South Park falls victim to censorship


by Rumbold
24th April, 2010 at 11:32 am    

South Park has been censored again after attempting to mock some its favourite targets, including religious figures and Tom Cruise. The controversy came after they showed Muhammad in a bear suit, which led to two people posting a death threat on a well-known extremist Islamist website. Given the history of agent provocateurs on Muslim websites who stir up trouble, there was always the possibility that this was just an attempt to make Muslims look bad, but it seems that the posters were ‘genuine’ Muslims. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, pointed out the hypocrisy of some (including Comedy Central) when they noted that they had depicted Muhammad before, in an episode where the Islamic prophet teams up with other religious figures in order to defeat an out of control David Blaine, without stirring up much anger. Only after the publication of the Danish ‘Motoon’ cartoons did non-Muslim depictions of Muhammad become a lot more controversial.

People have rightly focused on the threat to free speech that this represents, and the need to re-emphasize that religious beliefs are no more entitled to protection than any other point of view. Yet it also is another excuse to smear Muslims. Comedy Central, which broadcasts South Park, censored the episode after one death threat on one website. Understandable from their perspective, but it is the equivalent of censoring something because a drunkard in a pub was overheard threatening the show’s creators. I doubt that many Muslims like that Muhammad is being depicted, but neither are millions posting death threats and rioting. As Zahed Amanullah points out, the threats were made by two converts who apparently aren’t even welcome in most mosques.

The right to mock and satirise has to be absolute; there cannot be compromise on this even if people are offended. No one has a right to have their views placed beyond satire, but nor should the reaction of less than a handful of fringe extremists be used to demonstrate that all Muslims are rabid killers who want to murder anyone who mocks them or their religion.


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  1. Salil — on 24th April, 2010 at 11:51 am  

    Even if it is “the drunkard in the pub” who made the threat, if that drunkard has a gun, it is easy to understand why Comedy Central – which, as John Stewart reminded us, writes the checks – chooses to censor the episode. Even if the two “converts” took it upon themselves to threaten South Park, it is easy to understand why people would feel the chill and conclude that the entire faith will respond in some form. Those Jyllands-Posten cartoons were published months before Ahmadinejad and others considered it an opportune moment to protest. Likewise, this episode may have ramifications in future. And the Stewart show had an interesting episode, showing how they’ve made fun of every faith – as has South Park – but representatives of other faiths have not responded by issuing death threats. I entirely agree that all Muslims are not extremists. But there are extremists who are Muslims, who take offence over such issues, and in some instances, carry out their threats – the translator and publisher for The Satanic Verses in Norway and Japan were attacked; one died. Some dudes tried to blow up the office of the publisher of Jewel of Medina. Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a fanatic. Ayan Hirsi Ali did get death threats. So how could recounting such experiences, and making some generalisation about Muslims, be considered a smear? And if it is indeed that these folks are in a minority within Islam, and if some speak out against them from within the faith – think of Irshad Manji, Ed Hussain – they’re condemned as lackeyes of the Bush-Blair project? It is of course wrong to condemn an entire group of people because of the lunacy of some. But it is entirely understandable why people would think twice before taking on Islam, and in so doing, antagonize other faiths, which will then think that the only way they can get attention is by acting like Muslim extremists. Then we will be able to make fun of – well, nobody. That’s why South Park must be defended – by Muslims and by everyone, including those without any faith. This internalizes the fatwa, making us watch our words, all the time – and swallow them. It must be resisted.

  2. douglas clark — on 24th April, 2010 at 12:18 pm  

    Rumbold:

    The right to mock and satirise has to be absolute; there cannot be compromise on this even if people are offended. No one has a right to have their views placed beyond satire, but nor should the reaction of less than a handful of fringe extremists be used to demonstrate that all Muslims are rabid killers who want to murder anyone who mocks them or their religion.

    Amen.

    Salil makes good points too.

  3. cjcjc — on 24th April, 2010 at 12:48 pm  

    I don’t recall this site taking such a resolute stand on the Motoons.

    (Though I may be wrong…)

  4. douglas clark — on 24th April, 2010 at 12:55 pm  

    cjcjc,

    You are always wrong :-)

    If it weren’t for you my moral compass would be jiggered.

