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April 22, 2010, 09:26 AM ET

'South Park' and the Prophet Muhammad

It looks as if South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have caved to the pressure of a radical American Islamic group that threatened (they say “warned”) them, on their Web site, that they would “probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh” (i.e., murdered) for making fun of the prophet Muhammad on a recent episode. The Guardian reports that in the follow-up episode (aired last night in Britain, tonight in the States) the writers “appeared to bow to threats of violence” from the American Muslim group. The show was labeled with the word “censored,” and the words “Prophet Muhammad” were beeped out. Muhammad dressed in a bear suit, which sparked the initial “warning,” morphed into Santa Claus in a bear suit.

As The Guardian points out, whether this is acquiescence or yet more mockery is hard to figure out. The nature of South Park is to be wickedly and cleverly degrading, profane, insulting, mocking, and darling all at the same time. My guess, not having yet seen it, is that it remains mockery. Throughout history, heretics have always found enormous wiggle room through esoteric writing—i.e., writing in such a way that censors think something is harmless, while those in the know understand the hidden meaning.

I fess up to watching South Park whenever I feel the need for “transgressiveness.” Who needs Marina Abromovic, the naked performance artist whose exhibition is currently at MOMA (causing a New York ruckus because visitors “are forced to confront” a decision about whether to walk through the gap between a couple of standing naked models)? Transgressive art is a bore; South Park shocks.

Out of curiosity, I went to the radical Muslim website that posted the initial “warning” about South Park. Although the site’s interactivity has been shut down, you can read a long-winded post on the controversy, and how the Prophet (peace-be-upon-him) doesn’t like to have his name taken in vain and how America is an evil imperialist nation spreading its pernicious hedonism throughout the world. I forced myself to slog through it. When I was finished, however, I experienced a strange sensation: I agreed with part of it.

Bear with me while I explain. In the middle of the ramble, the author writes that America’s is a “selfish culture in which the suffering of the many is justified by the enjoyment of the few.” He then points out that the principle of free speech, “as envisioned by the founding fathers of the United States and by wise men and women throughout the ages, is a universal principle that may protect citizens from political, economic, or religious persecution. Today it is understood much differently; today 'free speech' is interpreted as the right to promote pornography, homosexuality, slander, and libel against even that which is considered sacred.”

Minus the prejudice against homosexuality, many of us can agree with these words. Consider Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, which argued that the right of people to buy and sell videos depicting cruel dog fights and women crushing small animals under their high heels falls under the protection of the First Amendment's protection of free speech. The ruling deeply repelled me. I struggled mightily to find some part of what I studied in political science, my undergraduate major, or some part of what I’ve learned about the Constitution over the years, that would make the First Amendment somehow not protect this ugly sort of video. Yet I could not.

Those who understand the first thing about modern enlightenment in general, and the great American experiment in particular, know that the most libertarian reading possible of the right to free speech is the only viable choice. This is especially true after the horrors of the 20th-century, where various successive totalitarian regimes, suppressing all opposition, slaughtered human beings by the millions.

Yes, free speech in a raucous democratic society frequently plummets to levels of Dantean hell—worlds of the vulgar, disgusting, grotesque, immoral, horrifying, ugly, frightening, irreverent, profane and grotesque. Yet to be American means to be liberal (in the sense of modern classical liberalism)—i.e., to tolerate the worst excesses of the worst people. Why? So that when moments of real political and religious crisis emerge, the right to free speech is there.

I, too, wish our free speech didn’t always seem to boil down to protecting such things as crush videos, or even such dumb and ugly vulgarities as the Bad Girls Club that damage the dignity of women almost as much as outright pornography. To a certain extent, we’re all degraded by the background buzz of modernity, and the crisis of modern liberalism, at least in part, lies in the fact that our philosophical outlook makes it easy for our aesthetic and moral environment to slowly eat away our aesthetic and moral sensibilities.

Would that free speech were expressed in dignified debates over whether Locke or Hobbes was right, or about how to balance the rights of individuals with the needs of society as a whole. Would that free speech were necessary only to protect the right of people to protest factory farming, and not the right to sell videos of animals being tortured. Would that public behavior was more dignified and respectful, and that men and women in public dressed with more decorum and dignity. Would that all of these things were true, and more.

But they are not. At the same time, no individual or group—not even those using veiled threats—will survive long in the modern age by relying on censorship.


1. minnesotan - April 22, 2010 at 04:50 pm

The religion of peace, indeed!

2. 22067030 - April 23, 2010 at 09:12 am

First, it was Comedy Central that knuckled under, not the creators of South Park.

Second, this sort of thing is not peculiar to Islam. As Christopher Hitchens points out in his Guardian piece on Animal Farm, censorship is alive and well worldwide -- with Animal Farm itself as a popular target. Back in the USA, the process is incremental: the Supreme Court has largely reversed Tinker and it's Garcetti decision has warmed the cockles of dirty cops and corrupt politicians everywhere. Meanwhile, Ms. Palin expresses her political opinions with icons of gunsights on her political opponents. And beyond Ms. Palin, nativist American groups blow away judges and left-wing radio hosts.

Whatever the attractions of censorship, whether public (like China), privatized (like Revolution Islam) or something in between (British libel laws, and SLAPP suits), the ring, as Gandalf remarked, is altogether evil, and if one is to wield Sauron's ring, one must become Sauron.

