Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Muslim Judge Thows Out Case on Attack of Man Dressed as Zombie Muhammad


This past Halloween in the city of Mechanicsburg, PA, a parade was held where people could dress in costume.  A group called the Atheists of Central Pennsylvania decided to attend with costumes that included a zombie Pope and a zombie Muhammad.  Talaag Elbayomy, a Muslim spectator, was offended by the zombie Muhammad costume, worn by Ernie Perce, and physically attacked Perce.  Elbayomy stated that he felt compelled to “do something” because he believed that to have Muhammad depicted as a zombie was a crime.  Both Perce and Elbayomy filed reports against each other to the police, but only Elbayomy was charged with harassment.  The case was seen in District Court with Judge Mark Martin who dismissed the case against Elbayomy and called the victim a “doofus.”  The judge, who according to the article has served several times overseas in the Middle East, stated that if this incident had taken place in the Middle East, Perce would have been the criminal and put to death.

Another article (disclaimer: there is a picture of Perce in costume in this article) notes that Judge Martin recently converted to Islam and stated during his ruling: “I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we could speak what’s on our mind, not to p*** off other people and cultures, which is what you did…You are way outside your bounds of First Amendment rights…You’ve completely trashed their essence, their being.  I’m a Muslim.  I find it offensive.”

As Judge Martin states above, this is a case about the First Amendment, both in freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  Perce believed he had the right to express his opinions in whatever fashion he wanted and that by dressing up as a zombie Muhammad he was expressing his freedom of speech.  Elbayomy, on the other hand, believed that he had the right to defend his beliefs by attacking someone offending his faith.  Because Muslims believe that there should be no images of Muhammad, Perce was insulting Elbayomy, the Muslim faith, and the memory of Muhammad by portraying a zombie Muhammad.  However, is a physical attack justified by the offense?

While I am sympathetic to Elbayomy’s view and consider a zombie Muhammad (or any zombie religious figure) blasphemous, I do not agree with the actions of the court.  Yes, what Perce did was offensive and he probably should have respected the beliefs of others when deciding on a Halloween costume.  However, he broke no laws (national, state, or local) when he dressed in his costume.  He has the right to express himself in whatever fashion he feels appropriate as long as it does not violate any laws.  Elbayomy was offended by Perce’s costume but that does not give him the right to attack another in anger.  There are several legal, non-violent alternatives that Elbayomy could have utilized instead of attacking Perce.  The legality of an action is not a judgment on its tastefulness.  Just as the Westboro Baptist Church is within their rights to picket funerals, which many find distastful, Perce is within his rights to dress up as a zombie Muhammad.  And, as we have seen in court cases such as Reynolds v United States, 98 U.S 145 (1878) (in which it was determined that even though polygamy was considered a religious duty to those of the Mormon faith, that did not mean that federal laws could be broken in the name of religious freedom), Americans have the right to believe whatever they want, they just may not have the same right to act in whatever way they want.  Elbayomy may not believe that what Perce did was correct, but that does not mean he had the right to act in the way he did.  Judge Martin’s ruling is favoring Islam by throwing out the case, and that is unconstitutional according to the First Amendment which does not allow for the government to favor or disfavor “one view of religion over another.”

10 comments:

missmoocow said...

wasn't sure where to post this, but I found this article interesting:

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/28/my-take-dont-blame-college-for-young-people-leaving-christianity/comment-page-18/

Aanal P. said...

I absolutely have to agree with your distinction between belief and action. Elbayomy was definitely wrong in acting in a way that infringed upon Perce’s rights. He is definitely not as justified in physically attacking someone as he is in believing what Perce did is wrong. The courts can rightfully act against Elbayomy for what he did was wrong. I was largely surprised at the way Judge Martin handled the case. Although it was good that he drew on his experiences in the Middle East to understand the complexity of the case, he also ruled like he was judging in the Middle East. It seemed as if he was taking the Sharia into consideration while deciding this case instead of drawing on American law. It is true that Perce shouldn’t have provoked Elbayomy through the controversial costume, but the way Elbayomy acted shouldn’t be that easily excusable. Elbayomy was not only out of line religiously, because he acted on his beliefs, but he was also in violation of criminal law. The judge was definitely biased while considering this case. It is true that Perce was a “doofus” for wearing such a controversial costume, but Elbayomy should have definitely been punished in someway.

