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April 25, 2010 - Ray Hall (Archive)

Some of you probably have never heard of Trey Parker and Matt Stone but it’s almost a certainty that you’ve heard of their creation--South Park. Some who are familiar with the cartoon about the adult exploits of third graders know immediately that it isn’t a cartoon for kids. Some people advance the argument that South Park has no socially redeeming value and would rather it not be aired on Comedy Central or anywhere else. Be as it may; the show is wildly popular with teens and young adults.

South Park specializes in satirizing prominent figures, particularly celebrities and religious figures. One episode had Jesus paired in a boxing match with Satan in front of a disappointed audience. Jesus, in keeping with his admonition to turn the other cheek refused to fight back and allowed the Devil to get the best of him. He was booed by those in the crowd that had bet on the outcome.

A recent episode had Jesus killing the Pope and installing the Easter Bunny in his place as the head of the Catholic Church. Parker and Stone have depicted Jesus reading porn, Buddha smoking crack, characterized a Vietnam veteran as a drunk with throat cancer and Tom Cruise committing evil acts in the name of Scientology.

This immensely popular cable program was continuing with its irreverent ways until last weekend when it was censored by Comedy Central for depictions of the prophet Muhammed. By South Park standards Muhammed was treated gently by appearing in a bear mascot suit and even the word “Muhammed” was censored by the cable network. However, what was shown was enough for a New York group called Radical Muslim to threaten South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone that they would “wind up like Theo Van Gogh,” a Dutch film maker murdered six years ago by an Islamic radical. Van Gogh’s documentary depicted Islam as condoning violence against women.

The New York based group is reported to have about a dozen members and spends most of its energies handing out pamphlets filled with anti Semitic babble and picketing other mosques that are not radical enough. Jean Marbella writing in the Baltimore Sun probably said it best: “It’s not even that the terrorists have won, it’s that wannabe terrorists have won.” As the Sun pointed out a cartoon was censored not for depicting Muhammed but for merely talking about depicting Muhammed.

Comedy Central’s action was cowardly but no more cowardly than the free world when Van Gogh was murdered and when a Dutch newspaper came under serious threats from Islamic groups for depicting Muhammed in unflattering cartoons. Most news outlets simply reported the incidents as if they feared being accused of intolerance of Islam or cowed by fear of reprisal.

We recoil when a religious fanatic murders an abortion Doctor and we ought to recoil as vociferously when Islamic radicals engage in such tactics and make threatening demands.

I understand Muslims have a profound respect for their religion and its prophet Muhammed and I can even understand having a deep, emotional intensity when such an iconic figure is disrespected. I know Catholics who cringe at jokes about the Virgin Mary and become angry when their religion is vilified. The same can be said for Protestants and Evangelicals of every sort when Jesus is otherwise mocked and their faith ridiculed.

Larry Flynt, the nation’s best known pornographer, was shot and crippled during a porn trial but that didn’t keep him from scurrilously insulting the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. Reverend Falwell didn’t shoot Larry Flynt when one of Flynt’s adult publications in a liquor ad spoof claimed Falwell had sex with his mother. Instead, Falwell sued, took the case to the Supreme Court and lost.


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