, a news website based in Amman, Jordan. Coverage of the Tennessee mosque incident in the Arabic media appears to be minimal and limited to standard reporting. The same can be said for the reporting coming from Indonesia.

In Karachi, Pakistan, however, a television news program, Aaj News, devoted significant time to the story and discussed it in the context of the other incidents reviewed in this blog series. Aaj News correspondent Maooz Asad Siddiqi reported that “hatred against the construction of mosques has grown throughout the United States,” and “mainstream right wing leaders, including former presidential candidate Sara Palin and [Newt Gingrich], former speaker of a democratic country like the United States, [have] started issuing statements against Muslims.” While painting a bleak picture of the situation in the U.S., even suggesting it is worse than after 9/11, the Aaj News report does detail the efforts of government (e.g. FBI) and religious organizations to speak out against the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment.

Man Urinates in Prayer Room of NYC Mosque

On the evening of August 25th, 2010, an intoxicated man entered a New York City mosque, shouted insults at Muslims inside, and urinated on prayer rugs in the masala (prayer space).

This incident has received little coverage that we could find in the foreign Muslim media. In an article entitled “‘The Burning of the Qur’an: the Vicious Plan of the Crusaders,” the Indonesian site Syabab writes that this (along with the vandalism of a mosque in Fresno the same night) is proof that the “physical and mental violence and terror towards Muslims is though to be increasing as teh anniversary of September 11 approaches.” The article also warns of the spread of the “disease” of Islamophobia in the U.S.

Man in Turban Attacked in Seattle

On the morning of August 21, 2010, a 35-year-old Seattle man attacked a convenience store clerk, punching him in the head and yelling: “You’re not even American, you’re Al-Qaeda. Go back to your country.'” The clerk was a Sikh and wore a turban.

This story seems to have gone largely unnoticed in the Arabic media, but has been picked up in India and Sikh community media outlets, such as this website.

Teens fire Shotgun, Shout Epithets outside Upstate NY Mosque

On Monday, August 30, 2010, a group of teenagers in western New York harassed members of a mosque by yelling obscenities and insults during evening prayers for Ramadan, sideswiping a worshiper with a vehicle, and firing a shotgun outside. Five teenagers were arrested.

This incident has received no coverage that we could find in the Muslim foreign media.

Phoenix Mosque Vandalized

Yesterday the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, under construction, was vandalized.  According to the article in the Arizona Republic:

Paint was spilled on the floor and several tall, arched glass windows were broken by what appeared to be gunshots, Shami said. There was also anti-Muslim graffiti.

This incident is too recent to have received foreign press coverage, but comments posted on the local story indicates concern about the incident.  One reader said:

Muslims as a whole would love to see American [sic] destroyed and turned into a Muslim state they might get a clue. We work on a time frame of years while Muslims work on decades and centuries. They know they cannot destroy the USA in years or decades but they can and will in centuries.

Conclusion

Many of the smaller incidents we studied did not receive any coverage in foreign Muslim sources. Of these, the Sharif stabbing got the most. This incident got the most coverage in the media among the “assorted” stories, but not as much as the Park51 or Qur’an burning stories. This suggests that these incidents are only taken up when they generate a large amount of controversy and press attention in the United States, perhaps particularly when they get a lot of play in the political blogosphere.

As with the cases discussed in Parts I and II of this series, the incidents (when they are covered) are taken as growing evidence of anti-Muslim discrimination, and used as an opportunity to once again invoke the Crusader narrative. In the case of the Sharif stabbing, a gruesome photo was used to sensationalize what was otherwise a routine report.

Tomorrow, in the final part IV of the series, we examine common threads across these cases and draw implications for the handling of these events and those like them in the future.