Sunday, February 26, 2012

Muslim Beats Up Obnoxious Atheist - So?

Making the rounds lately is the news that an atheist in a Zombie Mohammed costume got smacked around by an upset muslim. There are a variety of reactions to it so far, ranging mostly from "This is a violation of First Amendment rights!" to "This is just showing the further islamicization of American law!"

Allow me to add my own reaction to the mix.




There. Got that out of my system. More below.

Sorry, but I'm just not taking this the same way everyone else seems to. I suppose in a big picture sense, or even in an abstract sense, someone could find a lot to be upset about here. But let's take a good look at what went on.

An atheist and his friend decide to dress up as a Zombie Pope and Zombie Mohammed. Now, I'm willing to bet you anything the atheist knows that merely showing Mohammed's image is offensive and blasphemous to muslims, and this is precisely why he chose his costume to begin with. Except a muslim happens to see him wearing it. A muslim who, apparently, takes his beliefs quite seriously. And whose response is to rip up his costume and knock him around on sight. They end up in court, and the judge basically tells the atheist he had it coming for acting like an obnoxious little shit.

Okay, put aside the animated gifs of crying eagles superimposed on American flags for a moment. This is not really a serious first amendment issue. Really, if this guy were dressed up as Zombie Whitney Houston shortly after her death and he got his ass beat because people found that offensive, would we be seeing everyone playing amateur constitutional scholar? Or would the reaction, if not one of indifference, be "Well, he was pretty much asking for it now wasn't he?" Really, pick an array of very similar acts and that would be the standard. But apparently religious beliefs are uniquely serious. When a man behaves like a jackass regarding those, there's some instinct to be all solemn and serious about it. Not about the belief or even the believer, but about the insult.

So no thank you, I'll pass on the fake seriousness and misplaced patriotism.

Now, let's be clear. If this was a case of someone - atheist or otherwise - delivering a serious and civil argument as to why Islam is wrong, or why Mohammed should not be respected, I wouldn't blow off the result. If someone were beaten up merely because it was known or suspected that they personally had a low opinion of Mohammed, I'd take this more seriously. But no, I do not elevate crass mockery and blasphemy - especially the sort expressly crafted to piss off a target group - to a level I even have to take seriously, much less to something I consider to be a major first amendment issue. All that happened here was that a jackass decided to be a jackass at the wrong time and place, and it bit him in the ass.

At the same time, I'm not blind to the deeper questions one could wring out of this event which are not only serious, but complicated. Am I saying that when a person acts in an intentionally belligerent and offensive manner that all bets are off and the reaction can be deadly? No. Nor am I saying that "I'm offended!" is a license for fisticuffs - wow, wouldn't that be exploitable. Does this mean I'm on board with hate crime legislation? Absolutely not. But clearly I think it's not only no big deal what Mister Mohammed-Zombie had done to him, but I'm admittedly sympathetic to his assailant. Surely I'm not suggesting that this be some kind of legal policy? Again, no - I have no idea how you could codify what are or are not "fighting words", so to speak. On the other hand, I think the very suggestion that any and all speech - from hardcore pornography to in-your-face insults and slurs, aimed at your person, your family, your culture or your deepest beliefs - is the stuff of utter sacredness, is an insipid claim. This is as complicated a subject as they come.

But it's even worse than that. We live in an age where "Hate Speech" enforcement already exists, along with "hate crime" laws. I am convinced shockingly few people really take the first amendment seriously, and instead they (and this is something Christians, God bless them, seem to not fully appreciate) insincerely invoke 'free speech' largely to protect speech they either approve of, or think will net benefit them to promote. (Those Westboro Baptist shits come to mind. I swear, one of these days it's going to be revealed that they're on a LGBSA payroll.) Meanwhile, speech they dislike ends up branded as 'hate speech', or fake appeals to the separation of Church and State are called upon with minimal sincerity. Put simply, the entire issue is a cluster**** as is, which makes it doubly hard for me to so easily take seriously an event like this, as if some clear breach of some universally respected standard took place.

So, in the face of such a tremendously complicated, serious issue, along with the recognition that the state of political discussion on such topics has become utterly tribal and insincere, what should someone do? My response is, be practical. And in a practical sense, this atheist was a complete idiot who was trying to piss people off. And good for him - he succeeded, to the point where someone ripped up his outfit and smacked him around. And a judge decided that no, the first amendment probably isn't most reasonably interpreted to mean "Act like a dickhead at will and never expect a physical reaction", and refused to take his complaint seriously. Even if "Punch someone who offends you" isn't the best legal policy, in this particular case, it seems like justice enough.

