David Itzkoff at NYT:
An episode of “South Park” that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED” after a Muslim group warned the show’s creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet. Revolution Muslim, a group based in New York, wrote on its Web site that the “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker “will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh” for an episode shown last week in which a character said to be the Prophet Muhammad was seen wearing a bear costume. Mr. Van Gogh was slain in Amsterdam in 2004 after making a film that discussed the abuse of Muslim women in some Islamic societies.
The new episode of “South Park” on Wednesday night tried to revisit this character, but with the name and depiction of the character blocked out. It was unclear how much of the bleeping was Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker’s decision. In a message posted on their Web site, SouthParkStudios.com, they wrote that they could not immediately stream the new episode on the site because:
After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show.
On Thursday morning, a spokesman for Comedy Central confirmed that the network had added more bleeps to the episode than were in the cut delivered by South Park Studios, and that it was not giving permission for the episode to run on the studio’s Web site.
I know I’m a broken record, but the two-part 200th episode was about as close to genius – and hardcore fan-pandering – as you can get. Hennifer Lopez, Mr Hat, Mephesto and Stan Tenorman: what more could you ask for? Well: you could ask for a reprise of South Park’s pioneering decision not to pander to idiotic Islamist threats by treating the figure of Mohammed the way they treat every other religious icon. And that’s what Matt and Trey delivered.
They had done it before with no problem. In 2001, they’d already run an episode with the Super Best Friends, Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Muhammed, and Seaman – pronounced SeamAAAn – portraying Muhammed with no fuss or complaints. Then after 9/11, when all media should have been even more insistent on not caving to Jihadist thugs, Comedy Central forbade a reprise in a subsequent episode. Viacom looked really stupid, but that’s hardly unusual.
Then the last two weeks. In the first part of the 200th episode, South Park went to hilarious lengths to have Muhammed but cloaked in various disguises – a U-Haul van, a bear mascot, Santa Claus. But any actual depiction,as in 2001, was covered with a block of black with the word “censored” on it. In some ways, this act of censorship wasn’t too big a deal. It actually helped illuminate the unique intolerance of Sunni Islam among world religions today. SP has long had Jesus and Satan, they have ridiculed Mormonism, eviscerated Scientology, mocked Catholicism and showed the Buddha actually doing lines of coke. None of the adherents of these other faiths have threatened to kill Matt and Trey, but, of course, some Sunni Islamists did so.
Did Revolution Muslim truly threaten Stone and Parker or was it merely warning them? That is, were they indicating that they would commit and act of violence or were they only opining based on their prediction of what others, more extreme than they, would do? Revolution Muslim says it’s just a warning:
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Younus Abdullah Muhammad, a member of Revolution Muslim, repeated the group’s assertion that the post was a prediction rather than a threat. He said that the post on the group’s blog “was intended in a principle that’s deeply rooted in the Islamic religion, which is called commanding the good and forbidding the evil,” tying the group’s complaints about “South Park” to larger frustrations about U.S. support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.They have freedom of speech too, so the question is whether it’s a true threat.
ADDED: I have no end of respect for Stone and Parker. What brilliant artists! What political heroes!
Obviously, Christians — and Sarah Palin fans, and lovers of My Mother The Car — should take heed of this incentive system our modern media is creating. Don’t want things you treasure satirized? Just issue a “prediction” and — voila! Meanwhile, note how entirely real radical Muslim threats and violence are treated as just part of the weather — something you have to adapt to — while nonexistent Tea Party violence is an existential threat to the Republic.
But here’s a warning of my own: Those who have no backbone will do the bidding of those who do.
One mystery lingers: In the final scene, in vintage SP fashion, a bunch of characters gave mini-soliloquies about the moral of the story. The twist this time is that they were all bleeped out — roughly 30 seconds’ worth of airtime, filled with nothing but bleeps. I thought for sure that that had to be a joke — the moral of the story was how absurd censorship can be, and that was a perfect way to show it — but now I’m not so sure. Says the AP, “Comedy Central also censored 35 seconds’ worth of a conversation toward the end of the show between the characters Stan, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus. The network wouldn’t say Thursday whether this contained any reference to the warning [from jihadists].”
The “South Park” creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have issued a statement in response to Comedy Central’s decision to alter an episode after a Muslim group’s warning:
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.