  5. Appealing of Ealing — on 24th April, 2010 at 1:06 pm  

    “I doubt that many Muslims like that Muhammad is being depicted, but neither are millions posting death threats and rioting…”

    Not yet anyway. But it has happened before.

    “…As Zahed Amanullah points out, the threats were made by two converts who apparently aren’t even welcome in most mosques.”

    So exactly what is it about Islam that seems to attract these “fringe extremists” as you call them?

  6. douglas clark — on 24th April, 2010 at 1:14 pm  

    Appealing of Ealing,

    So exactly what is it about Islam that seems to attract these “fringe extremists” as you call them?

    Dunno. What do you think?

  7. skidmarx — on 24th April, 2010 at 3:56 pm  

    Jon Stewart also pointed out that it isn’t actually Muhammed, but Santa,blessings be upon him, inside the bear suit.
    So exactly what is it about Islam that seems to attract these “fringe extremists” as you call them?

    That it’s a faith based system, like Christianity,Hinduism or Buddhism?

  8. Kojak — on 24th April, 2010 at 5:07 pm  

    I have seen some of this South Park episode and find it astonishing that there was anything to obtect to (a rational objection I should say).
    The crux of the episode was the extent to which Muhammad could not be depicted in order not to cause offence – hence an agreement between the leaders of the world’s faiths that he could go to South Park in the back of a van as long as it didn’t have any windows!
    Apparently the depiction of Muhammed also extends to how he isn’t depicted.
    Later in the episode Muhammad supposedly dons a bear costume – although it turns out to be Santa Clauss inside. So the ‘offence’ of depiction now extends to mistakenly believing something to be what it isn’t.

    FFS!!!!!!

    (I recall once having a discussion with a religious guy I worked with who told me God was everywhere, even in his desk drawer. He refused to open the drawer whilst at the same time challenging me to prove that God wasn’t there – rmthat was a real bundle of laughs).

  9. sonia — on 24th April, 2010 at 9:58 pm  

    well said Rumbold

  10. sonia — on 24th April, 2010 at 10:04 pm  

    Is Islam attracting extremists? Or were they born into the religion? I could never work out why anyone would convert to Islam because it seems so much harsher and strict (well if you’re female anyway, can see NOW why men would want to convert!) and the only converts i’ve met generally tend to be ex-offenders who’re looking for a clean slate and the discipline attracts them.

    As far as I can see so-called “Islamic” extremists are no different to patriotic neo-conservatives in the US: same ideology, different ‘group’ wanting the monopoly to power and the ‘Truth’.

    Now unfortunately for most Muslims, moderate or otherwise, we won’t admit (like many Christians simply have had to over the centuries) – or can’t be seen to be admitting -that our religion might well have had ‘errors’ creeping into it like we say Christianity has had. Because our Prophet is the last Prophet! Mind you – judging from some of the ‘inter-faith’ discussions i’ve seen on weird Facebook groups, there are just as many Christians who don’t like their religion being in the wrong.

    Either which way, I think, if you really believe in something,you belive in it. Why would you find it offensive if someone else mocks your belief, surely you’d find it funny and feel sorry for them, poor ignorant sods that they are. Much better line to take! So the real issue, I suspect, is that if you are not 100% comfortable with your belief system/the one you inherited, and think it slightly medieval/ then you won’t be best pleased when someone else points it out. SO the real root of the problem, and particularly now for Islam – given so many people still think we have to take the Quran literally – is that if you depict these in images – then you are already in troubled territory. I think holy texts are full of a lot of stuff if they appeared anywhere else – would be definitely banned. the thing for Islam now is for all the diasporic Muslims who feel they are a minority, there is an extra layer of having to feel defensive.

  11. sonia — on 24th April, 2010 at 10:12 pm  

    And actually I think with religion, we should be taking the line – given the moral high ground religion claims for itself – that they should not be afraid of scrutiny. Satire – after all – is quite a moral pursuit.

    the real reason the Mo-toons have been so inflammatory- is because it is simply far too close to the accounts of the Prophet’s life, for comfort. I think actually there were more moderate Muslims who were outraged by the cartoons, than the ones we would normally call extremists. (who aren’t afraid of the history of our Prophet, they embrace it and want to emulate it. In some ways, they’re able to be more honest with themselves than other Muslims.) of course if someone wants to believe in something and they point out that they are not literalists, its quite another matter. its all the people stuck in the middle, who have difficulty.

