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Which is more characteristic of America today?

28 February 2012

Summary:  A bizarre ruling by a Pennsylvania State judge has sparked yet another round of anti-Muslin hysteria by Republicans.  Sharia is coming! Sharia is coming.  The far more widespread and growing hostility towards Muslims — backed by government action — remains invisible.  Can a people with such a weak grasp of reality — so little self-awareness — survive in our complex and changing world?

The hot news:

Getting less attention:

By Sean Delonas, New York Post, 24 February 2012

Contents — what is more characteristic of America today:

  1. Choice #1:  One tiny microscopic step towards Sharia, one large burst of hysteria
  2. Choice #2:  widespread government programs aimed at American Muslims — an important story, revealing much about us
  3. For more information about our struggle to adapt to a new century

(1)  Choice #1:  One tiny microscopic step towards Sharia, one large burst of hysteria

(a) The incident (note the charge was not assault, as widely misreported, but harassment)

The charge was harrassment, by the dictionary  “unwanted and annoying actions of one party on another.”  {Updatein Penn law the “intent to harass, annoy, or alarm”) The ABC article below does give details, but it’s most often a misdemeanor.

The only news article to date about the incident (the story that sparked a thousand indignant blogposts):  “Judge rules against atheist attacked in costume“, WHTM-ABC, 21 February 2012 — Excerpt:

The Atheists of Central Pennsylvania decided to walk in the Mechanicsburg Halloween parade. There was a zombie Pope and a zombie Muhammed. On YouTube, you can catch a scary moment. It’s dark and distorted, but a Muslim man comes off the curb extremely offended at Muhammed being depicted in this way.

“He grabbed me, choked me from the back, and spun me around to try to get my sign off that was wrapped around my neck,” said Ernie Perce, who donned the costume.

The Muslim man and Perce both called police to report a crime. Both kept walking, and a few blocks down found Sgt. Brian Curtis. He talked to both and came to this conclusion.  “Mr. Perce has the right to do what he did that evening, and the defendant in this case was wrong in confronting him,” he said.

Talaag Elbayomy was charged with harassment, but District Judge Mark Martin threw it out after criticizing Perce, the victim, and even calling him a “doofus.” The audio is also on YouTube.  Martin, who has done several tours of duty in the Middle East, said Perce would be put to death in those societies for his crime.

Perce wonders why that’s relevant in this country.  “He let a man who is Muslim, because of his preference of his culture and his way of life, walk free from an attack,” Perce said.

… Although Elbayomy denied touching Perce at trial, Curtis said he admitted grabbing Perce’s sign and beard the night of the incident. Elbayomy said he was at the parade with his wife and two kids and felt he just had to do something. In fact, he too called police because he thought it was a crime for someone to depict Muhammed in such a way. He has since learned otherwise.

Cellphone video of the incident.  It shows almost nothing, but is considered definitive evidence by right-wing bloggers.



Update – comment from Eugene Volokh Prof Law, UCLA) at The Volokh Conspiracy:  “and a mere physical attack with an attempt to grab a sign might or might not qualify … The acquittal itself might thus be justified, depending on exactly what evidence was introduced.”

(b)  The Judge’s ruling

Transcript of remarks by Magisterial District Judge Mark W. Martin, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, posted by Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review Online, 25 February 2012. Martin is the equivalent of a justice of the peace, hearing minor criminal cases and small-claims civil suits.  His remarks suggest a mail-order legal degree, in which he failed the “Bill of Rights” section.

Anyone want to place odds on Judge Martin’s odds of re-election when his six-year term expires in 2018?



(c)  Update: The Judge’s explanation


(2)  Choice #2:  widespread government programs aimed at American Muslims

Entrapment of lone losers, encouragement and support to convert them into terrorists.  Widespread surveillance, probably far beyond that which has become public knowledge.  Unlike the occasional crazy  judge, these are a powerful large-scale government programs.   Unlike the almost insignificant support for sharia law (small even among Islam-Americans), this is America’s future.

The serious aspect of this is that we cannot see this difference in the seriousness and magnitude of the the two things.

