At a (strangely early) Halloween parade last week, two members of the Parading Atheists of Central PA marched as Zombie Pope and Zombie Muhammad. The latter proclaimed, “I am Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. I’ve risen from the dead!”
Do I like what they did? No. I think they alienated more people than they amused.
Was it funny? Zombie-Pope-on-the-lookout-for-little-boys might be funny around people with that kind of humor… but not at a family parade. I’m still trying to figure out what the joke was regarding Zombie Muhammad. That’s probably why I don’t like what they did. Instead of entertaining families with clever, enjoyable costumes — which I imagine was the goal of the parade organizers — they used it as a place to make a statement about faith and get religious people worked up.
To be honest, I’m surprised they were even let into the parade, considering that the city’s registration form (PDF) for being in it explicitly said, “NO obscene, objectionable dress or displays, etc., are permitted.” Because it’s a family event, after all.
Still, that’s no excuse for what happened as they marched in the parade.
A Muslim man came out of the crowd and started to choke the atheist Muhammad (though you can’t really see that in the video). He also tried to rip off the guy’s beard and sign.
Michael Stone points out that a police report was filed and charges are pending. Good. Even if you’re being purposely offensive, you don’t deserve to get harassed or beaten up because of it.
Stone adds a salient point:
It does seem fair to say that the intention of the atheists was to poke fun at and offend Muslims. To be fair, there was also a “Zombie Pope” marching in the Halloween parade while claiming to be on the look out for little boys. No doubt, many Catholics found a pedophile Zombie Pope offensive as well.
Yet regardless of whether or not one is offensive in speech, there is no justification for violent assault in order to silence that speech. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is there not only to guarantee freedom of speech for those we agree with, but more importantly, it is there to guarantee the freedom of speech for those who we find particularly obnoxious and offensive.
Before people start complaining that I’m blaming the victim, I’m not. The fault here is entirely that of the Muslim attacker. That doesn’t mean I have to like the atheists’ costumes in this particular venue.