Friday, April 23, 2010

South Park: First Canada, Now Islam--OY GEVALT!

South Park  is an award winning television animated comedy, aimed at adults, that uses the premise of  4 friends, now aged 9 and in Grade 4, and the town they live in, South Park, Colorado, with all its inhabitants and their imaginations, to teach moral lessons through social satire. Most episodes contain large doses of  vulgarity, satire, parody, fantasy, dark humour, and the carnivalesque to comment on recent events or hot topics  in American culture. The originators and writers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are friends and serve as the models for 2 of the main characters, Stan Marsh and Kyle Broflovski, respectively.Stan Marsh is the Everyman of the series, while Kyle Broflovski is the lone ethnic Jew. 2 other friends, Eric Cartman, the antagonist,  and Kenny McCormick, the poor boy,  complete the group.

Along with its many awards and accolades, the series, now in its 14th season on Comedy Central, has also drawn criticism and controversy. Notably, the politically incorrect, bigoted, anti-semitic, overweight bully (with a soft core) Cartman has offended many. Also, among the offended are the celebrities, ethnic, interest and activist groups who have been ridiculed, as part of an "equal opportunity offensive" policy. However, I am not so sure how equal it all is, as I shall elaborate below.

South Park, of which I have seen 1 episode in the interest of writing this post, came to my attention first because of the success of the song "Blame Canada", from the highly successful film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, AKA, South Park: The Movie (1999).

"Blame Canada", from the film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Robin Williams at the Academy Awards singing the "cut" version of the Oscar nominated 
"Blame Canada" (the "go forth and multiply" word was not sung)

 The song, with its mockery of all things Canadian, was taken in good fun by all Canadians named in it, and by the then Canadian Ambassador to the US, and former Prime Minister, Kim Campbell. Partly it was because the satire focussed on well known and relatively harmless stereotypes, and partly it was because the final couplet makes it clear that the ones really being spoofed are the Americans who will not take responsibility for themselves:
We must blame them and cause a fuss
Before somebody thinks of blaming us!

As most readers here will know, South Park has recently been in the news to celebrate its 200th episode, which first aired April 14, and more so because of the content of that episode, and the response to it. That is the episode I watched online, in preparation for this post. It can be seen uncensored by Canadians on Comedy Central's Canadian site, here, and hopefully by Americans on South Park Studios' own site, here.

 Although Trey Parker and Matt Stone usually write and produce the episodes on a weekly basis to stay topical and fresh, this anniversary episode was planned well ahead to incorporate old themes, running gags, characters, and topics in a new plot line. They achieved this goal admirably by the device of having all the celebrities they had satirized in the past reappear as a group launching a class action suit against the town of South Park. Along with the celebrities, religious figures were included. In particular, Tom Cruise as the leader of the celebrity suit offers to spare South Park if they are willing to hand over the Prophet Mohamed, so that Tom can get some of  his "goo"--the protection that the Prophet and Islam have from criticism and lampooning.

 From Episode 200, the 200 celebrities suing South Park

As part of the episode,  the characters Stan and Kyle convince the other religious leaders, all of whom along with the Prophet Mohamed are part of the "Super Best Friends", to let them take the Prophet Mohamed to their town as long as they keep him unseen in a windowless U-Haul; but to hand him over to Tom Cruise in his limosine, the Prophet, who mustn't be seen, is disguised with a mascot costume in the form of a teddy bear. However their plans to hand him over to the celebrities is thwarted when the Ginger Separatist Movement (made up of digruntled red-heads) threatens to bomb the town unless the Prophet is handed to them, so that they too may benefit from the "goo" that protects him from ridicule. The episode ends on a cliffhanger about the paternal identity of Cartman, the bully.

After the 200th episode aired,  Abu Talhah al Amrikee, writing on the site of Revolution Muslim, a small Islamist group in New York, based in the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, issued a warning to Trey Parker and Matt Stone about the offensiveness of the episode, which some have taken as a threat. Al-Amrikee suggested they risked the same fate as Theo van Gogh, the slain Dutch filmmaker who with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, created Submission, a film about the abuse of women in the name of Islam, and with verses of the Quran written on a woman's body. Al-Amrikee provided addresses for the New York offices of Comedy Central, the studio address in Los Angeles, and a home address in Colorado. He also prayed via Twitter that Allah kill the creators of the episode.

From Episode 201, Cartman, and his hand puppet ruse to find his real father

Indeed the perception of a threat was great enough that the follow-up episode, which included the creators' response, the 201st episode, was censored by Comedy Central, and is not available online. This was beyond the self-censorship which the writers had included, by beeping out the name of the Prophet Mohamed, and representing him only as a sign saying "Censored". Comedy Central itself beeped out the final speeches of the regular characters, the moral of the story, which was a defense of freedom of speech and an argument against intimidation and fear. Comedy Central also retrospective removed an episode done in 2001, The Super Best Friends, which was a send up of all major religious leaders, including the Prophet Mohamed. In 2006 Comedy Central had already forbidden showing the Prophet in the 2 part episode of South Park which addressed  "The Cartoon Wars", the Danish cartoons and the responses to them.

Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and South Park Studios have noted, with an announcement on the website, that Comedy Central censored their episode after they thought it was finalized; and, that they will not show a censored version of their work:

 This episode opens with the resumption of the story of the character Cartman's paternity, but soon resumes the plot about Tom Cruise's demand for the Prophet Mohamed and the Ginger Separtist Movement's plan to steal the Prophet's "goo". These 2 main subplots eventually join when there is a fight among the Super Best Friends, the Ginger Separatists, and the celebrities fighting for the Prophet Mohamed's "goo". The episode ends with a moral summation by Kyle that there is no "goo", no one is immune from satire, ridicule, and lampooning. Due to the censorship by Comedy Central this is basically heard as one long beep, as are the supportive comments by Jesus and Santa (Santa was used to further camouflage the Prophet Mohamed, earlier in the episode) that all should be ridiculed in the name of freedom of speech.