Which leads me back to my first response. An atheist gravely insulted a muslim and got punched in the head for his efforts? Funny stuff. In the words of Pontius Pilate from the Last Temptation of Christ (speaking of blasphemy), "perhaps he will learn a lesson."


"No. Probably not."


Syllabus said...

Well, if atheists were to cease their jackassery, then where would we turn to for the high comedy they presently provide?

Oh, that's right. We've still got the scientologists.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Another interesting question is whither the Judge would have come to the same decision had it been a Christian rather than a Muslim.

This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder if legalizing some forms of dueling would be a good thing. Maybe not to the death, but just a legally sanctioned fight. If people new that there behavior could lead to them being challenged to a fight, would they behave more respectfully? Would we live in a more moral society with better manners, if people knew that acting up would lead to them being challenged to a fight, that if they rejected they would look like a coward?

I don't really know but a part of me thinks it would. The fact is people know they can say and do what ever they want as long as they are either politically correct or don't use any sort of physical violence. But it allows a lot of people to get away with acting like complete asses.

Crude said...


Hey, there you are again. I was wondering what happened to you.

I actually am sympathetic to that idea to a point. The problem is I have no idea how in the world to implement it in anything close to a reasonable way. One implementation I can think of offhand would be to consider insult and knowledge of insult as a major mitigating factor - if Man A offends Man B gravely, and Man A knows he's offending Man B gravely, then if Man B knocks Man A around, the judge has the leeway to say "Man A, you had it coming. Not guilty."

The problem is that this is ridiculously elastic and comes down to a judge being sensible and fair with a 'play it by ear' reference to law - and I'm not sure that can be relied on.

This actually goes back to a major problem I have with government solutions - this is the sort of thing best solved by a culture, where someone obnoxious and offensive can expect to be shunned and looked down upon. And when the culture fails, what can you do?

I agree with the sentiment, however, that we'd live in a more moral and better mannered society if jackassery had serious penalties associated with it. But 'behaving civilly' nowadays means something odd. In fact, it reminds me of something I read about Scientologists (thanks, Syllabus), where trainees on their special navy ship had a bit of training where they'd be locked in a room and insulted viciously for extended periods of time, and they were disciplined to shut up and take it without reaction.

If someone decides to be a dickhead and start offending people, I have no sympathy for them when they eventually get punched in the head. In fact, I agree that if that were a lingering worry for purposefully goading people, we'd live in a better society.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Long time no see by the way.

The problem is if somebody is offending you deliberately and you retaliated physically, then legally you would be regarded as the one in the wrong.

That's why I surprised by this case and can't help but feel it has more to do with him being Muslim than it has to do with the judge feeling his actions were justifiable.

With dueling I think the best way legally would be that you have to have independent witnesses (etc witnesses who don't know either of the people involved personally) who can verify the offer of the duel by the victim of the insults and the acceptance by the taunter.

But chances are the threat of being challenged to a duel would be enough to stop most people from acting up.

Crude said...

Yeah, it may well be a 'muslim thing'. If only because muslims demonstrably... care. Christians have been conditioned, and I think wrongly, to put up with all manner of shit such that they're expected to not be offended by much of anything.

But as for the duel, there's one major problem with it: it requires a penalty for refusing the duel, or it requires that the duel cannot be refused. I think the latter would actually work wonders, potentially. But if we're sticking with the former, we're in trouble. Either there has to be a legal penalty, or there has to be a cultural penalty. Cultural penalties aren't really available right now. (If this idiot atheist were challenged to a duel, then laughed it off and said 'no', what would the duel solve if there was no cultural or otherwise cost to it.)

The Phantom Blogger said...

With Muslims there is also the fact that they are a minority (in the West), which makes the person insulting them seem like he is singling them out and they are just fighting back against there oppressors and "the bigots". With Christians since they are the majority and atheists/secularists in relation are a minority, it has the opposite effect. They are mean't to be seen a tolerant to the minority's opinions and hence have to put up with the insults.

I'm not saying this is correct, but it's the way people look at it nowadays. In the past Christians and political figures wouldn't have put up with the attacks against Christianity that are now considered acceptable.

On dueling. The penalty for rejecting the duel would be looking like a coward. You would look like the kind of person who was ok with attacking and insulting people as long as they didn't hit back.

