by Umbreen S. Bhatti
Have you heard of Zombie Muhammad? Me neither, until a few days ago, under a National Review headline declaiming “The Sharia Court of Pennsylvania.” Apparently the zombie in question made his appearance last October 11 during the annual Halloween parade in Mechanicsburg, PA, alongside other members of the Parading Atheists of Central Pennsylvania. In that parade, Zombie Muhammad, also known as Ernest Perce V, was marching alongside a Zombie Pope when “a man tried to take his 'Muhammad of Islam' sign and choked him.” Within a day, Perce uploaded video of the incident to YouTube, writing,
Oct 11 2011 in the Mechanicsburg City Parade I was attacked by a violent muslim IN AMERICA! This is proof that muslims want Shria Law in America. He attacks me to pull my beard off so he could identify me and chokes me.
I understand many will say I deserved it, but no one has the right to abridge my freedom of speech and violence is never the answer to freedom of speech. Islam is a religion of Peace? This is not the case in this video. Remember that Halloween is also all Saints Day where people wore masks and costumes to fool the spirits and ghosts. I just happened to pick a costume that scared adults too! LMAO
The other party was later identified as 46-year old Talaag Elbayomy, who was charged with harassment. The first article after the incident took place reports that the charge was dismissed by Judge Mark Martin as “basically one man's word against another's,” noting the testimony presented came from Perce, Elbayomy and Mechanicsburg Police Sgt. Brian Curtis, who received the complaint from Perce but did not witness the attack. Following the dismissal, Judge Martin lectured Perce on the First Amendment, making such statements as, according to a recording made by Perce,
In many other Muslim-speaking countries, err, excuse me, many Arabic-speaking countries, predominantly Muslim, something like this is definitely against the law there, in their society. In fact, it could be punished by death, and frequently is, in their society.
Here in our society, we have a Constitution that gives us many rights, specifically First Amendment rights. It's unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don't think that's what our forefathers intended. I think our forefathers intended to use the First Amendment so we can speak with our mind, not to piss off other people and cultures – which is what you did.
And before we knew it, “Shari'a law” had come to Pennsylvania, according to pieces reflecting the usual fear-mongering that has come to characterize any discussion of Muslims and our judicial system.
Were the judge's statements inappropriate? In this lawyer's mind, yes, as has been argued by other lawyers such as Jonathan Turley and Eugene Volokh. The First Amendment does allow us to piss off other people and cultures, in poor taste though that may be, and what happens in “Arabic-speaking countries” is hardly relevant when dispensing justice in America.
But was the judge's disquisition a sign of what has come to be called “shari'a creep” – as the zombie at the center of this story would like us to think? Hardly, and it would have been nice to see articles addressing this issue by actually, accurately talking about what shari'a is – at a time when legislation banning the use of “shari'a law” in state courts is being proposed all over the country. “Creeping shari'a” has now become a near daily part of our political conversation, and for journalists to allow those who are most eager to insert the phrase into our discourse to go unchallenged is nothing less than irresponsible.
Umbreen Bhatti is a lawyer with experience in civil rights and constitutional law, as well as the co-founder of islawmix.org, a service for news readers, media producers and legal scholars seeking credible, authoritative information about Islamic law.