Our reaction to the news about the NYPD program reveals much about the state of our nation.  As Glenn Greenwald says,

{despite what the cartoon above shows, only a tiny fraction of those spied upon} are suspected of any wrongdoing; they are just innocent people who are targeted for surveillance solely because they are Muslim. … According to The New York Post, to be Muslim — as between 5-7 million people in America are — is to be a hook-nosed, Osama-worshipping, suicide-bomb-wearing Terrorist. There is no other interpretation for someone justifying a massive, indiscriminate spying program aimed at Muslims generally with this response. It goes without saying that there is not a single other group against whom bigotry this hateful and overt would be tolerated. And that explains a great deal about what has happened with U.S. policy — both foreign and domestic — over the last decade.  (25 February 2012),

Update: another Greenwald quote:

So that is basically the story of the general civil liberties assault and the accompanying demonization of Muslims in America since 9/11. The Government spies on whomever it wants in total secrecy and with no checks or oversight. In those rare instances where it is revealed, those responsible immediately screech Terrorists! to keep fear levels high, while politicians in both parties, with rare exception, line up to support these assaults. The bigoted equation of Muslims with Terrorism is incrementally bolstered each time. And all of this becomes more and more normalized — not an aberration but the norm in American political life. (28 Feburary 2012)

For more about this see the following — this will be updated.

  1. Summary of the AP articles about the NYPD’s surveillance of American Muslims in NY and NJ, posted at NY Neighbors for American Values
  2. NYPD spying program aimed at Muslims“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 22 February 2012
  3. The NYPD spying controversy: a microcosm for the 9/11 era“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 28 February 2012

If we fear these changes — and act accordingly — perhaps we can prevent the death of our political regime and the birth of a new one.  Probably one resembling the Founders’ nightmares.

(3)  For more information about our struggle to adapt to a new century

  1. Which is better? Rioting in France and Greece or snoozing in America?, 28 October 2010
  2. Polarization and hot rhetoric conceal two similar political parties. Will we ever notice?, 29 October 2010
  3. We have the leaders we deserve. Visit MacDonald’s to learn why., 30 October 2010
  4. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 2 November 2010
  5. The Enigma of American Power, 8 November 2010
  6. Why China will again rise to the top. About their most important advantage over America., 11 November 2010
  7. The story of the early 21st century: the future arrives, forcing us to build a new world order, 6 December 2010
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12 Comments leave one →
  1. jonh permalink
    28 February 2012 12:37 am

    “The serious aspect of this is that we cannot see this difference in the seriousness and magnitude of the the two things.”

    Most people are probably not even aware of the surveillance and entrapment you speak of. A lot of people I know don’t know about it and if they did, would probably support it.

    Very generally, I think people on the right would be divided into two major camps. One would heartily support the surveillance and entrapment and the other camp would chalk it up to the New World Order and Bildebergs etc. People on the left would be more receptive to this kind of story. Only a few are calling BS on everything….

  2. Leper permalink
    28 February 2012 1:27 am

    The assault case ruling should be overturned on appeal, given the evidence of the assault and confession. Calling it support of Sharia law is clearly a stretch, although such intellectual dishonesty from those bleating the loudest about the “dangers” of allowing Muslims fair treatment by the legal system shouldn’t be surprising.

    The widespread surveillance and mistreatment of American Muslims seems to be part of an unintentional feedback cycle where fear and distrust leads to self-radicalisation, which leads to a potential attack or FBI entrapment sting, which leads to more fear and distrust. While some surveillance may be arguably necessary, the current levels when combined with widespread populist fear-mongering in the media do nothing to increase our security and will likely decrease it.

    • 28 February 2012 2:00 am

      Leper,

      Almost every line of your comment is either incorrect or highly questionable. Where are you getting your information? I suggest upgrading to more reliable sources.

      (1) There is no “assault” case. The charge was harrassment: “unwanted and annoying actions of one party on another.” The ABC article does not give details, but it’s most often a misdemeanor.

      (2) There was probably a good reason the police (who prosecute cases in PA’s Magisterial District Courts) filed for harrassment, not assault. Don’t make assumptions on the tiny data available, still less on the lurid hysteria of right-wing writers.

      (3) There is no “evidence of the assault and confession”. The cellphone video shows almost nothing. There was no “confession” of assault.

      (4) The odds of police appeal in a such a minor case are very low a million to one (corection made since I’m not an attorney).

