Reaction to recent ‘South Park’ episodes is overexaggerated, irrational, detrimental

Kyle Schmidlin and Kyle Schmidlin

I’m going to write a column which uses the name “Muhammad.” Don’t bother looking over your shoulder — there’s nobody there.

“South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are no strangers to controversy. While I often disagree with their stances, I admire their fearlessness. A few seasons ago, they even lost regular cast member Isaac Hayes (Chef) due to their criticism of Scientology.

The show’s 200th and 201st episodes, aired over the last two weeks, have found them in the middle of a controversy of a more extreme stripe. After depicting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, rumors of violence threats against the creators have been circulating.

But the rumors are greatly exaggerated. The U.S.-based group, Revolution Muslim, featured a post by Zachary Adam Chesser that said the creators “‘will probably end up’ like Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was murdered in 2004 after making a film critical of Islamic society,” according to FOX News.

What’s strange is that the episode centers around the controversy over cartoon depictions of Muhammad. Throughout the episode, it is believed he is wearing a bear suit (it’s actually Santa Claus) and when Muhammad himself is supposedly there, he is covered with a large censor bar and never speaks. Ironically, “South Park” itself depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a 2001 episode without controversy. It is only since the violence against two Danish cartoonists that the depiction has become such a hot-button issue.

But it wasn’t only Muhammad who was censored. According to popwatch.com, the speech given at the end of the episode by Kyle Broflovski, which was bleeped out in its entirety, had nothing to do with Muhammad. Said Parker and Stone, “Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear.”

Outpourings of support for Parker and Stone have came from everywhere.

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart devoted an entire opening segment to defending the creators and condemning Revolution Muslim, considerably exaggerating the extent of the death threats and intimating they came from the group itself rather than a single poster. “The Simpsons” had a chalkboard gag which read, “SOUTH PARK — WE’D STAND BESIDE YOU IF WE WEREN’T SO SCARED.”

Of course, fear is driving much of the dialogue. Many Americans — probably excepting only a handful of people, including Parker, Stone and myself — are petrified of radical Islam. But sometimes reality doesn’t hit you so hard. Sometimes it can actually be a comfort.

Even in the most extreme possible case, in which every reader of Revolution Muslim were to take up what arms they could and exercise as much violence as possible, they wouldn’t get very far. They simply haven’t got the numbers or the resources to be any sort of real threat.

Keep in mind, no actual direct threats of violence — at least none as widely-publicized as Chesser’s “warning” — have appeared since the “201” episode aired. After the controversy erupted, their site actually went offline due to traffic overload. Support for Parker and Stone has been virtually unanimous. If anybody has reason to be afraid, it is radical Islam.

What Chesser actually said isn’t any different than something any other media commentator might say — that violence could be in store for Parker and Stone after the “South Park” episode. The media has spent much time since Sept. 11 trying to drum up fear of Muslims in the hearts of Americans, and the current issue is no exception.

It is partly this that Revolution Muslim speaks out against. Their website, now found at revolutionmuslimblogspot.com, contains several responses to the accusations lobbied against them. And believe it or not, they make strong points.

But when they say something like this: “By placing the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a bear suit, the creators of ‘South Park’ sought to insult the sacred, and show their blatant and general disregard for religion,” they lose me. Parker and Stone have classified themselves as “equal opportunity offenders,” and the Muslim faith is no more immune to this than anybody.

While Revolution Muslim isn’t exactly responsible for direct threats, the callousness with which Chesser and the site talk of the possibility of violence is still alarming. It is true, as they claim, that Western aggression far exceeds Muslim aggression — any glance at Amnesty International, United Nations or Human Rights Watch reports quickly reveal this. But this doesn’t justify Muslim aggression, directed at private artists like van Gogh, the Danish cartoonists or Parker and Stone.

Grievances expressed by the Muslim world are important and deserve to be heard. Western media generally ignores them. But Parker and Stone are satirists, not policy makers.

Muslim outrage over the depiction of the central character in their particular mythology is detrimental to the meaningful dialogue necessary to bring about change and peace.

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