Cathy Young has a great piece examining last week’s controversy over the supposedly Muslim judge in Pennsylvania letting a Muslim defendant accused of assaulting an atheist protester off scot-free. The takeaway:

1. Judge Martin is not Muslim. The notion that he is a Muslim originated with his own garbled speech, and an unclear audiotape.

2. Given the particulars of the case, the judge’s ruling is reasonable.

3. The judge badly erred with his civics lecture directed to the atheist. Excerpt:

Martin did not, of course, invoke Sharia law as a basis for his ruling; nor did he suggest that Elbayomy would have been justified in assaulting Perce because his religion commanded it. But he did seem to suggest that insults to the Muslim faith are especially bad because of how impermissible blasphemy is in many Muslim countries and because of the role religion plays in Muslims’ lives. Indeed, he specifically drew a distinction between “how Americans practice Christianity” and how Muslims practice Islam: “Islam is not just a religion, it’s their culture . . . it’s their very essence, their very being.”

Of course, there are many different ways in which Americans practice Christianity and Muslims practice Islam. Some American Christians respond to perceived slights to their faith in ugly ways (such as threats of violence against productions of Terrence McNally’s play “Corpus Christi,” featuring a gay Jesus). But American religious practice, overall, is strongly tied to a hard-won tradition of freedom of religion — and irreligion. Martin’s comments seem to suggest that Muslims are far less capable than Christians of dealing sensibly with insults or challenges to their faith. That does a serious disservice both to American democracy and to American Muslims.

Already, this case has given ammunition to peddlers of “Muslim menace” panic (some of whom are now spinning the paranoid fantasy that Martin really is a Muslim but is hiding it to mislead the infidels). The main culprits are those who would sensationalize and twist facts to advance their agenda, be it atheism or Muslim-bashing. But a misguided notion of cultural sensitivity that amounts to a special concern to avoid giving religious offense to Muslims can only lead us further down that path.

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