3. goxewu - April 23, 2010 at 09:44 am

Re #2:

"South Park's" creators did censor the episode themselves, by having Muhammed concealed behind a graphic that read "CENSORED," and by bleeping out his name on the soundtrack. Comedy Central further censored the episode by cutting out dialogue.

"This sort of thing" may not exactly be "peculiar to Islam," but Islamicists take it to a level--death threats and actual killings on a scale that dwarfs other non-government acts of censorship. To say, in effect, that "everybody does it," is to ignore this tremendous difference. It's a bit like the old "equivalence" rhetoric from the left during the Cold War: "Sure, the Soviet Union executes political prisoners, but so do we." Do the math.

4. johntoradze - April 23, 2010 at 10:33 am

It is exactly "peculiar to islam" (p.u.h.h) to assassinate critics. Mohammed blessed the cowardly murder of an old man and a young mother who criticized him in his day. They were murdered while asleep. That is why muslims do it, and the choice of a knife to kill Theo was not accidental, it was the method used by mohammed's assassins in his name.

This is something that the western world cannot bow to. Criticism and mockery of mohammed is a duty of people in our part of the world because islam is a creed that absolutely deserves mockery and derision.

These are the values of islam:

1. Theocracy is required. There are no nations for a muslim except islam itself. And islam must be ruled by theocracy for the good of everyone else.

2. One man rule is the only proper form of government. The kalifa is supposed to be the chief justice, chief imam, chief legislator, and commander of the army.

3. All non-muslims are second class citizens or less. Other "people of the book" are to be allowed to live if they pay jizya (the head tax) to islam. (The head tax literally means, pay to keep your head on your body.) Non-muslims may not give evidence or file in court against a muslim. Only a muslim may do so.

The list goes on and on. Mohammed commanded a fire to be built on a man's chest (among other things) to get him to tell the companions where the treasure was. He committed atrocities. He ruled that only arab muslims could not be slaves because arabs were the superior race.

Islam is absolutely opposed to everything that western society values. It is a religion and a government in toto. The same people who wouldn't give Pat Robertson the time of day express willingness to be herded by threats of murder, and even express respect for it in some ways.

Seriously, Pat Robertson is a flaming liberal compared to mainstream islamic ideas.

5. aewilliams - April 23, 2010 at 11:34 am

Although the creators of the show have since posted a notice () that they were censored by Comedy Central, and that this is not meta-comedy, I have to admit this my initial (and continuing) impression was that this was their way of commenting on the issue of extremist reaction to criticism. The large "censored" block that cavorted around the screen and the clumsy bleeping of Mohammed's name appeared to be an implicit dig at those who cave to fears of terrorist reprisal. When the Tom Cruise character himself became immune to criticism (by an infusion of "holy goo"), he became a Censored box. Finally, when all was concluded and it was time for the usual "I've learned something today" that wraps up most episodes, the entire speech was bleeped. It is difficult to imagine how this might have been justified by the network censors, which leads to a more obvious conclusion that this is the last dig by the show's creators, which they deny.
Although they are obviously against the threats of radical groups, I believe that they are more outraged by our complicity in censoring ourselves and holding back commentary for fear of reprisal. They have stuck to their story that the conclusion first Mohammed censorship story in 2006 was itself censored by the network, but the large black block says far more than a cartoon version of the prophet. the discussion is not just about radical groups' failure to endure criticism, but our cowardice in holding it back.

6. drangie - April 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I did see the South Park episode in question, and it seemed clear to me that it was brilliant satire and mockery. The "censorship" was so clearly obvious and clumsy that it really can't be taken any other way than as a very effective slap at the silliness and cowardice of those who do bow to censorship demands by extremists. Whether or not Comedy Central or anyone else censored the writers of South Park is irrelevant. South Park outdid them all by effectively excoriating this kind of silliness and stupidity and extremism.

7. goxewu - April 24, 2010 at 11:10 am

The creators of "South Park" managed, very cleverly, to have it all ways: 1) As per the threat, they deleted the image and pronounced name of Muhammed; but 2) they did it in such a way as to call comic attention to the fact of censorship, and 3) sloughed off caving to the threat onto Comedy Central. There's a reason these guys made it to the top.

8. awegweiser - April 24, 2010 at 04:06 pm

I fully support the right of "South Park" to do and show what they wish and threats to them from radical religious people are disgusting and disgraceful. On the other hand, I really cannot usually tolerate sitting through an episode with its nerve shattering audio and terrible animation of huge eyes and tiny teeth. Then again, Comedy Central has some really poor items on its schedule such as "Futurama" and 'Drawn Together" and really annoying constant 'bleeping" of comics who feel they need to include "Mothr Fkr" in every sentence. The young "Tosh" has potential but needs to study some real comics for a year or so to get what it is he does right.

9. oscarw - April 25, 2010 at 11:26 am

You have to agree that this form of "censorship" achieves its goals. However, this same "enlightened" culture is the same one which pays extraordinary sums to send twelve year old virgins to wealthy benefactors to "deflower" (read "rape") throughout the southern Arabian peninsula. Yes, truly the pleasure of the powerful enjoying the horrid poverty of the weak and powerless (women, of course.)