Of course, I have emphasized here the subplot over the 2 episodes which focuses on the Prophet Mohamed. There are many others and there are a number of other targets of  mockery: Tom Cruise primarily, other celebrities, homosexuality, reverse racism (using black face to induce white guilt and get one's way), stigma against red-heads, and the Oedipal myth, to mention some.

Kyle Broflovski

Why did I say above that I am not so sure that South Park is "equal opportunity offensive"? I say that for a number of reasons. First, usually equality is not perfect, or as George Orwell famously wrote in his allegorical novel Animal Farm, "Some are more equal than others".  Second, after reading in a number of sources about the various controversies of South Park episodes, summarized here,  it strikes me that the one group who is best defended, within the series itself, are the Jews, as they themselves agree, even while deploring some of the anti-semitic speeches in episodes. Although the bully character Cartman is anti-semitic, his anti-semitism is a way of showing the plight of the lone Jew, Kyle, growing up or living in American society.

Third, Kyle is Matt Stone's reincarnation in cartoon form, one of the characters he voices, and allows the creator to redress the wrongs of his own childhood. Moreover, in a number of otherwise offensive, or anti-semitic episodes, Kyle often delivers the moral of the episode, and is ultimately, despite the vulgarity he shares with the other characters, the voice of compassion, reason, and the socially conservative messaging of the program.  He has his own featured episode,  The Passion of the Jew, one heralded by the Jewish community, and the Anti-Defamation League as being a definitive rebuttal to the perceived anti-semitism of  Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ.

Kyle terrified by watching The Passion of the Christ

For those 3 reasons then, I think that within the otherwise equal opportunity offensiveness of South Park some are more equal than others, or some, like Jews, and social conservatives, are more protected by the creators themselves, than are others.

Matt Stone, South Park creator, and inspiration for Kyle

What is your impression of the South Park controversy over its depiction of the Prophet Mohamed?
To the best of your knowledge is any one group particularly reviled or spared by South Park's creators?
What is the best response to this type of coarse satire, especially given that any response is given a response in a more flagrant episode?
Was Comedy Central right to censor the program as they did?
Should they have censored the other episodes featuring the Prophet Mohamed long ago?
Should all groups be better protected within the episodes themselves?
How true is it to say, as the creators do, that the characters are normal children, their language typical, and their views standard for American children?
Does satire often get misinterpreted as "reality"?
What are the dangers of satire?
How free should freedom of speech be?
Is ridicule the best way to bring a group into the cultural fold?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?


Usman said...

I don't watch South Park. And my reaction to this issue and advise to fellow Muslims is that if a dog is barking then let it bark. Don't turn around to reply it.

As for the loon who is threatening on the website. Let the police and federal authorities take care of him.

But the real mess is gonna come from those who carry the flag of their self proclaimed "freedom of speech". Gotta see their mantra that how far they go to have it as opportunity to loath 1.5 billion Muslims.

"Oh, why don't moderate Muslims stand against to the extremist's reactions?"

Well, I am a Muslim (moderate or whatever), and I don't give a s**t to this south park, to that loon who is threatening, and to those who is gonna spew their "freedom of speech" mantra.

Countrygirl said...

I'm not a fan pf South Park, I have a general knowledge of it....but I know that during all episoded they satirized about everyone and everything....but sofar NONE but this group threated with death its creators...There was an episode where the founder of the mormons was the main target, you see Buddha snorting cocaine, Jesus watching porno....BUT they portraited Mohamed as a bear (and I reckon because a couple of years a teacher in Sudan went to jail because she called a teddy bear Mohamed).

CC didn't have the right to censor this program. And I don't see why should they censorize the other episode with Mohamed, if they censorize Mohamed they should start to cesorize other religios figures.

Why you can tell everything about teligion BUT when you start to criticize Islam/Mohamed/Allah you start to receive death threats.

Why should be Islam a more protected religion compared to the others when it comes to satire. Here in Italy cartonists can satirize Jesus without problems, there was a so called modern artisti that made a statue called "Madonna who cry sperm" yes there was an outcry but the "artist" is still living, Jesus was portraited as a gay man and nothing happend to the author, but look what happened to the authors of the famous danish cartoons they live in fear and one of them was able to escape death (with his granddauther) only beacause he had a panic room in its house....

Even Bill O'Reilly said about the South Park controversity
"This risk is higher than the reward."

so i we want to live without fear we shouldn't criticize Mohamed/Allah.

Why in London islamic rallies can show placards where is written Hitler was right, death to the infidels, a new holocaust will happen but when there is rally for the British proudness the police cordoned its participants and PC punduits label them racist?

Freedom of speech means that you can say death to jews or hitler was right during rallies or you can say that Jesus was gay but I can say that by modern standard Mohamed was a pedophile without fear.

Wendy said...

Countrygirl you HAVE GOT IT!!! I couldn't say it better. I do not watch South Park but both my husband and I have followed this story closely. He and I are in agreement about this show. No other mocked religious groups send out death threats. I have no doubt that South Park took on the prophet because of the death threats to authors, film makers, cartoonists and the absurdity of said death threats. They are brave boys, these writers.
I believe show 201 should NOT have been censored. Comedy Central shows some pretty raw stuff without censorship so were they afraid for their own hides?? I suppose so.
My Muslim husband is very much saddened by such threats. No wonder people fear Islam. Nobody should have to fear a religion.

Usman said...

1) Those Christians who proudly mock their religion and their beloved prophet or "lord" it's their headache, not ours. If you abuse your father,don't expect or wish that I should also start doing it so. It is silly argument raised over and over.

2) There are countries in Europe who will put their "freedom of speech" away and send you in Jail if you offend them by means of Holocaust. A British priest has recently been sentenced in Germany just because he raised some doubts over holocaust when giving an interview in Sweden.

