Over yonder (like here) people seem baffled about why Julian Baggini didn't choose to sign a letter to the Guardian protesting the Pope's being allowed an official state visit to the UK last week, but his explanation strikes me as being clear enough. He makes his case with an analogy involving Pastor Jones, the infamous would-be Koran burner. Burning a Koran is is bound to be interpreted by Muslims as an attack on all of them, instead of as a criticism of specific aspects of Islam. Though in many ways very different, Baggini alleges that protesting the visit was likely to be seen by Catholics as an attack on all Catholics. He'd rather make common cause with liberal Catholics who are critical of the Pope's many deplorable policies.
Another point he makes is that a sort of piling on would be involved in signing the letter--the pile being not just the signatories but the whole protest movement that had been growing over time (and came to a head this past weekend). If a few would be good, how could a lot of voices be a problem? I take it the idea is that the bigger (and angrier) the group of protestors, the bigger the problem if they're perceived as anti-Catholic instead of anti-Pope.
So--the nature of the argument is clear, but is it cogent? By all means, when you write a letter or participate in a protest, you want to think about how it will be construed, not just what's literally being said. If you're trying to send a message, you should carefully consider what message will be received, not just what message you officially intend to send. But here's what I'm less sure about. I think Baggini is on solid ground about Koran burning--yes, of course Muslims take it as anti-Muslim, not just anti-facets-of-Islam. I'm not sure though about anti-Pope protests. I'd like to know the facts here--are they perceived as anti-Pope or more generally anti-Catholic or even anti-religious?
Maybe Dawkins weekend speech can serve as a good test case. It's classic Dawkins: eloquent outrage, beautifully delivered. But what is this--a tirade against the Pope, or an attack on Catholics as a group? If any Catholics from the UK are reading this, I'd especially like to know how you see it.