      (5) “where fear and distrust leads to self-radicalisation”

      What evidence can you cite for any widespread “self-racicalization”, let alone to the extent justifying “FBI entrapment stings”?

      (6) “While some surveillance may be arguably necessary”

      On what basis do you state this? That is, that surveilance of American Muslims is relatively effective use of scarce law enforcement resources.

  3. 28 February 2012 5:32 am

    This is all just another set of proofs that we are all joisting at windmills. The extremists are winning. I no longer see how we can even attempt to hold the line, much less reverse it. I find it appallingly depressing that no one even seems to care about not caring about the massive problems we face. TERMINUS ADVEHO.

  4. 28 February 2012 10:47 am

    Think of the overtime!

    I’m joking but I’m kind of serious, programs like this drive budgets and pay for violin lessons.

  5. 28 February 2012 1:36 pm

    Updates posted to the article (see red highlights), including a more detailed description of the actual charge (not assault), a comment by UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, and a CNN interview with the judge.

  6. Franz permalink
    28 February 2012 4:03 pm

    FM, As I understand it the Muslim attacked the atheist because he wore or carried a visible portrayal of the Prophet Mohamed. Understand that I a permanent student on these things and may be way off the mark, but I will take a stab at this anyways.

    First, the judge should have enforced the law, not imposed his own religious sentiments in a judgment. This is America where freedom of expression is permitted, and law-abiding self-restraint is required of citizens or visitors to this country. The decision to reside or travel to America is an act of free will. Not only does the judge reside, he presides (supposedly) according to the laws of this country, another act of free will. If he considers the U.S. laws he is sworn to uphold in contradiction of Islam, then (just as an officer of the armed forces might do) he must resign. His conscious decision not to resign, or even to recuse himself, makes him a hypocrite under Islamic doctrine because is contradictory behavior touches his faith. He has shown himself to have been seduced by the paycheck and the status of judgeship in a society he is actually opposed to by alleged faith. He is unreliable and dishonest, a poser here and an arrogant scoffer in Islam. Both should throw the hypocrite out – a transparent “doofus” himself for sure, and a sinner against his Islamic faith.

    Now to the incident that brought the accused Muslim to court in the first place. Again, this is America where freedom of expression is permitted, and law-abiding self-restraint is required of parade watching citizens of this country or visitors. Decisions to reside, travel, and watch such American events are all acts of free will of the Muslim or anyone else. The free-will decision to initiate an assault is punishable. We will never know whether or not the Muslim defendant would have understood and accepted the consequences of his choices due to the arrogance of said judge. He might have taken it willingly with full understanding for the rest – I don’t believe we know. So he is in a different boat from said judge.
    One point that I think is important to bring out is the reason that Muslims take extreme offense to the visible depiction of Mohamed, whether it is a caricature or a real attempt. The issue actually has roots in our own doctrine, from the Torah through the New Testament. The basic issue is idolatry.

    From Abraham to Peter, any attempt to construct or portray in a physically sensible way an image of God is forbidden as his face cannot be seen. Any images that humans might attempt on their own in order to “feel better” (i.e. have as an object to adore and look at in place of our faceless God) constitutes idolatry, at least doctrinally. As we know Christians have their sensible images, the body of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross and statues of Mary holding infant Jesus in the Catholic Church, the simple and powerful cross symbol, and paintings and carvings of a notional Jesus Christ throughout Christianity, generally. Yet no Christian will state that their imagery takes anything away from their fundamental devotion to the one and only God. They will state that instead it permits them to focus intensely on God. It is critical to note that “devotion only to God” is the English translation of “Islam”. I don’t think any of us would disagree on the commonality of that important foundation of our three monotheistic identities: Jew, Christian, Muslim.

    So, Muslims (translated as one who is devoted only to God) take their faith (our shared faith? Don’t know since I remain a perpetual student) literally, and are sensitive to all that they perceive – an ingrained aversion to influence by what are identified as “non-believers”. Muslims embrace both the Torah and the Gospel, but the visual imagery associated with Christian practices noted above are found to be an affront to Islam. The reason is that they inadvertently set up “pertners” to God, and the practice has repeatedly throughout the known history (even if just oral or tradition) led to a devolution and polytheism, and all the moral relativism and debauchery that has come with it.