Your silly standard for "freedom of speech" does not match with that of mine.

coolred38 said...

If Muslims protested and gave out death threats to the Muslims corrupting their own countries, govt, human rights etc and displayed this same amount of passion about those internal issues as they do over such things as cartoons, shoes, and hijab...then maybe we could take them a little more serious. Until then...angry violent mob is all they are with no self proclaimed rights to do anything in the name of their religion and in the supposed defense of Allah.

Usman said...

"If Muslims protested and gave out death threats to the Muslims corrupting their own countries, govt, human rights etc and displayed this same amount of passion about those internal issues as they do over such things as cartoons, shoes, and hijab...then maybe we could take them a little more serious."

Muslims are doing it all the time in their countries. In my own country, there has recently been a very strong and somewhat violent movement for restoring the supreme court Judges and against the military dictatorship. Their has been strikes, news talks, debates on Govt. corruptions, distribution of resources, and human rights etc. It is been in the papers in all over the world. May be you really are not taking it seriously. You don't have to.

coolred38 said...

Usman..u are referring to people who are actually taking the diplomatic political road to affording change..that is NOT what i speak of..dont be dense. Trying to change things u dont agree with by nonviolent protests, through lobbying the govt...though trying to vote someone who more represents ur beliefs into office etc is a far cry from murdering them because they dared offend u and ur beliefs...especially murdering them because of a freakin cartoon...

Susanne said...

What is your impression of the South Park controversy over its depiction of the Prophet Mohamed?

I've never watched the show and have no interest, but I support their rights to do what they want. No one has to watch it. I think the ones who protest to the extent of death threats reveal the evil that dwells in their own hearts.

To the best of your knowledge is any one group particularly reviled or spared by South Park's creators?


What is the best response to this type of coarse satire, especially given that any response is given a response in a more flagrant episode?

Ignore them! when you constantly bring a show or person into the limelight they get more famous (or infamous) and some people thrive off the attention. more people will watch to see what all the controversy is about which leads to higher ratings, more advertising dollars, continued seasons....they'll get name recognition and will become better known.

And it makes the ones making death threats out to be silly at best.

Was Comedy Central right to censor the program as they did?

No, I don't like South Park making fun of people/religions/what have you, but I hate that CC kowtowed to the extremists.

Should they have censored the other episodes featuring the Prophet Mohamed long ago?

Nope. There is nothing more sacred about Mohammed than anyone else who has ever lived on earth. We are all humans.

Should all groups be better protected within the episodes themselves?

Nope...just flip the switch to "off" and go outside for a relaxing walk.

How true is it to say, as the creators do, that the characters are normal children, their language typical, and their views standard for American children?

Well, I hope that's not true based on the little I've read about the show here and on Wikipedia. It's not true of my nephew, thank God.

Susanne said...

Does satire often get misinterpreted as "reality"?

God made us creative people, and satire is a form of expression. We could stand up and shout "this is wrong!" or we can go make fun of it in a creative way. I think we should be kind to others, but why do we expect everyone to tow the line and do exactly as we would in expressing themselves? Some of us paint, others invent things, compose music or cartoons or write. It would be a boring world if we all did the exact same thing.

What are the dangers of satire?

People getting their feelings hurt and allowing their anger to escalate to the place where they are ready to play God and murder someone for expressing himself.

How free should freedom of speech be?

Free unless it incites a crowd to riot. Like shouting "fire!" in a crowded place. Things such as this within reason. I don't care for vulgar language so I just choose to not watch it. But I can't be the Morality Police and make everyone else talk like I do. It's not my place to change people. Only God can do that.

Is ridicule the best way to bring a group into the cultural fold?

Ridicule isn't the best way of doing much of anything. But those outside of the "cultural fold" need to lighten up, learn to ignore junk they don't like and get along with the rest of us. No rioting and death threats necessary.

Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

I don't like people making fun of Jesus nor do I care for those who ridicule people who believe as I do politically, culturally and spiritually. At times my initial emotions are hurt and frustration and even anger. But then I have to realize my actions are MY choice. I may be unable to choose my initial hurts, but I CAN choose my response. I can choose to love those who hurt me -- or at the very least ignore them! -- or I can choose to call down the wrath of Jesus on them and pray for God to send those people straight to hell. Why not choose to overcome evil with GOOD? Enough of this returning evil for doesn't show that your religion changes you. It's such a base instinct and I think religion should bring people UP to a Higher Standard, a Higher Way.

Chiara said...

Usman--thanks for your comment. I take your point that both extremes are wrong: the extreme comedy of South Park and the extreme Islamist response to it. There was an article in the Saturday newspaper (Globe and Mail) on how tired Canadian Sikhs are for being identified with the most extreme of their community here (the ones knifing each other in temple; accused of the Air India bombing). I think any group would feel the same way especially as a visible minority.

I do think that "freedom of speech" is highly selective.

Country Girl--Thanks for your comment. I agree with the reason for the choice of the bear costume as a reference to the Mohamed teddy bear fiasco, though I've never seen it officially stated.

I don't think there should be death threats for anyone but as you know there are laws about hate everywhere, as well as social pressures controlling speech and art.

I really don't see the point of attacking Mohamed as a prophet. It is different to criticize the message or Muslims and their behaviours, but ad hominem attacks against the Prophet are merely inflammatory.

I do think that American Muslims are in a more vulnerable position than Christians or Jews, because of their low numbers, heterogeneity, lack of resources (the Jewish community has been longer established in the US), and that most Americans have very little real knowledge of Islam or Muslims with which to contextual the information given in the media, in art, or in satire.

As one Muslim student said to me about the Danish cartoons: "The people who demonstrate (the sincere ones not the paid agitators) don't have other means of expression for their deep anger; I do, I am an excellent amateur cartoonist and I could make an insulting cartoon of Jesus in reply, but then I would be attacking my Prophet Isa too, so I am stuck."

Chiara said...

