On South Park, the Prophet Muhammad, and Censorship

This, to the left, is the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet Muhammad, showing off his fire powers

He appeared in the 2001 episode of South Park, “Super Best Friends.” He could shoot fire from his hands, and he battled evil alongside fellow religious icons Buddha, Krishna, and Joseph Smith.

The Prophet Muhammad, pro sports team mascotThis, to the right, is also the Prophet Muhammad.

He’s wearing a bear suit, like a sports team mascot.

Why is Muhammad wearing a bear suit? Because some Muslims consider it blasphemous to depict the Prophet Muhammad, and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker decided to satirize Comedy Central’s refusal to show Muhammad several seasons earlier in the episode “Cartoon Wars” One of the Danish Muhammad cartoons and mock the self-censorship non-Muslims have shown toward depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons like this one.

As a response to the Prophet’s depiction in a bear suit, one group, Revolution Muslim, has threatened South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker for blaspheming their prophet.

I don’t think Revolution Muslim realizes how lightly the Prophet Muhammad got off in South Park. Stone and Parker portrayed Muhammad as a generally normal person, as normal as a person can be who shoots fire from the palms of his hand. The Christian god has been depicted in South Park as an alien hippopotamus. The Catholic Church has been shown to be ruled by a giant spider that lives beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. Judaism is shown to be some sort of cyberpunk Cthulhu cult. Mormonism came in for abuse in an hilarious musical episode, and Scientology has been mocked as well.

By comparison, Islam has been treated very well by South Park. A show that has no problem showing Saddam Hussein and the Devil as homosexual lovers would have absolutely zero problem depicting and mocking the Prophet Muhammad’s enormous sexual appetite; hell, they’d likely show Muhammad fucking a goat. He was a trader on the Arabian peninsula; who really knows what happened on the long and lonely nights out there in the desert during the seventh century CE?

And yes, Muslims, I wrote that to be offensive. Because, frankly, as Philip Pullman said about his recent novel, “No one has the right to spend their life without being offended.” If you live in a free society that values the rights of free expression, then placing some topics off-limits, like the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, violates the very principle of free speech. If don’t like offensive speech, you don’t fight it by saying it can’t be said, you don’t fight it by threatening the life of the speaker, you don’t fight it by killing. Admiral Ackbar, veteran of the Rebellion, on Hajj in Mecca If speech offends you, fight it with more speech. Convince others of your views. Then people will respect your viewpoint.

But, killing filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, as the Revolution Muslim outfit alluded to? Threatening the lives of the Danish editorial cartoonists? Threatening the life of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks? Threatening Matt Stone and Trey Parker because of Prophet “Bear Mascot” Muhammad? These aren’t worthy of respect. These are worthy of condemnation.

And those who have the courage to not only call out groups like Revolution Muslim for their intolerance and their threat-mongering but to call out those who would self-censor out of fear deserve commendation.

Ironically, had Comedy Central not disallowed the appearance of the Prophet Muhammad with his cool fire palms, had Revolution Muslim not threatened the lives of Stone and Parker, the issue of Muhammad’s non-depiction would not have been an issue. By attempting to stifle speech, Revolution Muslim is only making speech — speech that depicts the Prophet Muhammad, especially speech that mocks the Prophet Muhammad by showing him in his bear suit — more likely.

Every time someone like Comedy Central caves to fear and gives in to self-censorship, the forces of intolerance are emboldened and the freedoms of self-expression we take for granted are diminished.

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