    Ooh there, I have said it.

  12. layla — on 24th April, 2010 at 10:20 pm  

    When are South Park going to mock Sikh holy figures like Guru Napak and that raving homosexual Guru Go-Bend Singh?

  13. Faisal (Spitoon) — on 24th April, 2010 at 10:51 pm  

    Totally hypocritical of Sunny “browner than thou” Hundial to condemn others for censorship when he got Spittoon to remove our Friday caption competition mocking him.

    What a hypocrite!

  14. KJB — on 24th April, 2010 at 11:25 pm  

    And actually I think with religion, we should be taking the line – given the moral high ground religion claims for itself – that they should not be afraid of scrutiny. Satire – after all – is quite a moral pursuit.

    Pure WIN.

  15. Chris E — on 24th April, 2010 at 11:28 pm  

    Is Islam attracting extremists? Or were they born into the religion? I could never work out why anyone would convert to Islam because it seems so much harsher and strict

    You are rather puncturing your point by answering the question in the first paragraph, no?

  16. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th April, 2010 at 3:28 am  

    Interestingly, the jihobbyist who made the ‘warning’, and absolutely ruined my South Park viewing this weekend has been in dialogue with at least one counter-terror analyst for a while.

    Kind of tempted to coax him to this comments section for a good kicking. Twat.

  17. Vikrant — on 25th April, 2010 at 3:33 am  

    I think holy texts are full of a lot of stuff if they appeared anywhere else – would be definitely banned. the thing for Islam now is for all the diasporic Muslims who feel they are a minority, there is an extra layer of having to feel defensive.

    Come to think of it, what Islam does need is a sort of reformation that many of the other religions underwent. Hinduism is for its part has texts which are full of (for the lack of a better term) fucked up shit. But reformation movements that started in 19th century Bengal, have led to significant changes in modern day Hindu practices. Anyone brandishing Manusmriti (laws of manu which are responsible for much of caste system ofcourse) is less likely to be taken seriously in India.

    As for Comedy Central, i daresay they overreacted. After the motoons controversy, i think there has been a tendency to be overtly sensitive to perceived threats. I mean how many people have been attacked here for depiction of Mohammed?… None!

  18. Shatterface — on 25th April, 2010 at 3:35 am  

    It’s not Parker and Stone committing the blasphemy, it’s the guy in the bear suit:

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/

  19. Vikrant — on 25th April, 2010 at 3:36 am  

    @Naadir Jeewa: You can still watching it at http://xepisodes.com/ mate. (trust me its not a porno link :) )

  20. Godlessons — on 25th April, 2010 at 3:45 am  

    What’s sad is that it is a very recent Suni thing to not allow depictions of Muhammad. Historically there have been thousands and thousands of pictures made of Muhammad, and it wasn’t until the Denmark controversy that it became a problem. That makes me ask one question. Have you seen this man?

  21. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th April, 2010 at 3:50 am  

    @Vikrant.

    I’m well acquainted with that site, but the problem is that the last few minutes have been entirely bleeped out.

    Viacom totally overreacted. RevolutionMuslim is a 12 man outfit, and it’s just the law of probabilities that at least one twat in the entire continent was going to issue a threat.

  22. KB Player — on 25th April, 2010 at 1:43 pm  

    fter the motoons controversy, i think there has been a tendency to be overtly sensitive to perceived threats. I mean how many people have been attacked here for depiction of Mohammed?… None!

    But no newspaper represented them and the BBC didn’t show them.

    As for a Muslim reformation, it’s what some Islamic scholars in this country are calling for eg Mona Siddiqui, who “will use a high-profile international platform in Rome next month to call on Muslims to be more tolerant towards other faiths and world views”. (I quote from the Sunday Herald.)

    I suppose the well-funded Wahabbi purist Muslim influence is the counter-reformation.