Wendy--indeed the threats are a detriment to the broad community and to the vast majority who are peaceable. I think that Comedy Central erred primarily in censoring after the show was delivered. They should have worked out the parameters of the satiric response before the creative team had finished their writing for that episode, as they did in the past with the 2 episodes that were a response to the Danish cartoons controversy. In that way they would have shown more integrity, and also allowed for more subtle but as effective satire, which I am sure Parker and Stone would have preferred to what happened.

Part of the problem for me with South Park is that it is a satiric bludgeon rather than a fine instrument--which would make it more effective imho.

Chiara said...

Coolred--2 comments and no word about redheads being portrayed as terrorists? I'm SHOCKED! :)

I take your points, and Usman's in reply.

It seems we are all agreed that there are better ways to disagree and to reform, and more important topics for indignation. BUT as I said above and elsewhere, it seems as if Islamophobia gets a pass that anti-semitism and racism don't, in a country where so little is known about Islam and Muslims that it can pass easily for the truth--to the detriment of American Muslims.

Thanks for your comments! And do weigh in on the stigmatization of redheads! :)

Chiara said...

Susanne--thank you for your very thoughtful views on this. Indeed there are other ways, much less attention-getting to respond to "inappropriate" images of Islam in the media which is through CAIR or the Arab Anti-Discrimination organization or other media watch dogs.

I agree that the emotional response needs to be modulated. On the otherhand I think that one of the dangers of satire is that it can be mistaken as the norm, but those with no sense of humour or with insufficient knowledge to decode the satire from the reality.

Unlike the other commentators here,it seems that I am the only one who thinks that the Jewish faith is better protected by the premises and the content of the show--or I am the only one willing to say it.

Thanks again for sharing your impressions so fully.

I hope others will contribute their impressions. So far we have 0 South Park aficionados!

Susanne said...

I've not seen any of the shows that's why I don't know if Jews are more protected on it. Based on what you wrote in this article, OK, they are. But never having watched it, I can't say for sure. :)

countrygirl said...

Muslims said ad nauseam that Islam is religion of peace (tm) but with those threats and others aimed to writers, cartonist to name a few it give the impression that islam isn't a religion of peace. For sure there is a tiny minotiry that made those threats but where is the silent majority of muslims here in the west that should protest against those radical muslims that made death threats.

One more thing as I said before Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Jeowah, Mohamed are old (and big) enough to defend their virtue and for sure they don't need us as human to defend them.

You said that "it seems as if Islamophobia gets a pass that anti-semitism and racism don't" I don't understand the meaning of it unless you mean said anything bad about Islam....You can say almost anything about Christianity or Jews but if you said anything bad about Islam you are branded as Islamophobic.

@Usman to reply to your points

1 I don't expect to do so but since the laws of you country aren't applied here I don't see why the cartoonists should stop to spoof Mohamed

2 There are laws (stupid IMHO) that in some countries Germany of course is one of them against those who denies the Holocaust. IMHO only the stupids can think that Holocaust didn't happened or was less terrible, if those stupid people think so there should be a pubblic trial (or something similar)maybe in Auschwitz where each part must prove their point and I can assure you those people who deny the holocaust would change idea.

Kohmeini said that there's no fun in Islam maybe he was right, muslims should get some sense of humor

Wendy said...

"The terrorists won."
This is the first line of an article in the Vancouver sun entitled "Terrorists launch an attack on free speech - and win. Here is the article and it makes a very interesting read. I think we all need to pay attention to what this article says.

Anthrogeek10 said...

Well, well, well have hit on a thorny issue once again. :)
This will be my first and only response from now until after the semester is completed; as I am working hard at completing the paper from hell. :)

I despise this silly non-scholarly show. :) Seriously, I hate it. The few parts I have seen do not make me laugh. I really do not understand the attraction. Is it the insular nature of the American people which makes it popular?

From an anthropological perspective, I believe that religion and spirituality should be one of the topics off limits to satirists. I say that because faith is such a personal thing and it is REAL TO THOSE WHO PRACTICE/BELIEVE IN IT.

That said, the TV can be on the "off switch" if one is offended. Also, violence threats are unacceptable in my book. I grew up in a society where "free speech" is valued. Many of the people making threats come from societies where one has very little civil rights in that regard. They sure seem to fan the flames of Muslim hatred in the West however....and that is sad.


Freedom of speech does not absolve or should not absolve one of common sense. Only because you feel you are free to say anythinhg, does not mean you can go around smashing feelings everywhere. Try for instance, freedom of speech in abusing your president on his face and see how the security people treat you. Whichever country you are from. I am not pointing at anyone in particular. It is just common sense to be respectful to others.

Muslims, are reactionary, as are the jews and christians. And they should be. That too, is freedom of speech. If I wish you dead, I have the freedom of expressing my desire(s).

countrygirl said...

@the holy sinner sorry but neither Christian, Jews pr Buddist (to name a few) didn't threat with death Suth Park creators and since it's not the first time that they did you can't consider as a freedom of speech making death threat....IMHO death Threats aren't a sign of freedom of speech. Just check what's happened to Theo Van Gogh he received death threat for a movie on the situation of the muslim women and guess what he was murdered by a muslim man same thing happened to the author of one of the danish cartoon he must live with the police protection a a couple of months ago a muslim entered in his house and tried to kill him.

I was in New York when the last temptation of Christ was released, some Christian were angry on how Jesus was portraited in the movie and guess what they simple picked the cinema and that's all.

I want to remember you that in South Park everyone and everything is fair game and I'm wondering why should the authors should consider islam, Mohamed and Allah as a No go zone while you can say everything about the other religions.....if muslims don't like South Park and how Mohamed is shown they can simply change station and NOT watch it


Countrygirl, there are enough wrong things in christianity that theo van gogh could have focused on. See it is important to put your own house in order first. his movie, although I have not seen it, but know some part of it, was biased more towards what is NOT right and hence he triggered the reaction. Killing is killing anyhow and I am not saying it was right or wrong to have sent him to eternal fire, but the point is, the general situation since a few years has had muslims pushed to the limits. Maybe that added to van gogh's end.