Most other blogs and news sites are not providing a link to RevolutionMuslim.com – which appears to have been hacked, possibly by angry fans of the show – but I think it’s important to let these idiots know that they are being critiqued. And my critique of them is much the same as my critique of Anwar al-Awlaki: they are cowards, who seek to gain publicity for themselves. In a lot of ways, they have much in common with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, except that the latter are at least funny on occassion.
The Prophet SAW has been depicted by non-muslims with respect many times in the past – including a marble frieze of the Prophet as one of history’s great lawgivers, on the South Wall inside the Supreme Court building in Washington DC (photo at right). Muslims themselves, particularly in Iraq and Iran, are fond of depictions of the Prophet, with many public paintings and billboards of him and Ali ibn Talib AS. These are expressions of respect or love, and are not in any way an insult or an undue reverence.
In fact, it is precisely the over-reaction of extremist muslims who wave around threats of violence that leads to more depictions and insults to the Prophet, not less. The right way to inculcate respect for the Prophet among non-muslims is not to act like a barbarian but to simply express ourselves and explain our beliefs – and then excercise our own right, to walk away. It is by their own actions, supposedly in “defense” of the Prophet, that these extremists actually cause greater offense to the Prophet’s legacy than any mere cartoon. After all, the Prophet SAW is judged by non-muslims solely by the behavior of those who profess to follow him.
I don’t watch South Park, and likely never will. But I much prefer their attempt at depiction of the Prophet SAW, which is rooted in a simple need to assert their creative freedom, rather than any genuine intent to defame or insult Islam – quite unlike the Danish newspaper cartoons, which were created with only malice in mind. To understand this, compare and contrast the images of the Prophet as a super hero or a bear, versus a dark figure with a bomb in his turban. The real insult to the Prophet is in refusing to make a distinction at all.
UPDATE: A conversation with a reader about muslim sensibilities, assimilation, and tolerance.
UPDATE 2 – it wasn’t Mohammed after all in the bear suit, but actually Santa, according to people who’ve actually seen the episode. This revelation makes me realize that the South Park creators Matt and Trey are, quite simply, brilliant demigods. Well played, sirs. Well played. Of course, that didn’t stop Comedy Central from censoring the episode anyway…
manas at Ijtema:
Fox news seemed to revel at the episode. God forbid, if one of the writers get killed, they get a double bonus. South Park is something they don’t like. Islam too.
It is true that most Muslims believe that the Prophet (SAW) should not be drawn, but drawing him will cause more annoyance than offense or anger. The reason Muslims were offended and angered by the Danish cartoon is not because it drew the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him), but rather because it portrayed him as a terrorist.
When the Muslims conquered Mecca, they forgave the persecuting Quraish. They destroyed all the idols that were there in the Kaaba, which was built (or rebuilt) by Abraham (AwS). However, there was a picture of prophet Jesus (AwS) and his mother Mary (may Allah be pleased with her), which the prophet carefully put away.
Muslims love and respect all the other prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus (AwS). Whenever they are ridiculed, we are hurt too. The difference is, as Jesus (AwS) is “shared” between us and the Christians, so we do not feel we (Muslims) are being picked on.
The episode of South Park in my opinion was not trying to offend. It was trying to engage/incorporate the Muslim faith into the dialogue the way they know how. That’s the problem. Americans do not understand other cultures, not even European ones, and do not attempt to understand them. They expect them to ‘know what we are talkin’ about.‘
It just does not work that way. You can’t converse in Bengali with a Chinese.
Personally, I did find the show a bit offensive. One, because it showed the Prophet (SAW) clad in a stupid teddy bear costume. Two, it made innumerate references relating Muhammad (SAW), Muslims and violence. (Three) nor is Muhammad (SAW) immune from criticism. Even Muslims believe that he was a fallible human. We just believe that overall he was an excellent person- an example for all humanity to learn from. We are open to sincere criticism, but we do not like him ridiculed.
So, in short, I am a somewhat offended by, and a bit dissatisfied with the show, but in no way angry with it. I urge my fellow Muslims to engage the larger society- including the media, and use this opportunity to create some positive atmosphere. I urge the media to talk to representative Muslim organizations, and emphasize that they are such, before talking about fringe groups.
UPDATE: Ross Douthat in NYT
E.D. Kain at The League
Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right
Michael C. Moynihan at Reason
UPDATE #2: Glenn Greenwald on Douthat
Daniel Larison on Douthat and Greenwald
UPDATE #3: David Schaengold at The League
Peter Worthington at FrumForum