Tuesday, April 27, 2010

South Park and "Koranic values"

To its credit, the popular television program South Park has taken up many contemporary issues, illuminating them with its characteristic iconoclasm. Now it has come a cropper. I illustrate the problem with excerpts from a New York Times op-ed piece by Ross Douthat (April 25).

“Two months before 9/11, Comedy Central aired an episode of “South Park” entitled “Super Best Friends,” in which the cartoon show’s foul-mouthed urchins sought assistance from an unusual team of superheroes. These particular superfriends were all religious figures: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Mormonism’s Joseph Smith, Taoism’s Lao-tse and the Prophet Muhammad, depicted with a turban and a 5 o’clock shadow, and introduced as “the Muslim prophet with the powers of flame.”

“That was a more permissive time. You can’t portray Muhammad on American television anymore, as South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, discovered in 2006, when they tried to parody the Danish cartoon controversy — in which unflattering caricatures of the prophet prompted worldwide riots — by scripting another animated appearance for Muhammad. The episode aired, but the cameo itself was blacked out, replaced by an announcement that Comedy Central had refused to show an image of the prophet.

“For Parker and Stone, the obvious next step was to make fun of the fact that you can’t broadcast an image of Muhammad. Two weeks ago, “South Park” brought back the “super best friends,” but this time Muhammad never showed his face. He “appeared” from inside a U-Haul trailer, and then from inside a mascot’s costume.

“These gimmicks then prompted a writer for the New York-based Web site revolutionmuslim.com to predict that Parker and Stone would end up like Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker murdered in 2004 for his scathing critiques of Islam. The writer, an American convert to Islam named Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, didn’t technically threaten to kill them himself. His post, and the accompanying photo of van Gogh’s corpse, was just “a warning ... of what will likely happen to them.”

“This passive-aggressive death threat provoked a swift response [i.e. cave-in] from Comedy Central. In last week’s follow-up episode, the prophet’s non-appearance appearances were censored, and every single reference to Muhammad was bleeped out. The historical record was quickly scrubbed as well: The original “Super Best Friends” episode is no longer available on the Internet.

“ In a way, the muzzling of “South Park” is no more disquieting than anyother example of Western institutions’ cowering before the threat of Islamist violence. It’s no worse than the German opera house that temporarily suspended performances of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” because it included a scene featuring Muhammad’s severed head. Or Random House’s decision to cancel the publication of a novel about the prophet’s third wife. Or Yale University Press’s refusal to publish the controversial Danish cartoons ... in a book about the Danish cartoon crisis. Or the fact that various Western journalists, intellectuals and politicians — the list includes Oriana Fallaci in Italy, Michel Houellebecq in France, Mark Steyn in Canada and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — have been hauled before courts and “human rights” tribunals, in supposedly liberal societies, for daring to give offense to Islam. . . .

“Our culture has few taboos that can’t be violated, and our establishment has largely given up on setting standards in the first place.

“Except where Islam is concerned. There, the standards are established under threat of violence, and accepted out of a mix of self-preservation and self-loathing.”


In a column yesterday at Salon.com, the always stimulating Glenn Greenwald seeks to relativize the threat against South Park, by saying (in effect) that "everybody does it." This gambit is similar to the one I encountered when I brought up the subject gay bashing by Muslim youth in the Netherlands (not just in Amsterdam, by the way).

Greenwald specifically mentions the matter of the Terrence McNally play Corpus Christi, which represents a Jesus-like character as gay, together with his disciples. A Fort Worth theater that had agreed to show a student-directed version of the play has withdrawn its offer. When the play was first to be presented in Manhattan in 1998 it was scheduled and then canceled (and then re-scheduled) by the Manhattan Theater Club as a result of "anonymous telephone threats to burn down the theater." However, a year and a half ago I saw the play presented in New York without incident. (It is excellent, by the way). Efforts to suppress Corpus Christi have not prevailed.

The claim made by Islamists is quite different. No visual representation of Muhammad of any sort is to be allowed. This, despite the abundant depictions of the Prophet in Islamic art. Some of them are to be found on the Internet. How long they will stay, I do not know. But in Iran and some other countries shopkeepers openly sell pictures of the Prophet.

Greenwald goes on to make other comparisons, some valid some not, in an effort to (in my view) make light of the threats against South Park.

What is needed is to examine the s p e c i f i c i t y of these Islamic threats to force us to adhere to their norms (however arbitrary and unhistorical), without resorting to comparison with other phenomena.

Why have those who made these threats not been at least investigated bythe FBI? The answer, is of course that whenever Muslims are involved they must be handled with kid gloves.

In this country there are Muslim imams who call for the death of homosexuals. They should be prosecuted. Yet this is not done. Why not?

Can anyone be blamed for thinking that we are seeing an increasing pattern of intimidation in this country that is wholly at variance with our traditions of separation of church and state? Islamists, of course, do not recognize this foundational principle. Their aggression and intimidation are simply unacceptable. Planes and ships are readily available to take them to countries where “Koranic values” prevail.

On these shores, it is time to draw the line.



Blogger rockingrector said...

And not only in America. In the UK, while other religions are seen as a valid target for comedy, Islam is out-of-bounds because of the fear of reprisals. Yet comedy is often a fairly gentle way of opening our eyes to topics which are otherwise taboo. And since (IMHO) free will is a gift from God, I say, bring back freedom of speech!

4:15 AM  

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