For the jews, there are enough videos on youtube to support what I am saying. It is not an accusation. I know what I am saying. The Danish cartoonist, is dead. He had a mysterious fire in his room, which burnt him to death. Only him.

Now imagine a populace being targeted only because they are born with a religion you cannot accept. And if what south park and its advocates deem as freedom of speech, infringes upon their sentiment, should south park not be cognizant of it and act accordingly? I know for sure that in my country, the press and some slapstick comedy shows have been strictly forbidden by the government from making fun of any kind, of all the frustrated priests who have been preying on children. Much as a few people known to me are dying to do something on it, they re just not allowed. And why? Because no one sane, wants to tick off the christian community, with whom we live as if they are all family. And they actually are. But is it a must for us to rub them with what can hurt them?

Eitherways, if you read the history of Islam, you will understand that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), ignored much more than what south park can come up with. It is only a shame that you say we can change the channel. Why not say the south park can change so we can enjoy them? And I say this for all the religions.

Solomon2 said...

"It is Hollywood itself that has betrayed Parker and Stone. In the episode—I viewed the original before it was censored—Muhammed was shown inside a U-haul, inside a mascot's uniform, and finally as a child's stick figure drawing.

"It was hilarious.

"And deadly.

"I knew immediately that Parker and Stone would be threatened with a Fatwa.

"Radical Islam is on the march, and unlike Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. Islam demands that non-Muslims submit to their beliefs.

"I was also not surprised when Comedy Central censored the episode. Every single reference to Mohammed was bleeped, like a dirty word..."

oby said...

I have never seen South Park so I can't comment on a lot of what was asked here.

I think that there are several things at play here. One is free speech. As the Holy Sinner pointed out he can wish someone dead and express those desires...he has total free speech to do that. ONLY when it moves from speech ie: talking about it to actually doing something about it such as killing or harming someone then it is no longer free speech. It doesn't matter what was said that made that person angry. Once it becomes action it is now no longer free speech. I'll give an example. Right after the shooting at Fort Hood a reporter went into NYC and interviewed some Muslim men who agreed to be on camera and said quite freely what they think. They had been standing on a street corner in a Muslim part of NYC and were handing out fliers claiming that Major Hasan was a hero and he should have killed more people and he is a great man. Death to America blah blah blah...the reporter was appalled that these people could say such terrible things and asked the police man overseeing the mini demonstration why he didn't arrest them; their words were vile, hateful, and evil. Even I the viewer, was astounded that they could say such things (and I am used to the idea of free speech). I couldn’t imagine why people who are so verbal and proactive in spreading hate and obliquely advocating violence should be allowed the freedom to walk on our streets, enjoy any kind of rights. In any Islamic country that kind of sedition would get you booted out or in some countries execution. But the policeman said that even though their message was disgusting and immoral, they stopped just short of calling for action to kill more people. He said they go right up to the line of legality but are careful not to cross over and therefore they are within their rights and he couldn't legally do anything about it. When the reporter walked home with the men and spoke to them they took great delight and were not the least bit remorseful about what they had said about all those people who had died in the shooting. It made me sick and it is part of the free speech that we hate, but they had the right to do it. Should they have? No. It was morally bankrupt and soulless in my opinion and part of the problem and not part of the solution if nothing else. But that is not the point...they have the right to say it whether I like it or not. Even if I find it so offensive it makes me want to smash their heads or kill for example, I can't. They have a right to their opinion.

There is a saying that was attributed to Voltaire:

"I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

You are guaranteed the right to say what you like, express yourself freely and defend your position. And I will defend the right for you to say those things I don't like because if I don't protect YOUR rights today who’s to say tomorrow someone won't take MY rights away.

oby said...


That is a very difficult concept for someone not raised with that idea of freedom to understand. In many parts of the world if you don’t like something just ban it.

But then where does the madness end? It ends when no one has a voice any longer and we are all forced to be quiet and accept what comes our way.

And so it is the same with the prophet Mohammed in South Park.

But here is the other way to look at it. With Free Speech comes responsibility on how to use it. And hopefully it will be used judiciously. We are all citizens of the world community. We have to live together and treat each other with respect. I could tell my husband anything that comes into my head as my right to free speech. But it would be more judicious of me to avoid things that I know mean a lot to him and would hurt him. In reality my husband is super easy going but if he wasn’t I would know the things that push his buttons and in the interest of my marriage I would not go there out of respect for things that are important to him. All of us routinely avoid topics we are not able to discuss with friends to maintain the friendship. I am not sure that I see this as any different. Because Muslims view Jesus as a prophet they are not able to make fun of him without blaspheming. That being the case it must seem like an unfair fight. Non Muslims can say things about Mohamed and yet Muslims can’t say things about Jesus without blaspheming. So they can’t give as good as they get. In this way I don’t think it is fair to Muslims. (Though I am sure that there are many awful things being said about Jews and Christians by many an Imam)

Because I come from a country where free speech is paramount, I do lean toward the free speech side for the reasons I mentioned above. Jews and Christians routinely make good natured jokes about their God. (although I think that is different than something offensive like “piss Christ”)Just because they do does not mean that we don’t love god or aren’t pious. Even God enjoys a good joke now and then. I personally don’t think God or Jesus minds a cute joke about them in a good natured way. I don’t think Mohammed would mind either as he seems like a Prophet that dealt with a lot worse than a teddy bear and certainly had to have a sense of humor to ride out the tough times he faced at the inception of Islam. I personally feel that somewhere he must be smiling to himself and thinking about some of them…”hey that was kind of funny”. In this way I do think it would be great if Muslims lightened up a bit. But perhaps we need to also think of how others look at their Prophet and avoid doing things that hurt other people. I would hope those vile men I spoke of before would take a lesson from that. Just because we have the right to free speech doesn’t mean we should use it freely without thought of others. Killing is never justified-ever. But using free speech in that manner certainly won’t win us any friends either.