10. rbannist - April 25, 2010 at 11:32 pm

No doubt Parker and Stone are a couple of naughty little twerps, but the uproar over their cartoon that mildly ridicules Islam should be much ado over nothing. Imagine if Christians went bonkers over their cartoon character of Jesus, the ineffective talk show host or the Wizard of Oz like figure for Moses in an episode about kids at a Jewish camp.

What we cannot tolerate are those who'd threaten to harm, well murder, those who satirize their society. Any civilized person should have some real serious issues about forms of Islamic intolerance which we surely hope is not reflective of but a small minority of the faith but given the extent to which women are oppressed and nonbelievers harassed and punished in Muslem countries, we have to be concerned.

In a free country, all of us will see things that offend our sensibilities, but something must be incredibly vile and harmful, the old yelling "fire" in a movie theater scenario, before speech should ever be grounds for legal sanction.

How can we not be fearful of what excessive political correctness might have in store.

11. luther_blissett - April 26, 2010 at 01:59 am

Yeah, I mean, it would be ridiculous if Christians protested a film about Jesus entitled *The Last Temptation of Christ*. And then, think how unthinkable it would be if those protestors shouted threats at a few high school boys who were trying to buy tickets to it. That *never* happened to me. And I couldn't even conceive of a world where Christian groups in South Jersey would rent every available copy of the film on VHS and refuse to return them so that no one could view it.

12. luther_blissett - April 26, 2010 at 02:01 am

And good Americans would never wish for the death of people with whom they disagree. There would never be a Facebook group that asks members to pray for the death of Obama. As Ralph Wiggum once said, "That's unpossible."

13. goxewu - April 26, 2010 at 07:31 am

luther_blissett rather echoes the "equivalence" attitude of part of the American left during the Cold War: "Yeah, the Soviet Union has political prisoners, but so do we." The difference--a vast one--was a matter of intensity (summary executions, the Guglag, etc.) and scale (millions in the USSR, a few thousand in the US, most of whom merely claimed that their prosecution for oridnary felonies was politically motivated). The difference in threat of reprisal for religious satire from fundamentalist Christians and Islamacists is likewise great.

Here's a "thought experiement" for luther_blissett: What, in terms of fearful consequences, would he less like to sign his name to, a unflattering cartoon of Jesus Christ, or one of Muhammed?

14. luther_blissett - April 26, 2010 at 08:56 am

No, gowexu, I'm not stating any equivalence.

I'm simply responding to rbannist, who wrote directly above me, "Imagine if Christians went bonkers over their cartoon character of Jesus . . ."

There is a huge difference between crazy Muslims and crazy Christians and crazy Jews, but it's one of degree, not one of kind.

15. goxewu - April 26, 2010 at 02:44 pm

My point stands unscathed. What luther_blissett says is only a matter of "degree" contains the difference between lukewarm and boiling water. Throw lukewarm water in someone's face, or throw boiling water? Hey, it's only a matter of degree!

16. luther_blissett - April 26, 2010 at 05:00 pm

Great analogy! Except that water has no consciousness, no intent, no purpose, and so it doesn't really pertain here.

Christians who try to destroy freedom of speech have the same intent as Muslims who try to destroy freedom of speech. That one does it in a legal manner and the other in an illegal manner has to do with means, not ends. So we can say that crazy Christians no longer murder their opponents, they just try to oppress them, while crazy Muslims want to oppress *and* murder.

But this discussion isn't about murdering. It's about freedom of speech.

17. new_theologian - April 26, 2010 at 07:04 pm

People seriously want to lump Christianity in with this group? That's just bad history and a poor understanding of the range of civil protest tolerated in a civilized society. Sure, every group has its imprudent adherents who have to be corrected from within. And it may be true that protesters to a message may buy up the product, but that does not crush the right to speak. All it does is create an auction of values. Does group A value silence fo this message more than the intended audience values the message. In a free market, if people want to buy the product, the publisher will just produce more copies, until the copies just don't sell anymore. Sooner or later things will work themselves out. Boycotts, too, by the way, are a form of free speech or counter argument. Is a person guilty of some immoral act of censorship for not inviting a vocal racist into his home? Killing people is a different story--qualitatively so.

18. goxewu - April 26, 2010 at 09:43 pm

Golly whiz, I guess I gotta spell it out:

Supressing free speech by means of fatwahs and death threats (e.g. Theo van Gogh, Salman Rushdie, the Danish cartoonist, et al.) is like throwing boiling water in someone's face. Supressing free speech by having a Facebook group that merely prays for someone to die is like thowing lukewarm water in someone's face. (Yes, "praying" for someone's demise could lead to an actual demise, but a) prayer is a form of free speech, and b) it's qualitatively quite different from, say, actually murdering a filmmaker.)

Water may have no consciousness, no intent, no purpose, but the THROWER of that water certainly does.

While johntoradze may have some weird ideas about other matters, he's pretty much on the mark with, "Seriously, Pat Robertson is a flaming liberal compared to mainstream Islamic ideas."

19. luther_blissett - April 26, 2010 at 10:36 pm

So while the Christian West ('tho not only the Christian part) has plenty of people who *want* to suppress freedom of speech, some Muslims are willing to go further and actually suppress that speech.

Which is to say that the intentions are identical, but crazy Muslims have the (horrifying) courage of their (horrifying) convictions. Sort of like abortion clinic bombers and doctor murderers. So some Muslims are willing to kill those who break one religious law (the second commandment), some Christians are willing to kill those who break another religious law (the sixth commandment).

