We turn to foreign shores (or perhaps mountainsides would be more appropriate) for this special OpEd flavored edition of lawsuit of the week. In a case that has torn its way through the blogosphere (but seems to have gained less traction with traditional news sources) an Austrian man has agreed to pay EUR 700 in fines rather than face a lengthy court case after a judge ruled that his yodeling was insulting to his Muslim neighbors.
According to the UK's Telegraph daily, Mr Griese was charged with 'the "disparagement of religious symbols" - an offence usually used to prosecute for neo-Nazis who desecrate Jewish graves - and hindering religious practice.' Because he yodeled while the family prayed, the retiree was accused trying of to "mock and imitate" the call of the Muezzin. While the court heard how things came to a head late in the summer when Griese was mowing his lawn, Griese has said that it was not his intention to imitate or insult anyone, and wanted to yodel because he was in a good mood.
Perspective means a lot in this case. Indeed it may mean everything. Some people are no doubt satisfied that a grumpy and possibly mean-spirited old man is getting his due. Others are predictably up in arms about the unstoppable advance of Muslims on Western society (this seems to be the prevailing wind in Blogland to the extent that we held off on this story until we could find a more reliable news site reporting on it; until then it had all of the marks of an outrageous sham chain e-mail).
However, at least one thing appears to be clear. All parties involved, showing a gross lack of discretion, let things get way out of hand. The neighbor, happy though he may have been, could probably have avoided yodeling right when the family was praying, especially if there were past confrontations about such actions. The family probably could have ignored him, or understood that noise is often a side-effect of living in society. The judge probably could have worked with the parties to get the charge changed to something in the property law realm rather than using the same laws used to prosecute neo-Nazis in a case that appears to be a neighborly spat more than anything.
Western/Muslim relations are poor enough, often due to a lack of mutual understanding and fear rather than facts on the ground. It might behoove everyone to stop and think sometimes rather than yodel or bring lawsuits. Maybe things were so bad that day in late summer that a lawsuit was not only appropriate, but a necessity. However, it seems more likely that things have merely gotten out of hand, causing both sides to look a bit bad and sparking an international debate. If neighbors can't get along, how can nations? We should be able to do better.