  23. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th April, 2010 at 1:50 pm  

    I’m pretty sure the Reformation is a pretty terrible analogy to use, given all those wars and shit. Though I’d defer to the greater historical mind of Rumbold…

  24. boyo — on 25th April, 2010 at 2:04 pm  

    @17 “Come to think of it, what Islam does need is a sort of reformation that many of the other religions underwent.”

    Er, that’s what’s happening at the moment, hence the body count. It was really only by accident that the dreadful holy wars that wracked Christendom in the 16the and 17th Centuries resulted in greater freedoms. Martin Luther and Osama bin Laden would get on like a heritic on fire.

  25. Rumbold — on 25th April, 2010 at 6:07 pm  

    Naadir:

    Thanks- as Boyo says, the Protestants weren’t trying to gain greater freedom, but their own religious system. Forget Martin Luther and Osama, John Calvin and Mr. Bin Laden would have got famously on moral issues (though Calvin would have condemned rebellion against governments).

    A combination the ferocity of the reformation, in addition to the fragmentation of ‘the church’ and a growing understanding of science weakened the power of religious institutions. Enlightened despots like Frederick the Great had a great part to play, as, just like in the reformation, it was princes/rulers and their patronage which allowed heterodox ideas and methods to breathe.

  26. Muslim — on 25th April, 2010 at 8:26 pm  

    KP Player

    I suppose the well-funded Wahabbi purist Muslim influence is the counter-reformation.

    You suppose wrong. Its the exact opposite. The Wahabbi movement was actually a “protestant reformation” style movement against the classical orthodox Sunni Islam represented by the 4 main schools of thought (Hanafi/Shafi/Maliki/Hanbali). The Wahabbis proposed taking the ability to interpret Islamic texts out of the hands of the ulema (scholars) which is what the 4 schools insist on and allowing anyone, no matter how unqualified, to interpret the religion a la Protestant beliefs that any Christian can interpret the Bible.

    The result of this free-for-all has been Muslim groups claiming its lawful to attack civilians (something none of the ulema ever said was allowed) as well as groups that appear diametrically opposed to the Wahabbis but in fact share their methodology of rejecting classical scholarship, and leaving textual interpretation to the unqualified, such as the modernist/reformist Irshad Manji types.

    If you want a reformation, Osama Bin Laden (a non scholar) IS the reformation

  27. KB Player — on 25th April, 2010 at 9:06 pm  

    OK, Muslim. I look forward to branches of the Wahhabis becoming like Quakers and Unitarians, i.e gentle and socially responsible Christians, who were offshoots of Protestantism.

    But of course these parallels are going to be hit and miss.

  28. Muslim — on 25th April, 2010 at 10:47 pm  

    OK, Muslim. I look forward to branches of the Wahhabis becoming like Quakers and Unitarians, i.e gentle and socially responsible Christians, who were offshoots of Protestantism.

    Yeah Protestant Christians have always been peace loving. Ask the native peoples of the Americas and Australia who suffered their genocides (and I know the Catholics were even more blood thirsty;thats Christian barbarians for you). Of course theyve changed like peace loving ex-president Bush.

  29. KB Player — on 25th April, 2010 at 11:18 pm  

    Muslim – Protestantism includes abolitionists as well as imperialists, Quakers as well as warriors. Any great religion has its peaceful elements as well as its will to power.

  30. Naadir Jeewa — on 25th April, 2010 at 11:50 pm  

    “hit and miss”

    We are talking about 5-15 million Europeans dead, with some territories losing 30% of their population.

    Unitarianism was a little late on the scene in the 18th Century, and Quakerism only appeared towards the end of the wars of religion.

    What really solved things was not a directly religious innovation, but the political settlement that established state sovereignty – The 1648 Peace of Westphalia, with the declaration “Cuius regio, eius religio” (Whose realm, his religion).*

    What I find interesting about Global Jihadism is they’ve retconned Westphalian sovereignty over the old Islamic empires, where that kind of religious absolutism never entirely held.

    * Strictly speaking, there was a wider transnational movement that enabled that settlement to take place, which did rely on protestant arguments as well as a new body of political philosophy, not least Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, & Hobbes’s proto-liberalism.