But of course, no one in the Christian West would murder someone for religious reasons.

20. new_theologian - April 27, 2010 at 09:31 am

luther_blissett: Did anyone say, "no one in the Christian west?" We have actual teachings, including canons of the Council of Nicea dating back to 325, prohibiting violence in the name of religion. Islam has statutes mandating it. And before running off to reference the Crucades or the Spanish Inquisition, learn your history. Both events began as a response to Islamic incursion, which brought violent, antisocial tendencies, and the latter was officially condemned by thr Church even as it was going on.

21. new_theologian - April 27, 2010 at 09:37 am

By the way, praying for someone's death is simply petitioning God for a redress of greivences. It may not be the height of charity, but it is a concession to God's prerogative to determine the boundaries of a person's life, and not a presumption upon that prerogative on the part of other human beings. There is a huge difference here. I'm not saying that we should pray for others to die--that seems to me a bit idolatrous (taking the name of the Lord for vain purposes / conjuring God), but it is clearly different behavior from taking the power over human life into one's own hands.

22. goxewu - April 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

"So while the Christian West ('tho not only the Christian part) has plenty of people who *want* to suppress freedom of speech, some Muslims are willing to go further and actually suppress that speech. Which is to say that the intentions are identical, but crazy Muslims have the (horrifying) courage of their (horrifying) convictions."

Well, yeah, that's a big difference. Sort of like Jimmy Carter's famous interview statement that he'd "committed adultery in my heart" (i.e., looked and lusted but never made a move) vs. Bill Clinton's actually doing it (unless you consider legit his parsing certain sex acts with a woman not his wife as "not sex"). I don't recall Carter being impeached and tried for what went on only in his "heart."

So again, though luther_blissett denies it, obvious "equivalence": "So some Muslims are willing to kill those who break one religious law (the second commandment), some Christians are willing to kill those who break another religious law (the sixth commandment)." Once more, it's like saying there were "some political prisoners" in the USSR and "some political prisoners" in the US during the Cold War, as if quantity, quality of the legal system, and intensity (of the deprived, and deadly, conditions in which the prisoners were held) didn't exist. The same with differences between Islamacists' suppression of free speech and fundamentalist Christians'.

Side bet: I wonder how long luther_blissett will cling to the rapidly sinking dinghy of his "no equivalence" argument. To mix metaphors here, you got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.

23. johntoradze - April 27, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Goxewu and new_theologian have it right. (Although Goxewu has his blinders on sometimes.)

The western press does not say much about the reality of life in the muslim world. We don't hear about the front page articles in mainstream newspapers in the ME written by people with PhD after their names saying that jews put the blood of arab children in their passover matzoh.

We don't hear about the active debate in Saudi Arabia about reforming Saudi law to conform with sharia law on slavery. That debate seeks to reinstate slave laws to allow chattel ownership.

We don't hear about how the primary consumer of chattel slaves in the world are all muslims. We don't hear (except in rare instances) about people given the death penalty for leaving islam.

Reading Koran makes all this clearer. Mohammed is the source of all of it. He decreed that any muslim who renounces his or her faith must be executed. He decreed that the world must be conquered. He decreed (see the Koranic chapter, "The Booty of War") that slavery was the rightful status of the conquered. He approved of castrating male slaves so they wouldn't rebel.

On and on and on and on.

24. luther_blissett - April 27, 2010 at 02:39 pm

No goxewu, I still maintain that there's a great difference between crazy Christians and crazy Muslims. However, the difference does not have to do with the religions. No, the difference is that the Christians were defeated, ultimately, by the rise of a secular civil society. The Muslims are unrestrained by such conditions.

Which is to say, if Jimmy Carter abstained from adultery only because his best friend tied him to a tree, it's no testament to Carter's personal qualities that he's innocent.

25. goxewu - April 27, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Re #24:

So there's no difference between the turn-the-other-cheek teachings of Jesus and the Allah-or-the-sword precepts of Muhammed? There's nothing inherently different in Christianity and Islam that allowed Christianity to be "defeated" by civil society while Islam warded it off? It's all in the different climates of the desert and the Alps, I suppose. (Did luther_blissett read comment #23?)

Agreed, though, that if Jimmy Carter abstained from corporeal adultery because "his best friend tied him to a tree" or a flying saucer came down and zapped his willy, his restraint would be no testament to his "personal qualities." But that isn't what happened, is it. And the attempted parallel of Jimmy Carter's best friend being the "civil society" that ties Christianity's current murderous impulses (equal to Islam's according to luther_blissett, but a conjecture hardly supported by the Qur'an) to a big tree of live-and-let-live is, to understate the case, risible.

I did bet with myself, by the way, that luther_blissett would continue his hopeless equivalence-by-another-name argument for at least one more comment. And I won. Double down, dealer, on yet another.

26. luther_blissett - April 28, 2010 at 12:54 am

Yes, gowexu, you're right: when you give bad arguments, I'll reply. It's like magic, only not.