Just my two cents worth from both sides of the coin.

countrygirl said...

@holy You said "The Danish cartoonist, is dead. He had a mysterious fire in his room, which burnt him to death. Only him." on which newspaper did you read it? Last time I've heard of him was when a couple of days ago he was disinvited from a Swedish university for security reason.....

I will repeat myself I don't see why here in the west islam should become a "protected" religion meanwhile the others are free game...

Christianity was the target of several movie/documentary/whatever and I don't see why you should bar someone to make a movie about the rights of the women in Islam. After reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsh Ali he decided to make a movie about it and for only this reason he was killed.....

Hollywood bowed to threat and sometimes director censor themselves....I mean last year 2012 was releases...a classic disaster movie (I didn't see it) but I've read that Emmerich wanted to blow up Makkah and guess what on of his assistant made him aware that he would receive death threats for that single scene so he didn't film it but he filmed the destruction of the Saint Peter without problems....

We didn't live in the middle ages and some muslim should realize it

Wendy said...

The Danish cartoonist is NOT dead. Sorry to disappoint. I've received this email from several Saudi relatives and I'm sure some of them were quite saddened to learn he still lives to create perhaps another cartoon.


Wendy, I am not a Saudi and certainly not your relative. I do not know if this news is going around in the Saudi part of your family. I believe I hardly know anyone of them. That the cartoonist makes another one, well there are more than 6 billion people on this planet and anyone can do it. But this one is sure in enternal fire.

Countrygirl, you really are finding it hard understanding what I am saying. Perhaps, I am finding it hard trying to explain it. My point is simple, every, EVERY religion needs to be respected. No ifs and buts about it. No justificatoins for fanning any hatred. No justifications like freedom of speech. The first freedom we should know, is the freedom to respect. We need to exhibit respect more than eloquence of insanity.

You pride in living in a tolerant society, but really, is it? Christians in my country and community are much safer than muslims in yours. And it will remain so, Allah be praised. Perhaps, you need to practice what you preach.

Countrygirl said...

@Holy said that Chirstian are safer in your (i presume muslim) country...are you joking or what?

In the majority part of the muslim country it's pratical impossible to build new churches

It's against the law to proletize ù

In Pakistan and Egypt (to name a few) there are many forced conversion where christian girls are kidnapped and forced to marry muslim men

I don't even start to tell you the situation of christian in Saudi Arabia where they can't visit Mekkah

If a muslim convert to christianity he/she will risk her/his life.

Usman said...

"In Pakistan and Egypt (to name a few) there are many forced conversion where christian girls are kidnapped and forced to marry muslim men"

I wish I could give you a trophy for such a classy There is no doubt that christian minority face discrimination on day to day basis , but this baloney from you has really crossed the limits. You really need some help!
As for Coptic in Egypt, I guess they would have been extinct by now given the situation you described. Oh wait, they still are in millions!

"I don't even start to tell you the situation of christian in Saudi Arabia where they can't visit Mekkah"

Why do they want to visit Mecca?? Why would I visit to Vatican??

NidalM said...

I've watched South Park quite a bit over the years (though considerably less as of late), and I do agree with the premise that while people/ideologies are mocked equally, there is a lot of pro-semetism built into most of the 'mock-jews' shows.

One episode the comes to mind is when Cartman decides to turn into Hitler and has the residents of South Park march in the streets chanting ant-Jewish slogans. The moral at the end ridiculing anti-semites.

I do sometimes wonder what the reaction to episodes that mock Israel's occupation of Palestine would cause. The IDF taking control of South Park and building a wall right through the middle. Would be interesting to see reactions to that :P

The sad fact in this entire set of events is that a relatively minor group - people that the majority of Muslims didn't even know about - said something that would represent them. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs out there that post content at every point in the conservative-liberal spectrum. For such an obscure post to be picked up sounds like foul play to me on part of the media.

In parting, and just to feed the conspiracy theorists, the founder of Revolution Islam was a orthodox Jew who was born and raised in Israel and converted to Islam.

Not calling his faith into question, of course, but he shouldn't necessarily be taken as a spokesperson for Islam either.

countrygirl said...

@Usman all right you really think that there's no forced conversion in Pakistan or Egypt? That is all propaganda? a couple of weeks ago a man was killed in Pakistan because he didn't want to convert to Islam....I didn't say that all the girls are kidnapped but it os happening.....there are millions of copts in Egypt and even a couple of girls kidnapped every day for sure won't dimish hte total numbers of copt...I was simply making my point about the BS Holy sinner said about how "well" christian are threated in muslim countries

And for visiting Mekkah do you agree that Mekkah is off limits for non muslim? One can visit an holy place for other reason apart from religion....I mean Vatican City is filled with museums, there's the sistine chapel St. Peter with the magnificen don't have to be a Christian to apreciate its beauty.

Regarding forced/kidnappin,-Christian-community-calls-for-justice-17960.html

I can give you more links if you want of this "so called propaganda"

Usman said...

There is a thing called Caste system in South Asia. Christians in India and Pakistan mostly belong to one of the "lowest caste". Whether Muslim or not, people of "upper caste" do not marry with people of "lower Caste". Hence marrying a christian girl and converting her is for most people in South Asia is out of question. Even the Christians of "upper Caste" (which are relatively rare) do not marry with Christians of "lower caste". This topic is actually a way above your head, I better not go in details.

"And for visiting Mekkah do you agree that Mekkah is off limits for non muslim?"

Mecca IS off limits for non Muslims. And I fully support this ban. Please feel free to get offended here. My pleasure!!

oby said...