The problem with this is that looking like a coward isn't quite as culturally embarrassing as it was in the past. It doesn't have the same social stigma, but would still embarrass the person especially if they were with friends or a girl for instance.

Crude said...

I actually wonder if that's how people look at it. I think that's how people -justify- it, but as ever, I wonder how people really think about these things. I think a whole lot of manipulative wordplay goes on in the presentation of these events and subjects.

I agree that the penalty would be looking like a coward. But as you noted, the stigma isn't there anymore. I could see someone regarding a duel challenge as being stigmatized - 'oh look at them, how uncivil, how immature'. So there'd either need to be an enforced penalty, or we'd have to change the culture. And if you can change the culture, you may not even need the duel law.

It's a puzzle. But at least a puzzle where I can say this muslim's solution was a viable one in his specific case.

Syllabus said...

I think the issue may be that people are so used to openly mocking religious believers - in the US, mostly Christians - with virtual impunity. They can make highly insulting billboards or ads or whatever without any kind of response aside from turning the other cheek. Since Christians have - or at the very least, many Christians think they have - an obligation to be nice and loving no matter what, the asshat irreligious have gotten the notion into their heads that they can do whatever they want without any consequences other than the initial endorphin rush. Muslims, as far as I'm aware, have no such injunction where their Prophet is concerned. Anyone stupid enough to disregard that should not be denied the lesson that the results of their actions will produce.

As far as the legal problem goes - apart from the strictly moral concerns of the issue -, I think that the "fighting words" thingie has been defined in broad enough terms that many, many things people don't think twice about saying would fall under that tarp. I don't know how the legal argument re: the jump from fighting words to fighting images would go, but it's probably not all that hard to make. Though I guess you're the one with the legal knowledge.

As far as duelling goes, well, there are a world of problems that arise from the opening of that particular can of worms. It would, more likely than not, cause more problems than it solves. There were reasons for blood feuds, after all, and human nature hasn't changed a whole lot since the 18th and 19th centuries. If anything, it has gotten worse.

Crude said...

I don't have any legal knowledge beyond some classes I took an age ago, and my habit of actually reading decisions of important cases now and then. My speculation is worth little there.

I think "fighting words" are hard to define, but easier to identify in given situations. The problem is it will always end up ultimately in a court, and that's where defining it becomes important. Especially since you can have all kinds of problems stemming from a simple fistfight - someone may end up hurt far beyond the original, justified intention, for example.

Still, legal complications never go away, because the flipside is we end up in the stupid situation we're at now, where people think they can goad and goad with no repercussion. Alongside the idiotic Hate Speech laws, where something relatively tame can be viewed as forbidden, just because in the most abstract way a person may be offended.

It's a stupid, overly complicated world. Which just makes me all the more sympathetic to the muslim beating up the idiot atheist, and the judge's own sympathies.

BenYachov said...

These are my rambling thoughts.

I have strong and mixed feels about all this.

Our stupid President apologizes to the Afgann President for us accidentally burning two Korans that have already be desecrated(according to Muslim tradition & Law) by Taliban thugs who wrote messages in them.

Several innocent Americans where killed in riots by these animals who have no respect for human life.

The Afgan dirtbag hasn't apologized for what his countrymen have done to innocent Americans.

Mind you have have no sympathy for provocateurs who burn Korans just to piss off Muslims. Atheist or non-Muslim Theist.

The Koran is not the Word of Allah the Bible is and Y'sua Al Mesin Ibn Miriam is the Word of Allah made Flesh. So willfully damaging one does not offend Allah/God.

But it is unreasonable and a sin against charity to willfully damage the Koran for the purpose of offending Muslims who erroneously believe it to be Allah's Word.

Gnu Atheists who dress as Zombie Muhammad or scum bags who steal the Holy Eucharist from Mass so they can desecrate it on Youtube are not making the case for Atheism.

If anything they are arguing against themselves.

One last note. If a Catholic punched the jerk-off who dressed as Zombie Pope would this judge have let him go?

I think not. That bugs me.

But yeah I have no sympathy for the idiot who dressed as Zombie Mohammed.

Crude said...


The Afghanistan stuff shows the other end of the extreme, as does our idiot president's actions. Obviously I don't think the "offended" move flies there. We should be demanding an apology for the mob kills.

On the other hand, I also don't have any sympathy for the desire to civilize (aka secularize) them. If I have to choose between muslims and hardcore secularists, I may well pick the muslims. I'd much rather not have to choose.