It's nice if Christianity was really about turning the other cheek, but with the exception of a few outstanding individuals, I don't see that as a current running through Western Christian history. The Church didn't turn the other cheek against, say, Muslims and Jews in Europe. It didn't turn the other cheek against Mongel or Ottoman invaders. It certainly didn't preach turning the other cheek in any way, between Catholics, between Catholics and non-Christians, or between Catholics and Protestants. And the Protestants were equally good at not turning the other cheek. The Pilgrims and Puritans did not turn the other cheek to Amerindians or to the Merry Mount settlement or to those who flew the cross of St. George.

So if you can show me a tradition in which a Christian nation turned the other cheek in any conflict, then I'll happily concede your point. Instead, it looks to me like the eye for an eye logic of going back to the Bronze Age Mediterranean -- from Hittites on to later Semites on to Christians on to Muslims -- remains the main ethical current in the West.

We've seen what Christian government is like in America. It's called Salem, right?

27. goxewu - April 28, 2010 at 07:54 am

We're talking NOW, in the time of "South Park," not the Bronze Age, not "Mongel [sic] invaders," not Pilgrims, not Salem. And right now, there is a world of difference between the suppression of free speech as practiced by Christian Fundamentalists and as practiced by Islamic fundamentalists. And the main reason is that the murderous suppression of free speech by Islamic fundamentalists is rather condoned, even encouraged, in the Qur'an, while the murderous suppression of free speech by Christian fundamentalists requires some dementedly creative interpretation of the New Testament.

I have to admire, in a strange way, luther_blissett's dogged persistence in his equivalence argument, which is, essentially: "Yes, Islamic fundamentalists routinely make credible death threats against those whose exercise of free speech is perceived to denigrate Islam or its prophet, and do quite often carry them out. But every once in a great while, some Christian fundamentalist does the same thing, so you see, both religions are equally culpable."

luther_blissett might want to re-read johntoradze's comments #4 and #23, or even try reading a newspaper.

No doubt, however, that luther_blissett will be back, equating shouted threats at him while he was a teenager trying to buy tickets to "The Last Temptation of Christ" and Christian groups renting and holding all the available videos of it, with the fate of Theo van Gogh. Let those chips ride.

28. luther_blissett - April 28, 2010 at 01:47 pm

goxewu, I have never, once, in this discussion, equated the fates of those who die for free speech with those whose rights are simply repressed. You're not only a bad reader, as usual, but you're simply being dickish by even suggesting that.

However, would you like to show me *anywhere* in the New Testament where anything like freedom of speech is discussed one way or another? Didn't think so. And the Christian tradition has ALWAYS upheld the fundamental importance of the Ten Commandments, the second of which strictly forbids icons and false gods. So both the Christian and Muslim faiths share that same value. When Christians have had the state all to themselves, they could be as violent in the punishment of breaking those commandments as Muslims are today.

The *only* difference between Christians today and Muslims today is the influence of secular civil society. Christians have learned that civil society will not toe their religious line, and so they have moved on to other issues (with the exception of abortion). Muslims have not faced that issue, except in Turkey and in immigrant situations in the West.

So my point remains: the Christian religion is not necessarily more peaceful than the Muslim religion. And when Christians believe that their law is higher than the state's law, they have been historically as violent as Muslims: John Brown, abortion crusaders, etc.

29. goxewu - April 28, 2010 at 03:57 pm


1. "Dickish" is borderline. Cut it out.

2. I didn't say, nor would anyone say, that the New Testament has anything to say about free speech. The difference between the conduct of fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims regarding it when it comes to depictions/descriptions of Jesus and Mohammad has to do with how they interpret their respective "bibles" (used in the colloquial sense). The Qur'an rather explicitly condones/advocates violence in regard to defending/expanding Islam, whereas the New Testament doesn't with regard to defending/expanding Christianity. Note that "South Park" hasn't caved like this regarding its many extremely unflattering portrayals of Jesus. Getting criticism, yes, but no prior restraint because of anticipated reprisals.

3. The statement, "The *only* difference between Christians today and Muslims today is the influence of secular civil society" (please note the emphasized "only") is beyond absurd, as almost any Christian or Muslim would be happy to tell you. If there is no other difference, if their respective theologies count for nothing, if the civil-society surround determines everything, then there's no point in believing in either, is there.

4. Tell ya what: You have an advertised showing for the public of "The Last Temptation of Christ" at your school. Then put on an advertised public performance of a little play along the same lines called "The Last Temptation of Muhammad." Get back to me about the difference in your e-mails responding to either. That is, if you still have an e-mail, or an office.

5. I don't know why I'm even bothering to argue with luther_blissett, who, his very own self, said back up in #16, "So we can say that crazy Christians no longer murder their opponents, they just try to oppress them, while crazy Muslims want to oppress *and* murder." luther_blissett then adds, however, "But this discussion isn't about murdering. It's about freedom of speech." As if murder weren't a much more severe suppression of free speech than, say, shouting down a speaker.

30. saadmsms - April 28, 2010 at 06:56 pm

I wander would you consider it freedom of speech to make fun of jews????
Why is anti-semitism not considered freedom of speech?
how would the jews react if south park make fun of all the slaughters of the Hebrew kings mentioned in the bible.
Threatning of death is defenitly wrong but it's the only option that they have, after all they are not as powerfull as the jews

31. luther_blissett - April 28, 2010 at 09:11 pm


re 2: Can you give me any evidence that the NT's lack of prescriptive violence has stopped Christians from being violent? Seems to me that the Quakers are a marginal Christian group precisely because they take the message of non-violence at all seriously.

