Friday, April 23, 2010
South Park and Muslim Censorship
I haven’t kept up with South Park beyond season 11, but I can always appreciate its humor. Even when it poked fun at atheism, being an “atheist” myself in some sense, I didn’t take offense. It was clear that the message was not about poking fun at any group in particular, just people that took their beliefs too seriously to not be considerate of others. And I barely remember the episode that involved Mohammed before (Super Best Friends, I believe), but now Comedy Central has finally caved in to Muslim protests. I don’t know what censorship was involved with the most recent episode, but it seems like it’s taking out a point key to the episode’s overall message that intimidation and fear are not the way to communicate to a differing group. This reflects similarly on the group Revolution Muslim which purports to be using their constitutional right to free speech and civil protest. But in reality they seem to be hiding behind that to make a threat that Matt Stone and Trey Parker will end up just like Theo Van Gogh, the Danish filmmaker who was killed by a Muslim extremist in 2004 for making a film exposing the abuse of women in some Islamic societies. If that isn’t wishing violence or advocating it upon the two creators of South Park, I don’t know what is. A Muslim by the username of Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, from the same group that says they don’t advocate violence, Tweeted a prayer that Allah would kill Trey Parker and Matt Stone and posted a picture of the deceased Theo Van Gogh in their threat. According to the leader in New York, Younus Abdullah Muhammad, this is just posting evidence, but it’s a tad morbid to point out the dead guy almost 6 years after the fact. Not to mention the persistent error of correlation and causation. The man was killed by a Muslim extremist; it doesn’t mean everyone killed by them is killed for the same reasons. Depiction of Prophet Mohammed is not the only way to get death threats from Muslims in shorthand form, so the alleged evidence is patently false. If I was an apostate from Islam as opposed to Christianity I could have a death threat issued on me.
Though they may not be directly calling for Muslims to kill them (just Allah, because that’s totally different), they are implying that there are Muslims beyond their control that may decide to try to take their lives. If you’re trying to be somewhat accessible, why not decry the use of violence against people that supposedly insult Islam instead of saying, “Oh we don’t advocate violence, but we think you’ll get killed for doing this even if people unassociated with us happen to be the ones to kill you. It’s not our fault if we spread a message and someone takes it the wrong way”. Except it is your fault if you are speaking to a group that is not managed apart from individual clerical authority or the influence of a text written by a supposedly illiterate ancient Arab. If you try to dance around issues of violence as interpreted in the Qu’ran by saying that “terrorize” just means striking fear into unbelievers with protests and opposition instead of bombing their buildings or killing them in the streets of Amsterdam, then you’re just making yourself the lesser of two evils. From what I’ve read on their recent post on their blog (http://revolutionmuslim.blogspot.com/) their argument is even more obscene than I initially thought. They argue that it is not a matter of advocating opposition that could be taken to mean violence by extremists, but that they are just following the law of shariah, the overarching ethos of the Muslim religion. And according to an overwhelming consensus (of 5 Imams, apparently) the interpretation of the shariah law on insults to the Prophets (Moses, Jesus and Mohammed for three examples) is that whoever does this deserves death (or a threatened conversion to Islam before they die). So it’s not a misunderstanding of Islam by radicals, according to Revolution Muslim; it is the moderate Muslims in America that don’t understand how serious shariah is and thus are not proper Muslims. So those that welcome violence and death to those that insult the Prophets are being peaceful in their own twisted fashion.
Frankly, I don’t see how I can respect any representatives of a religious faith or culture that advocates striking fear into people (through threats of death from above or being countercultural in the extreme to provoke responses) to get their point across. The creators of South Park have not been prone to hide away from controversy, in fact, usually taking it at face value and accepting the publicity and moving on. People have complained about episodes poking fun at Catholicism (one involving Catholic priests raping children and another involving a supposed miracle with a statue of Mary “menstruating”), protested by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League or Scientology (where Tom Cruise and John Travolta are involved with Stan entering the cult) which caused Isaac Hayes to leave the show. There have been other times when Comedy Central has caved in to pressures, though admittedly their wording for why they censored the use of Mohammed’s name and his personage in this particular episode is less about religious tolerance of Islam as opposed to the threats that they will get blown up. But even this disappoints me. If you let the fear thrown around by domestic terrorists in one form or another affect you, then you are giving them the power they want in an institution that does not let people getting offended by something override a person’s right to present the offense. In South Park’s case, there is no ill will towards the religions themselves, so much as towards the fundamentalism that alienates people and otherwise gives off a negative portrayal of the religion. However much they may argue they are countercultural, there is a difference between protesting through art or literature and actively praying for Allah to kill people because they poke fun at the issue in Islam of depicting Mohammed. That’s the kick in the balls about this; there doesn’t even have to be a depiction of Mohammed in the episode, which could be the entire point. The episode is poking fun at the absurdity that comes about when you can’t depict Mohammed at all to the extent that you can’t even hear someone speak his name. There’s no ill will towards Islam, and quite frankly, Mohammed’s last appearance was as a superhero, stopping David Blaine from creating a cult of worshippers. Although apparently, even that episode has been removed from http://www.southparkstudios.com, so this whole issue is getting blown out of proportion. I can only hope Comedy Central eventually gets over this fear of perceived Muslim attacks and take the publicity the way it works best for them, getting more people to watch the episode on TV in the future and thus promoting tolerance. Controversy is not always the best way to communicate a message, but in a society where satire is commonplace, the creative use of it in controversial ways may be the best method to communicate ideas falling out of popular knowledge. Until next time, Namaste and Aloha (and may disorder continue to collapse the Muslim extremists)