  31. Boyo — on 26th April, 2010 at 8:12 am  

    Sufism, and Western Sufism in particular (which has a lot in common with Unitarianism and Quakerism) is a perfectly reasonable example of a more liberal Islam.

    http://www.sufiway.org/history/texts/western_sufism.php

    Islam has a huge amount of potential for spiritual growth . The trouble is, IMHO, it needs to be handled with care and maturity – in the hands of less developed individuals it risks becoming little more than an extension of their narcissism.

  32. Chris E — on 26th April, 2010 at 2:24 pm  

    Sufism, and Western Sufism in particular (which has a lot in common with Unitarianism and Quakerism)

    And have had about as much impact on the world – I suppose at least the Quakers gave us breakfast cereal.

  33. Mezba — on 26th April, 2010 at 4:00 pm  

    It’s all about ratings. South Park published a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad and muslims didn’t complain. It’s probably because a) it’s on cable and b) not enough Muslims really care about South Park anyways.

    A comment on my letter to South Park said the violent threat was originated by someone with non-Muslim origins!

  34. Naadir Jeewa — on 26th April, 2010 at 6:02 pm  

    Mezba – You’re totally wrong on the lack of women in South Park. Case in point: Barbra Streisand has an entire episode devoted to her.

  35. Chris E — on 26th April, 2010 at 6:17 pm  

    A comment on my letter to South Park said the violent threat was originated by someone with non-Muslim origins!

    Why should this matter? Islam is a proselytising religion which believes in the brotherhood of all Muslims.

    Unless you mean that they don’t have the necessary cultural background to interpret/rightly represent the religion – which would be a premise that they would reject anyway for the reasons “Muslim” point out above.

  36. Don — on 26th April, 2010 at 6:17 pm  

    Chris E

    And have had about as much impact on the world

    Fair point, people who don’t feel the need to strong-arm others into agreeing with them do tend to have a less noticeable impact. I’d say that was a good thing.

    I don’t want religions which have an impact on the world.

    However, the Quakers probably contributed more to progressive and humane developments than any of the other christian sects, for their numbers.

    Quakers were dominant in the lead mining industry in Weardale and the North Pennines and the conditions of the workers were in stark contrast to the neighbouring coal mines. Fascinating subject. Well, to me anyway.

  37. Chris E — on 26th April, 2010 at 6:36 pm  

    I don’t want religions which have an impact on the world.

    Right – which runs into problems the first time someone allows their beliefs to shape their behaviour.

    In any case, humans are rather ingenious at creating new ideologies which exclude by their very nature – so even in the absence of religion anything backwards looking will divide, and anything forward looking will improve all aspects of society, including that of war-making.

    As a case in point, I suspect that literacy in general was a big win in the long term – bigger than anything the Quakers produced – and that was one of the fruits of the Magisterial Reformation – which also contributed to Continent wide wars.

  38. Boyo — on 26th April, 2010 at 7:08 pm  

    Rumi was a Sufi.

    Dickens was a Unitarian and so is Tim Berners-Lee who created the internet, without which we’d not be here.

    How’s that for influence?

    And the Quakers didn’t do the cereal… that was just marketing ;-)

  39. Don — on 26th April, 2010 at 7:28 pm  

    Right – which runs into problems the first time someone allows their beliefs to shape their behaviour.

    Once again, fair point. I’d distinguish between those whose beliefs shape their behaviour in the sense that they feel that the best way to express their beliefs is by treating others honestly, fairly, compassionately and inclusively and allowing those others to reach their own conclusions about the value of those beliefs, and those whose beliefs shape their behaviour into insisting, proselytizing, enforcing and crowing on a dung-hill.

    And, yes, literacy FTW. An unintended consequence?

  40. Loga'Abdullah — on 30th April, 2010 at 5:32 pm  

    I reviewed Irshad Manji’s book here – I think you may find it interesting

    http://www.alhamdulilah.info/2010/04/trouble-with-islam-irshad-manji.html

    Feel free to contact me if you have any comments or suggestions about this book review.

  41. earwicga — on 30th April, 2010 at 6:55 pm  

    Rumbold – you may enjoy this post: http://is.gd/bOrbr

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