So no, it's not the respective Bibles or faith traditions that today create Muslim violence or stop Christian violence. It is the limits imposed by civil society, or lack of such limits, or lack of such a civil society, that keeps violence in check.

Which is to say, yet again, that the relative liberalism of fundamentalist Christianity in relation to fundamentalist Islam is only a function of the religions' relationship to the state. Whenever Christians have made the state subordinate to religion, they used state violence in the name of religion.

Re 3: Of course. By "only difference" I meant "for this discussion, the only pertinent difference." My bad.

32. goxewu - April 29, 2010 at 10:50 am

luther_blissett has well-learned the debater's gambit of turning a particular subject (the [self-] censorship of "South Park" because of the fear of violent/deadly reprisals much more common these days from Muslim fundamentalists than Christian fundamentalists) into a gassy, pan-historical generality. Yeah, yeah: The New Testament didn't prevent the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the forcible "conversion" of American Indians, the Salem witch trials, Medieval pogroms, etc., etc. But that has little or nothing to do with why filmmakers, TV program-makers, authors, cartoonists, newspapers, publishers TODAY quake in their boots over anything critical/satirical about Islam or Muhammad, in a way that they DON'T about the same concerning Christianity.

And to say that this is caused not by the content of the religion (the Qur'an's specific, explicit admonitions about the sword), but by the religions' different contexts vis-a-vis civil society is either a distinction without a difference, or reasoning in a circle, or both: A fundamentalist Muslim living in the civil society of a Western democracy who murders Theo van Gogh or throws a firebomb through the window of a publisher of those Danish cartoons does so not because his holy book tells him this is what must be done, but because he thinks the "law" of his holy book trumps civil authority--which is something his holy book also tells him. Hello?

And I ain't buyin' "Re 3," especially the "of course" part. luther_blissett is smart, well-educated, literary scholar (see his academic debate with Mark Bauerlein on another thread), and a teacher of (among other things) writing. So when he writes, "The *only* difference between Christians today and Muslims today is the influence of secular civil society" [emphasis luther_blissett's], and doesn't qualify it in any way, he knows what he's doing. This sort of retroactive weaseling should be beneath him.

I await the production of "The Last Temptation of Muhammad" at that prep school, and the security instructions for buying a ticket and attending.

33. luther_blissett - April 29, 2010 at 12:55 pm

No, gowexu, when a person is typing Chronicle blog comments in the five minutes between sophomore English classes, that person might not qualify his statements as they should.

I think, as a Jew, I am aware of a few theological differences between Christianity and Islam. Having lived in West Philadelphia next to a Halal butcher's shop, there's one obvious difference. So no, it's not retroactive weaseling.

And no, the difference between Theo Van Gogh's killer and Dr. George Tiller's killer is no difference.

And let's not get all up in arms against 1500 years of Islamic history because of what two bloggers wrote on a Muslim blog. Sure, they threatened violence, and that should be taken seriously. But we've already seen death threats against Obama coming from right-wing fundamentalist blogs and Twitters.

34. new_theologian - April 29, 2010 at 12:57 pm

As a historical note, Christians were complete pacifists in the first few centuries. It was not until after Christianity was made the official religion of the empire that any apology was offered for how it could be that Christians could ever be implicated in the use of coercive force. This work was first done by St. Augustine, who began to develop a theory of so-called "just war" that still stands as the basis for the Catholic Church's present articulations. According to this standard, of course, very few wars have been sanctioned by the Church as meeting the criteria. Augustine also acknowledged that, while it belongs to the state to exercise coercive authority, even to the point of employing capital punishment, Christians in positions of authority should model a higher moral standard, and transcend, wherever possible, what the civil law allows, reaching instead for what the law of love and mercy demands of us.

That said, it was a secular authority that first subordinated the Church to its own ends, not the other way around, and, in doing so, immediately presumed to reach inside the Church (deposing St. Athanasius from his see in Alexandria, for example, replacing him with a heretical puppet of the political interest), setting the Church and the State against one another in a power struggle that would continue to the present day. The Church eventually came to articulate the thesis of "divine right," which was intended to place a moral limit on the use of coercive authority by the state. This worked a little bit, but for as long as the ecclesial and secular orders remained intertwined, admittedly, the political sphere--being political, after all--worked hard to embroil the Church in the advancement of the secular agenda. John Henry Cardinal Newman names exactly this problem as the cause of the Spanish Inquisition--and he was a first-rate historian whose judgment should be taken seriously.

Henry VIII, of course, upset the cart completely, by placing the secular authority directly over the ecclesial, and destroying the moral voice of the Church as a free-standing institution within his own precincts. This led to the total subordination of religious interests to secular interests--and it is one of the points that the founders of the United States sought to rectify in the First Amendment. One thing is clear, though--it is not Christianity, qua Christianity, that is the source of violence in the world, either historically or today, nor is it the secular state that serves to reign in Christianity's baser tendencies. It is really the other way around, and a look at the history of violence in the twentieth century makes the matter so undeniably obvious that one has to question whether anyone who doubts the matter has ever heard the names Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, or Mao.

35. goxewu - April 29, 2010 at 02:55 pm

Re #33:

"...when a person is typing Chronicle blog comments in the five minutes between sophomore English classes"

So wait until you get home. Patience, dear boy, patience.