I was thinking that exact thing about the Vatican. If I were to go to Saudi, I certainly(if it were allowed) like to visit Makkah, obviously not from a religious point of view although I am sure one can be moved by others apparent devotion, but from a historical/cultural perspective I think it would be fascinating. I certainly could appreciate it from that point of view. You are right that one does not have to be Christian to visit the most Holy Sites of is open to all. I wonder why Makkah isn't. Maybe if one isn't Muslim one isn't considered devout enough.

oby said...

Usman... The caste one time the bane of my existence! LOL!

countrygirl said...

@Usman just out of curiosity what do you mean with "This topic is actually a way above your head, I better not go in detail"

I'm well aware of the caste system in India and Pakistan but do you explain the cases i linked in my previous post...why a Christian man was murdered in Pakistan because he refused to convert to Islam?

I still didn't see why I shouldn't be allowed to visit Mecca...maybe because I'm only a kuffar, an infidel?

Would you visit Vatican only for its artistic value? So why banning non muslim to visit Mecca? Just imagine that the Pope would ban all non Christian from visiting Saint Peter and the Vatican can you imagine the cry of racism because non Christian can't go to those places?

Usman said...

oby said...

" Usman... The caste one time the bane of my existence! LOL! "

What you mean?

oby said...


Sorry for my cryptic comment.

My husband is Indian. When we met and it became clear to him that he wanted to marry me he wrestled with how to tell his family. To me it was not very complicated... just tell them. I am a nice person; what is not to like? But for him, it was a far more difficult a concept. Due to his family's expectations of an arranged marriage for him, he wanted to tell them but in the most gentle way possible so as not to hurt them. I couldn't understand why it should be an issue. I had no concept of arranged marriages at the time. He tried to explain that it was nothing personal against me...I just wasn't Indian. In order that I not feel offended and insulted by this and the problems he anticipated with his parents due to me not being Indian he explained the way it is supposed to work in general and that is when I became acquainted with the caste system and how it works in India in particular. And in general how it works with marriages/family alliances. Meaning that in India it is not two people marrying but two families that marry and how people work hard to make everything as compatible as possible to ensure a long and happy relation. I got a basic good education on how the levels work, who can marry whom, and even more than that South Indians marry south Indians and northerners marry northerners preferably within the same tribe. ie: same last name.

He told his family who predictably were not happy and felt hurt. My parents did not like it either, but were not as hurt because they never expected an arranged marriage for me. Long story short, due to the fact that I have no Indian blood and therefore have no caste, they threw the whole normal way of judging a potential mate out the window and started fresh. Instead they took my education, family history, personal life and beliefs etc into consideration to try to figure out if I might be a good choice. It took them a few weeks or a month or so to come around, but they did and after that gave little trouble.

On my side to show solidarity with them,I went to India to get married in the Indian to bottom.(his entire family is still in India) I gave my mother-in-law total control over the wedding and told her just tell me when to show up. could I contribute anything? I knew nothing about Indian weddings. Better she handle it and make it nice and in a way that worked best for the family. They did a lovely job and didn't treat me with anything other than respect as I tried to do the same.

But just to win them over and to make sure Mama knew that her son was eating well, I learned to cook Indian food and can make a killer dal, rajma and pav bhaji. Both my husband and I think that my dal is better than his mother's but we keep that a secret! Don't want to hurt her...she's a dear!

Happy ending...we love each other a great deal and although that caste system thing was one of the biggest things to overcome, patience, love and acceptance won out!

I know that story is way more information than you probably wanted to know...that is my experience with the caste system.

Usman said...


well, this is interesting. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Caste system is more pronounced in Hindu culture than in Muslims in South Asia. But nevertheless it has strong influence in politics and in family relations. I am myself of mixed caste. Mom is Kashmiri and Dad is Arain. But since caste is identified by father side, hence I am Arain. My mom has arranged all of my elder siblings to get married to Kashmiri caste. Even though she herself is married to Arain (my father's), her prefernce for us is still Kashmiri caste. This alone shows how this caste system has influence some times.. :). For any westerner this whole talk is alien. That's why I told somebody that it is "way above your head"

".....and can make a killer dal, rajma and pav bhaji."

hummmm....So, when you are inviting me for dinner? :)

Chiara said...

Thanks to all for the ongoing discussions here, and taking the post in new directions.

Susanne--I appreciate that, like me, you are going on little information to assess bias within the program, but what I read and watched was convincing enough.

NidalM--thanks for supplying the bona fide watcher's view of this "some are more ridiculed than others" perspective on South Part. You make an excellent point about how there seemed to be selective reporting on this. Jehanzeb of Muslim Reverie (in my blog roll) has a new post on this aspect, especially the way it was reported by Anderson Cooper of CNN, and what it is like to be a Muslim American constantly proving one's allegiance to the flag, as exemplified by the skit on The Daily Show, with the Muslim "reporter" wearing the American flag on the back of his suit.

It does remind one of the type of reporting during war, and in fact the US is at war in 2-3 Muslim majority countries: formally in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and informally in Pakistan (though no less deadly with drone attacks).

The comedian Omid Djalili does a wonderful standup sketch on who the media consults on Islam--always "goes to Muslim nutcase with a hook" shrieking "death to everyone", as if this were the voice of the Nuslim Middle East. He goes on to say that it is the same as taking the Grand Dragon of the KKK as the voice of the Christian West. The bit is here at 6:30 and following.

Thanks for your comment! :)

Chiara said...

Wendy--you are correct. Although there have been 2 attempts in 2 years on Kurt Westergaard's life, and he lives in a heavily fortified house with great security precautions he is still alive. Thanks for your comments.

Countrygirl, Holy Sinner, Usman, and Oby thanks for your dialogue and sharing perspectives, in a civil manner. I obviously would come down on the side of free speech that is respectful of all religions, and I think that one can critique the religion or mock its practitioners without ridiculing its holy figures themselves. Ultimately that type of offensiveness accomplishes little, and can do great harm. Ditto forced conversions anywhere.

