Let’s get out in front of this one, eh? The Washington Post picked up a Patriot-News article to the effect that,
The director of the Pennsylvania chapter of American Atheists says he will desecrate the Quran if the state House of Representatives doesn’t drop a “Year of Religious Diversity” resolution.
Ernest Perce, of Harrisburg, Pa., said he plans to flog the Quran in the state Capitol Rotunda on Sept. 24 should the House not agree to nullify the resolution before it reconvenes from summer recess that day.
Before we’re even out of the chute with this one, the WaPo — sorry, Patriot-News — spins Perce as a glory hound, and even compares his flogging threat to Terry Jones’ burning of the Quran.
Perce was also at the center of a recent court case after he said he was attacked during a Halloween parade while marching dressed as “Zombie Muhammad.” ….
Perce, who was featured on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network after the Zombie Muhammad incident, said he will not be phased by any threats made against him.
What self-respecting atheist would go on the 700 Club just to get a few minutes of attention, even for a cause as worthy as Zombie Muhammedism? My first impulse is to toss Perce under the bus along with the more than 500 threats on his life that he’s received in response to his planned flogging. Closer inspection of the story reveals bedeviling details that, for me at least, bring up some more hard realities facing movement atheism. It’s been a year of hard realities — we should be good at this by now.
Disavowal and Disclaimer.
Before jumping on this train of thought, let’s get a couple things straight. First, American Atheists’ prez David Silvermann had this to say about Perce: “AA will not take part in Bible or Koran desecration, although we wish to stress that we have NO respect for so-called ‘holy books’. If Ernest does it, it’s not with our support or under our name.”
Second, I have been known to draw cartoons of Mohammed, like many other atheist cartoonists in the West. He’s a topical figure and like it or not I can draw him. This is, I understand, considered a form of desecration to many Muslims, and there’s more than one cartoonist with a fatwa on their head.
Yet common sense tells us a cartoon is a far cry from Terry Jones’ burn barrel, or the end of Perce’s cat-o-nine-tails. There is a line, and though it may not be easy to pinpoint it, one just knows when it’s been crossed. So let me say for the record I think flogging the Quran is a lame, unnecessarily inflammatory bit of amateur activism. What’s more it shows a lack of imagination: an unpardonable fail.
Still, I couldn’t just toss Perce under the bus. That was my impulse, and you read my disclaimer. I’d like to reason with him — talk him out of it, or into something more creative. Barring that unlikelihood, all I can muster is to feel sorry for him.
See, I can understand how Ernest feels, even if I don’t agree with his threatened action. I think Silverman struck the right tone in AA’s disavowal, balancing empathy and firm dismissal.
After all, here’s a guy who was marching in a parade dressed as Mohammed when he was attacked in public (it’s on video, see for yourself) by an over-zealous True Believer. That might be bad enough, but then he lost in court to his abuser — the state sided with defense’s claim that Perce was asking for it.
Such a blatant injustice might make one bitter toward Muslims; and it might indeed make one feel that the state wasn’t defending everyone’s rights equally under the law, as is our Constitutional right. Add “hate Islam” to “hate Pennsylvania” and in Perce’s mind I guess you get, “flog Quran”. See what I mean? Kinda sad in it’s shallowness of vision.
Who Can Hate What?
It reminds me of another recent meta-moment in movement atheism — PZ Myers’ “What Kind of Atheist Are You?” series elicited a robust response by atheists (at least those on FtB) and among the noise I noticed this exchange between PZ and Maryam Namazie. In the comments of PZ’s original post, he adds,
I also thought about including Bandwagon Atheists (only there because the cool people are), Dumbass Atheists (anti-authoritarian jerkwads), and Racist Atheists (because…ISLAM!), but then decided to confine myself to just the thoughtful atheists.
To all of which Maryam replied with, “Not that kind of atheist,” in which she explains,
There is an assumption in the Humanist Atheist label that people like me are in the atheist movement for support and if we don’t get it we will go elsewhere. Even a church (gasp, shudder)!? The reality is that we don’t have the support we deserve but we’re still here.
This is because we ex-Muslims have a stake in the atheist movement just as much as anyone else. We’re not outsiders. I am an atheist not because the atheist movement cares about rights (it doesn’t) or has been overly supportive (which it hasn’t) but because I despise religion and Islam.
I have become an atheist – not because it’s pragmatic – but as a result of my battles against the Islamic Republic of Iran and Islamism. The Islamic regime of Iran recently wrote a piece on me called ‘Get to know this anti-religion woman’.
If I had to say what type of atheist I am, I’d say a militant atheist.
To which PZ replied with a rarity: “An important correction!” in which he mea culpas, “I should not have tried to shoehorn her into a poorly fitting category. I’ll also join her in despising religion and Islam.”
But… but… you said… but… what happened to “Racist Atheist”? I guess that’s what was so important about the correction. Yet where does it leave us on the broader ethical issue of anti-religious sentiment when it’s misguided, out of political alignment, or even racist?
The answer, I suspect, is that it leaves us relying on our own good consciences to know a bigot when we meet one. It’s pretty easy as atheists to empathize with Maryam’s hatred toward her former religion, and the dignity with which she carries out her mission to oppose Islam. It’s harder to empathize with PZ’s hatred than with Earnest’s, because no Muslim has ever done PZ a personal wrong (that I could discover), whereas Earnest was personally, physically attacked by a Muslim and then told by the justice system that he deserved it.
Yet, the strength of the Militant Atheist, Maryam writes, is that, “We need militancy in the face of religious barbarity. Can we please stop tiptoeing around, appeasing, and tolerating religion?”
My point is that Maryam has a better reason to hate Islam than Perce, with just as much desire to stop appeasing religion, and you don’t see her out there flogging the Quran.
But I bet she’s thought about it.
FINAL NOTE: Let’s not let Perce’s flogging threat derail the more important issue — he’s right about one thing: the ill-conceived “Year of Religious Diversity” is as unconstitutional an entwining of church and state as the “Year of the Bible” was.