"I think, as a Jew, I am aware of a few theological differences between Christianity and Islam."

What does being a Jew have to do with being aware of theological differences between Christianity and Islam? If luther_blisett is a rabbi, or Torah scholar, or a religion professor, or even just observant, that's one thing, but if he's talking mere ethnicity, it's quite another. Again, luther_blissett's ol' bugaboo of unqualified statements.

The difference between Theo van Gogh's murderer and Dr. George Tiller's murderer is that, again, the former doesn't have to come up with a bizarre interpretation of the Qur'an (see johntoradze's comments, above) to justify his actions, whereas the latter has to come up with a bizarre interpretation of the New Testament in order to justify his action. The creators and cable channel of "South Park" would almost certainly not self-censor an episode having satirizing pro-lifers.

The issue is not people getting "up in arms" over what two people posted on a Muslim blog (nobody is calling, for instance, for the shutdown of the blog), but the prudence of the "South Park" people in caving to the threat. I think they were prudent because it was too likely that somebody would be killed or that Comedy Central's headquarters would be bombed if they didn't. The same kind of consequences are much less likely if the show satirizes Jesus. In fact, "South Park" has done more than one episode with a Jesus in it depicted with what almost any believing Christian would call "blasphemy." And the show did it with impunity. 'Tis a fact of life in the Western world that anything satirizing Islam or Muhammad will get you a much more credible threat of physical violence than will anything satirizing Christianity or Jesus. Unlike luther_blissett, I think rather reasonably, that the difference has directly to do with the content of the religions, e.g., johntoradze's unrebutted-by-luther_blisset points in comments #3 and #23.

36. new_theologian - April 29, 2010 at 03:26 pm

Look, South Park is funny, even if it's totally offensive. I occasionally watch it--and I admit that it's a venial sin. They do make fun of Jesus and Christianity. When Christ went up against the devil in the boxing ring, they depicted him as a weakling who only won because the devil through the fight. Even the Catholic priest bet against him with the bookie. Offensive? Yeah! Funny? Well . . . yeah. Do I want to kill people? No. Would I let my kids watch it? Not on your life--not until they're not kids any longer and can tell the difference between satire and hate speech, or between social commentary and a well-reasoned critique. You see? But that death threats come when people criticize or poke fun at Islam or Mohammed is not only occasional but pandemic. The year after I graduated from my M.A. program in philosophy, a graduate student in the department received a death threat from a Muslim student for comments the infidel made in class during an open discussion about ideas! This happens ALL THE TIME!

37. luther_blissett - April 29, 2010 at 03:50 pm

Naw, goxewu, that was a joke.

And no, you've only established that Muslims kill over the second commandment, while Christians kill over the sixth.

38. goxewu - April 29, 2010 at 07:12 pm

Re #37:

I refer luther_blissett to the comment of "new_theologian" (who seems to know his religion beans) in #36: "That death threats come when people criticize or poke fun at Islam or Mohammed is not only occasional but pandemic." And to johntoradze's comments in #4 and #23, none of which luther_blissett has addressed, let alone refuted.

I'll put on that showing of "The Last Temptation of Christ" and take my chances with the Sixth Commandment, and luther_blissett can put on "The Last Temptation of Muhammad" and take his chances with the Second. The odds will be about ten to one that I live longer than luther_blissett. (And I'm roughly twice his age.)

39. luther_blissett - April 29, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Goxewu, I'll screen *The Last Temptation of Muhammad* if you'll run an abortion clinic in the Bible Belt without the security guards and privacy measures such doctors currently have to maintain.

40. goxewu - April 30, 2010 at 08:53 am

Re #39:

Hardly a parallel. Performing abortions (and I am emphatically pro-choice) does not usually come under the heading of "free speech." Putting on a play or showing a movie does.

41. luther_blissett - April 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm

goxewu, you cannot say "this is only about freedom of speech" when it pleases you. Christians kill for one religious reason and Muslims for another; neither religion as practiced is inherently more peaceful or violent. And that's the point I've been trying to make all along. Plenty of Christians oppose freedom of speech, but won't resort to violence, while a tiny percentage of Muslims both oppose freedom of speech and will resort to violence. Likewise, a tiny percentage of Christians both oppose abortion and are willing to murder to stop it. But no one goes around making vast generalizations about the inability of Christians to assimilate or adapt to civil society.

42. goxewu - April 30, 2010 at 01:41 pm

Goxewu did not say, "this is only about freedom of speech." (Odd that a teacher of English would fabricate a direct quote.) I simply pointed out that preventing, disrupting or retaliating for, a showing of a film or a performance of a play is an issue of free speech. Doing the same with regarding the running of an abortion clinic is--however abominable--NOT an issue of free speech. So luther_blissett's attempted parallel failed.

The OP and, in general, this thread, is about the suppression of the free speech--the broadcasting of a TV program--of the creators of "South Park" by the issuance of death threats. Showing a film or putting on a play is similar, in terms of freedom of speech, to broadcasting a TV program. (And t'was luther_blissett who brought the film "The Last Temptation of Christ" into the discussion in the first place.)

If the creators of "South Park" were being threatened for operating an abortion clinic, then luther_blissett's bringing an abortion clinic into the discussion might have some relevance. But they weren't, and it doesn't.

