- Associated Press - Friday, August 27, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) — A college student accused of slashing a taxi driver because he is a Muslim was moved from jail to a psychiatric ward, corrections officials said Friday.

Michael Enright, 21, of Brewster, N.Y., was accused of using a folding knife to slash the face and neck of the driver, Ahmed H. Sharif, an immigrant from Bangladesh, on Tuesday night after asking whether he’s a Muslim. Mr. Enright was moved from the Rikers Island jail to Bellevue Hospital on Thursday night, said Correction Department spokesman Stephen Morello.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said authorities see the attack as an isolated incident rather than evidence of a trend in anti-Muslim crimes.

Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, who teaches politics and public administration at Dhaka University in Bangladesh, said the assault was at odds with American values.

“We worry more because there are many Bangladeshi taxi drivers in America,” he said. “They behave as patriotic American nationals more than they consider themselves Muslims or Bangladeshis. Such violence against them is not desirable, and we believe all believing in democracy and liberty will condemn it.”

Waliur-ur Rehman, who heads a think tank, the Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs, said he recognized that the majority of Americans are opposed to such violence.

“This is not the America we want to see. This is not Jefferson’s America, this is not Kennedy’s America,” Mr. Rehman said.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with Mr. Sharif at City Hall on Thursday.

Mr. Bloomberg said it is impossible to know the motive for the attack, but he made a pointed connection to the debate surrounding a planned Islamic center and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site, which has ignited intense emotions worldwide.

Mr. Sharif said the topic did not come up in his conversation with Mr. Enright, who police say was drunk at the time of the attack.

“Of course it was for my religion. He attacked me after he knew I was a Muslim,” Mr. Sharif said at a press conference.

Mr. Bloomberg said: “Hopefully, people will understand that we can have a discourse. That’s what the First Amendment is all about. That’s what America is all about.”

In an interview Thursday on New York radio station WOR-AM, Gov. David Paterson said that even if Mr. Enright actually discussed the driver’s religion before the slashing, such crimes often involve underlying mental health problems. The governor said the driver’s religion may not have prompted the attack.

Mr. Paterson said such cases compel New Yorkers to remember that terrorists want Americans to fight among themselves.

Associated Press Writer Farid Hossain in Dhaka, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

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