Emrah K said...

As a Muslim I do not agree with Elbayomy' reaction. In terms of Islamic law (shari'a), too, no one can attack to some who insults or makes of fun with the prophet Muhammad, the Quran, etc. Thus Elbayomy's action is completely emotional not religious. However, in reality we cannot assume that all people have self-control. In addition to this fact, insulting to someone or religions should not be counted as freedom of speech because laws exist to establish peace in a society. If laws do not supply peace, they are not correct or sufficient.

Angela S. said...

I think freedom of speech should absolutely include the right to be insulting. The amendment says that congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech” not that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech as long as the speech is polite. I will certainly agree that dressing up as a Zombie Muhammad was in poor taste, but that does not mean it should be illegal. If good taste was a requirement for your speech to be protected think about all the metal and punk music that would become suddenly illegal. Think about who gets to decide what is and is not in good taste. Do you want people that have different values than you determining what is and is not appropriate for you to view?

Kyle I. said...

First, I think it necessary to clarify that it has been made exceedingly clear that Judge Mark Martin is not a recent Muslim convert. The tape released by Perce seems to have been doctored in order to make it appear that Martin professes to be a Muslim. Judge Martin, while he does display a high level of respect and cultural sensitivity for Islam, in no way judged this case because of a personal adherence to Shar'ia law. Martin dismissed the charges because there was no undeniable proof that Elbayomy actually assaulted Perce.
It seems that what is certain was that Elbayomy did confront Perce at the parade, demanding he take off his costume.

Concerning Judge Martin's lecture to Perce, I believe Martin is right in arguing that First Amendment rights must be coupled with responsibility to exercise those rights with restraint and civility. What possible goal could Perce have had for dressing up as Zombie Muhammad other than to offend and provoke? What constructive conversation is Perce trying to initiate by parading around with his group as dead religious leaders? I believe Judge Martin ruled by the spirit of the First Amendment and not the letter of the law.

bethd said...

This an interesting case, although I can sympathizes with the fact that it is wrong to intentionally disrespect or try to offend someone else’s faith, I believe the judge should have stayed neutral and not been biased in his judgment. The issues should be on the violence that accrued, since I do not believe there are any blasphemy laws in the United States. Also wouldn’t the judge be violating the issue of having to uphold the separation of church and state by bringing in his faith to make a ruling in this case?

Noorin K. said...

Judge Martin's comment about stepping outside the bounds of the First Amendment was very powerful. I believe, it is absolutely correct not abuse the freedom given to us and to utilize them in the most respectful way. It is offensive when someone as sacred as Muhammad is depicted in a way, or depicted at all against the religion's rules. I understand that we have the freedom to express ourselves. However, I believe that the case would have been handled differently if their was a non-muslim authority deciding the case. There was a lot of personal thought involved and seemed like the case was almost being dealt with back in the middle east instead of America. We should respect and tolerate one another and there should have been a minor punishment because of the hurtful stab on the Muslim religious figure, but the location should have been a factor as well since we are in America and we do have the right to express ourselves.

Nicole S. said...

It seems pretty apparent that the judge in this case allowed his personal experiences with Islam to influence his decision. For him to reference the consequences of such a costume in the Middle East should be irrelevant to how a case in the United States is handled. On the other hand, I certainly don't think we should discredit the defendant's reaction to the costume. It seems to me that he was holding his religious law at a higher regard than American civil law, which is understandable, and exemplified over and over in American history. I agree with the judge's decision, but not the grounds on which it stands. No judge should make a ruling influenced by personal opinion.

Kyle I. said...

I'd just like to reiterate that Judge Martin is not a Muslim. This a conspiracy theory propagated by conservative pundits and a doctored court tape released by Perce.

In regards to referencing blaspehmy laws from Islamic countries, I believe Martin was simply putting Perce's actions into perspective and illustrating the high degree of respect and deference accorded the Prophet.

The Judge dismissed this case because there was no proof that Elbayomy was actually guilty of assault. This case is being misconstrued as a violation of First Amendment rights particularly those with an anti-Muslim, anti- Shari'a agenda.

Catherine S said...

Kyle I really appreciate your comments (both formally on the blog and informally in person). It sheds light on the fact that what we read sometimes isn't always correct or accurate. It's really interesting how certain aspects have been exaggerated to get a response from the public.