Oby and Usman--nice discussion of the caste system, and if there is Indian food, count me in for dinner! :)

Thanks to all 4 of you for contributing so much to the discussion.

Chiara said...

Solomon2--hmmm the author of that blog sounds like a soulmate of yours. "I'm also an observant Jew, a religious Zionist, a conservative Republican, and a member of the NRA."
True? :)

Anthrogeek--yes I wonder how I stumbled on this topic! :P
Oh yes now I remember, I opened my emails from you! :)

I think that the problem with the "turn it off" argument is that as you know the type of portrayal in the media or creative programs conditions the perception of the group by those with little of their familiarity with "the other". It is part of how discrimination occurs and escalates!

As I said above while one may make fun of the practitioners or the intitutions, satire of religious figures and core beliefs is different.

Thanks for your comment! Glad the paper is finished! :)

Chiara said...

Wendy--I just had a chance to read the article you linked, which was originally published in the LA Times. While the other rightly states that free speech is never total free, and that certain types of speech are restricted including racist speech I am curious as to why Islam so often (mis-) associated with Arabness isn't considered protected. ie Muslim Americans are perceived much as a racial or racialized group so why is speech against Islam allowed? One can argue that Judaism is protected more as a race that a religion, so why not Islam? Thought provoking! Thanks! :)

oby said...


I guess if your siblings were married within the Kashmiri caste your mom must have thought that to be very important. That is interesting that even though your dad is Arain she chose these matters moms really have the last say I think.

My husband is North Indian. It has been a really long time since we talked about it but I think he said he is Kshatriya. I have no idea if that is particular to the North or can be found all over the country. So when I say I cook Indian food I am actually far better at North Indian.(non veg included as he isn't a vegetarian) Can't make a dosa to save my life! Although I have tried many times. Can't get it thin enough. LOL!

I found that the arranged marriage thing really came alive for me when my brother in law got married about 6 months later. Prior to his marriage my parents in law really involved us (husband and me) in the decision process about his bride. On the one hand I was very glad that they felt I should participate as a full fledged member of the family even though I had zero experience in the matter. On the other hand, not coming from that system, it felt very odd and almost too personal to have a say in who he was going to marry. This was going to be his wife! why should I weigh in on that? But my brother in law had no problems with me having an opinion. That is the first time I saw how the family works as a unit and began to understand how family unity is valued more highly than individualism and WHY picking the right mate is so important for the arranged marriage. It isn't just two is two families working harmoniously.

The second time was at the wedding. My husband was unable to leave the USA due to issues with his visa. So I volunteered to go to represent our side of the family...what our? It was just he and I! LOL! anyway I went alone, only married 6 months myself and got to see the whole arranged marriage process from the inside. Firstly, they treated me very well, but secondly and most interestingly i got to see everything from behind the scenes...from invitations, to banquet setup, to how his parents cataloged all the wedding presents so that they could make sure that when it was their turn to reciprocate, they were sure that they would be able to give an appropriate gift back. The thing that really surprised me was that they didn't write any thank you notes for the the USA that would be a HUGE mistake. It is a must. But there they told me the parents say the thanks and no written thanks is required. Once I saw the whole process I was able to better understand how and why it works and that whole arranged marriage mystery seemed quite logical to me. If you haven't lived through it it is very difficult to describe to someone used to the idea of a "love match".

Chiara...I am sorry I got so way off topic. I hope that it is OK. It was fun remembering these experiences. Thanks Usman.

Chiara said...

Wendy--edit: "while the author..." not the other! LOL :)

Oby--thank you for your further comment, it is most relevant to the blog in general, and inspired a lot of memories and thoughts. May have to do a related post! :)

Usman said...


What we have discussed so far is family relations and some effects of caste system in it. What you have observed and whatever you have experienced is certainly good. But do not let it convince you that caste system is something positive. Caste system is one the the most heinous form of social oppression. Many South Asians do not admit it to the foreigner. Behind the curtain everybody knows what actually it is. Just like discrimination based on racism cannot stand any scrutiny, logic or reasoning, in the same way, Caste system cannot stand against any logic or reasoning. Quite a complicated topic it is, and I don't want to open cane of worms here.

oby said...


Oh no, I certainly can see what you are saying because as I learned about it I was a bit mortified that where a person is born in the social order is where they will stay...and not necessarily by their own design. the whole society works to keep the status quo in some ways even though it has been outlawed. Therefore it was very surprising to me that unlike in the USA where a foreigner or a native can work their behind off and do well even if they come from very humble beginnings, in India it was whole different story. Not only that, it is generational to boot.

While it was definitely on the job training for me to learn the culture I was also aware that this system very much held people back and as I said what I found even more disturbing is that it wasn't only one person but his son and grandson as well. That idea was hard to come to grips with. My MIL at one point got annoyed with us because out of the whole house my husband and I were the only ones who would not call for a servant to get us something. I got up and got it myself because I felt bad "commanding" her to do something. i didn't grow up like that and couldn't get used to it. Don't get me wrong...the servants were treated well by Indian standards, good quarters, good food, new clothing provided for them and family members, good pay, time off, reasonable work hours and very nice treatment from my MIL. Still it felt odd to me.

Perhaps it continues due to the idea of Kharma in the society...I don't know. Just a guess.

but, yes, I agree with you. I don't think it is something that needs to be explained...well maybe in minute detail as that would bypass me, but it is obvious from just observing and asking questions.

Chiara...I love a good story. I hope you do consider doing a similar post. :-)

Anonymous said...


Could you please post the link to the Omid Djalili clip you refer to?

Chiara said...

Anonymous--Yes! Thank you for asking I thought it was linked above but obviously not.

So here it really is.

I hope you will invent a blogonym to put in the Name option (no URL is necessary) and comment on other posts. Or comment as Anonymous if you prefer.

Thanks again for the request, and I apologize for the oversight.


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