    For the most part to-date Muslim immigrants might observe that when in America “allow others to follow their own paths, and we will follow ours”. This holds true for the time being in our secular society – we are a wonderful controlled melting pot indeed. Note that the attacker did not go after the Zombie Pope, and he probably wouldn’t have gone after a Zombie Jesus. Even though Jesus Christ is revered in Islam and fills significant sections of the Qur’an, we don’t see Muslim’s defiling Christian symbols or churches in this country. This evidence probably points back to a free will decision to live in America: “allow others to follow their own paths, and we will follow ours”. But from my sense, Muslim offense would have indeed been taken to a Zombie Jesus, as it too violates Islamic foundations and would be an affront to the Qur’an.

    The story of the Prophet and the establishment of Islam aside, Islam as defined in the Qur’an is the faith of the Muslim. Being Muslim is the over-arching, dominant personal identity of any competing identity whether it be man, woman, race, citizen, or whatever. The Prophet Mohamed is the messenger of the faith. So, all issues relating to the treatment of the Prophet strike at the very heart of the Muslim’s purpose in life, his/her very “ich”. We all have similar super-charged foundations. One of my most cherished ones is being a Marine, as it is for all Marines. So, while Muslims might see Christians as having followed a misguided path by portraying attempts at God-like imagery, in America they might just shake their heads in the sense of: “I can only pray for you”. One must look in Qur’an to see how the Muslim is urged (and warned) not to make the same mistake in Islam. In other words any attempt to portray the Prophet sensibly risks making him a “partner to God” in the same way as Christianity has done since Christ’s crucifixion. The mere sight of it demands a response in Islam, and that is what the Muslim parade watcher did when his very identity was attacked at a fundamental level. In the end he broke laws in America, but he was consistent to his faith, unlike the judge.

    Returning to the issue of fundamental identities, I think this it wise to understand how faith for the Muslim is the physical execution of life – his her passionately felt and inviolable self-image. Where do we find analogous identities and potential emotional hot spots in American society? Race. For every African American race has been forged into a foundation of fundamental identity. As a dialectical response, so too has the emergence of whiteness become a foundation of identity for those Americans stemming from European roots. But the passionate intensity of the African American shared identity has no parallel in white America. It is a force to be admired (and respected) as it has survived and now blossoms, in spite of the most inhumane history in which it was forged. That passionate identity is an all-American phenomenon. Now, let’s organize a new parade, line the streets with our wonderfully diverse population and let’s do Zombie racial caricatures. How far do you think a white supremacist, wearing or displaying an image offensive to the shared African American identity would have gotten before being collared and tackled? And who in America today would not side with the attacker under those circumstances?

    The issue is passionately felt identity of individuals in America. Identities have different sources and take different forms. This is the reality, and I err on the side of showing respect in my U.S.

  7. mike j permalink
    28 February 2012 7:16 pm

    FM-

    People pay attention to stories that grab their attention somehow. Cops following Muslims around is not particularly shocking to the conscience, even though it ought to be. This episode will be looked back upon as a warning sign if/ when the police finally do something egregious to an innocent person.

    That Sean Delonas cartoon is pretty amazing. He’s technically a very good artist, and it’s not easy at all to convey an idea as clearly as that image does. I know a bit about the process; I was able to convince people I was good enough at editorial cartooning to merit an award for it in high school. Delonas’ message is pure race-baiting bulls***, of course. His goal is to disengage our reasoning minds and cause us to fear. It’s exactly like dehumanizing war propaganda, which I suppose is how the artist views the situation based on his other work. Brilliant and pathetic.

    • mike j permalink
      28 February 2012 7:58 pm

      Love to edit that if I could. Oi.

  8. 29 February 2012 5:03 pm

    Concerning the story of the judge dropping charges against the Muslim who assaulted an atheist. In extremely minor cases like this (nobody was hurt), its not unheard of for the judge to consider exonerating circumstances. In this case, the atheist was dressed as a “zombie Muhammed” (his associate was a “zombie pope”) – and their behavior as indicated in the video suggests they were TRYING to incite a reaction out of someone – hence the Penn Judge’s ruling.

    This is such a trivial non-event, its amazing how the right managed to whip up so much hysteria about Sharia Law.

  9. 29 February 2012 5:04 pm

    Correction – LOL “harrassment”, not “assault”… I missed that one. Every news source I read reported it as “assault”.

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