This, by the way, is a nonsensical sentence: "Plenty of Christians oppose freedom of speech, but won't resort to violence, while a tiny percentage of Muslims both oppose freedom of speech and will resort to violence." (Hint: "Plenty of Christians" leaves room for "a tiny percentage" of Christians likewise willing to "resort" to violence," which obviates "while," which is intended to indicate contrast.)

I'll hazard a guess here that most readers/commenters on this thread are tired of the back-and-forth between luther_blissett and me. They might be more interested in reading luther_blissett's response to the substantive comments of johntoradze and new_theologian, which he has been assiduously avoiding in favor of painting himself into an ever-diminishing corner of logic by replying, on increasingly specious grounds, to me.

43. luther_blissett - April 30, 2010 at 02:15 pm

Oy vey, gowexu, not all phrases in quotation marks are direct quotations, and you know that.

When I wrote that both crazy Christians and crazy Muslims share a similar attitude toward free speech, your reply was that this was unimportant, because it's only the violent reaction to free speech that's the issue. When I said that Christians are equally capable of violent suppression of civil rights in the name of religion as Muslims, you said this is not about violence, it's about freedom of speech.

As far as the substantive points raised by your other two allies, I'll only say that the 30 Years War between Protestants and Catholics was certainly a fine moment displaying Christians' rejection of violence. It's too easy to write off all religious violence as "really" about secular politics -- the same can easily be said about Muslim violence. Then there's the simplistic notion that Christians oppose all violence, which if it were true, would make all Christians Quakers. Notice the use of the Bible among the American Right to justify the death penalty.

44. goxewu - April 30, 2010 at 03:48 pm

1. They are when the quote says, "goxewu, you cannot say, '[followed by a putative direct quote],'" luther_blisset's quotation marks are NOT what journalists call "scare quotes."

2. Sheila said that when Mary said that Jackie said that I said that, you said about that, the thing was that when Brittney said, you said.... [Groan.]

3. johntoradze and new_theologian are not my "allies." We don't know each other, we don't act in concert, we don't have a joint policy, and so on. They've simply independently raised substantive points, including some about Islam's and the Qur'an's sanctioning of violence against dissenters and non-believers...TODAY, that is, and not three and a half centuries ago. While there may be "the simplistic notion that Christians oppose all violence," it does not reside with me or anything I've said on this thread; this "simplistic notion" is yet another of luther_blissett's straw men, as is "the use of the Bible among the American Right to justify the death penalty."

4. Bottom line: "South Park" has made vicious fun, over and over, of Christianity and Jesus, without encountering credible death threats and without deciding it was necessary to censor itself to avoid violence. "South Park" made (gentle, by comparison) fun of Islam and Muhammad, and decided to censor itself because of the threat of violence from Muslims. Either those involved with "South Park" are paranoid and/or bigots, or they're merely being prudent. I say--for reasons elaborated upon in this thread--that they're being prudent. I suspect that luther_blissett thinks so, too. Otherwise he wouldn't have said, in effect, in #39, [notice that I'm not using quotation marks here>>]]that one would have to operate an abortion clinic in the Bible Belt in order to encounter the same level of physical threat from Christians as one would encounter from Muslims by merely saying something satirical about Muhammad.

45. luther_blissett - May 01, 2010 at 03:16 am

Yes, exactly, bottom line: a few crazy Muslims kill over the second commandment, while a few crazy Christians kill over the sixth commandment. I've said it a few times already. My argument, this entire time, was with those early in the conversation who wanted to make Islam a more inherently violent religion than Christianity or Judaism.

But the 642 bomb threats against abortion providers; the 525 cases of stalking; the 406 death threats; the 179 assaults; the 41 bombings; the 17 attempted murders; and the 8 murders: sure, Islam is the only religion of violence and hate.

46. goxewu - May 01, 2010 at 09:56 am

Otra vez, un hombre del heno: "[sarcastically] sure, Islam is the only religion of violence and hate."

Nobody said that.

What everbody but luther_blissett is saying is: In the Western democracies, exercise your right of free speech by satirizing Jesus, and you'll get some jumping up and down and fulminating; exercise your right of free speech by satirizing Muhammad and you'll get death threats credible enough to cause you to self-censor.


47. luther_blissett - May 01, 2010 at 05:08 pm

In Western democracies, exercise your right to provide or have legal medical procedures, and you'll get murdered, bombed, assaulted, attacked, stalked, threatened with anthrax, etc.

In Western democracies, make a work of art entitled "Piss Christ" and you'll receive death threats and have your work vandalized.

In Western democracies, make a chocolate Jesus and you'll receive death threats.

In Western democracies, if you exercise your freedom of speech and teach evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, you'll receive death threats.

In Western democracies, if you write about a man who stole a Eucharist wafer, like P. Z. Myers of the U of Minnesota wrote, you'll receive death threats.

In Western democracies, Christian churches will lead prayer services asking God to kill the President. (Given that these same churches believe that God works through humans, that seems to me to be inviting somebody to kill the President. Or at least as much as two anonymous bloggers asking fellow Muslims to kill infidels.)

48. goxewu - May 02, 2010 at 04:19 pm

The creators of "South Park" were obviously oblivious to all the equivalanece info in #47. That's why they didn't self-censor any shows satirizing Jesus while they hopped to, and self-censored the one they did satirizing Muhammad. Silly them.

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