Comedy Central’s continuing lack of nerve regarding Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s hit show South Park reached a new low last week when it heavily censored an episode that humorously depicted the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The show featured Muhammad disguised in a bear suit.
Corporate executives ordered that all mentions of Muhammad be bleeped from this show, just as some South Park episodes in the past had also been censored. In 2006 a two-part episode that was written as a response to a Dutch newspaper that had censored a comic strip that portrayed Muhammad in a humorous manner was itself edited by the network.
This time episodes “200” and “201” of South Park included a caricature of Muhammad and caught the attention of a radical Islamic website. The website promptly issued warnings that could only be interpreted as thinly-veiled death threats directed at South Park’s authors.
The fundamentalist site sent the threats to Parker and Stone saying the two could face retribution because of their “disrespectful” depictions of Muhammad. The warning of violence was posted on
which also featured a grisly photo of a dead Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh, was the Dutch filmmaker who was brutally butchered by a Muslim radical who was “offended” by the release of a van Gogh’s documentary film which depicted and described Muslim violence against women.
The radical Muslim site claimed “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show … This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”
A spokesman for the website, somebody identifying himself as “Abu Tallah al Amerikee” (actually a Fairfax County resident, Zachary Adam Chesser, who converted to Islam) said the entry was posted to “raise awareness.” He said there was a possibility that Parker and Stone could be killed because of their perceived slight against Muhammad.
To make clear what the ideological leanings of this obscure website are, it also features a sermon by Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born radical cleric thought to be in hiding somewhere in Yemen.
Comedy Central quickly caved-in to the threats, apparently without even knowing whether or not the site represents anyone beyond this al-Amerikee (Chesser) character.
Parker and Stone clearly disagree with the corporate decision to censor their show. The two issued this statement:
In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.
Beyond the issue of gutless corporate executives censoring a comedy show is the larger question of what is a much greater danger – the growing tendency to knuckle-under to demands of all sorts coming from radical Islamists. This has been the generalized response in Western Europe, and it may become America’s response as well – unless we demand a different approach.
Every slice of the population is routinely skewered by America’s pop culture. Jews, Blacks, “trailer park trash,” bad Asian drivers, gay people, Jesus, and Bible-thumping Christians are consistently the butt of jokes and caricatures. But Muslims are rarely joked about, and the Prophet Muhammad is almost never treated as the subject of jokes.
The reason is obvious. People have lost their lives over depictions of Islam or Muhammad. However, if – as many like to argue - Islam is really the “religion of peace,” then why is “offending Islam” all-too-often something that elicits threats of violence and death. People living in western societies don’t have fears of Christian fundamentalists, Hindu activists, or Buddhist radicals. Only Islam, among the world’s great religions, issues warnings of death to those who “offend.”
I’m not a fan of South Park and I don’t watch the show. I am, however, a staunch advocate and defender of something essential to being an American – the freedom of speech and expression.
While what the bean-counters at Comedy Central did may appear to be the all too predictable weak-kneed and self-serving actions of entertainment industry lawyers, the implications are far-reaching. Giving in to the voices of radical Islam at any level only emboldens those who want to destroy us and our nation.
Hell, even Jon Stewart, the liberal host of the Daily Show gets it. He said, “Comedy Central decided to censor the episode. It’s their right … we all serve at their pleasure.”
But Stewart went on to play extensive clips of past South Park episodes that showed Parker and Stone making fun of every conceivable religion and ethnic group,