Last Halloween, an atheist named Ernest Perce dressed up as Zombie Muhammad and joined a parade in Pennsylvania that also included a Zombie Pope and Zombie Jesus. A Muslim man, Talaag Elbayomy, decided that this was so offensive to him that he had to take action; he claimed that he thought there were laws against offending him. According to the officer who responded to the incident, Elbayomy admitted to initiating physical contact with Perce and thus should be found guilty of the assault. Furthermore, the incident was caught on camera.
So Elbayomy was convicted, right?
He was not. Instead, Judge Mark Martin chastised the atheist in question for his misinterpretation and lack of understanding concerning Islam. He then found Elbayomy innocent of all charges, claiming that there was not enough in the way of evidence.
There are several separate issues in this case that have been conflated in many of the write-ups about it, and, indeed, by the judge himself. In order of relative importance, I would say that the first is Perce’s understanding of Islam, the second is Elbayomy’s understanding of the law, the third is the perspective of Judge Martin, and last, but not least, is whether or not Elbayomy is guilty of a crime.
For all of my knowledge of Islam, I had no idea what Perce was talking about when he claimed that the Quran says that Muhammad rose from the dead. He might be referring to the story of Muhammad’s “miraculous night journey.” Of course, whether or not Zombie Muhammad is an actual thing in the Quran does not matter at all. Just as I am not legally permitted to smash someone’s computer when they parade the tired stereotype that atheists are all amoral douchebags (pro-tip: it simply isn’t true), Elbayomy is not legally allowed to tear at someone’s costume while they are wearing it because they dressed up as something that is inaccurate to Islam.
In the audio recording of the case, Elbayomy says that he thought it was against the law to dress up as Zombie Muhammad. Even if that sincerely were the case (which I would find bizarre given that many immigrants come to the U.S. because of things like freedom of speech), the man had no right to take the law into his own hands. Self-defense is only a legitimate defense if your bodily integrity is in question, not when you and your family are upset by something.
In terms of the judge in this case, Perce’s title for his Youtube post of the audio for the case, as well as others’ articles, say that Mark Martin is highly sympathetic to Muslim causes. He admits as much in the audio, discussing a bevy of issues before issuing his decision, including his personal opinions of Perce, his views on how he feels the First Amendment should be used, the treatment of blasphemy in Muslim countries, and Perce’s lack of understanding of Islam and Muslims. He then claims to put all that aside before stating that there is not enough evidence to prove Elbayomy guilty.
While the outcome of the case cannot be evaluated solely based on the judge’s views, the fact that he aired them is disturbing. As for the views themselves, they are irrelevant to the case and by stating them, the judge reveals his deep biases, no matter what he claims about putting them aside before issuing his decision. The idea that American law should be at all influenced by anti-free speech values is abhorrent.
Furthermore, he, as an ally to the American Muslim community, has done it a great disservice. Already, people are claiming that this is an example of the implementation of sharia in the United States and necessitates anti-sharia legislation. It is now going to be far harder to argue that sharia is not the threat in the U.S., I have done so in the past, as Judge Martin’s comments are the first real example to which those who fear sharia can point and say, with some basis, that Islamic viewpoints are being favored over Constitutional ones.
In the case of the final issue, i.e. the only truly relevant one for this case, you can decide for yourself, based on the video as well as the testimony of the officer who responded to the incident. According to Perce, physical contact took place; according to the officer, Elbayomy admitted to it. While I am inclined to say that I would take the testimony of two people, one of whom was not directly a part of the incident, over the testimony of a single person accused of assault, I, unlike Judge Martin, will freely admit that my biases influence my decisions: I have been the target of overzealous, offended Muslims enough times to where I would consider them capable of a lot of things when upset, assault being one of them.
Main image via.
Update (2/26/12): According to this source, the judge is not a Muslim. Thanks to Critical Dragon1177 for the heads-up.
Update (3/2/12): More sources have emerged that say that the judge was presenting a hypothetical and is, indeed, not a Muslim. I have edited accordingly.