South Park and Free Speech

It was supposed to be untouchable.

South Park was supposed to be the one TV show that offends everyone, but no one really cares because of its wit and humor.  From depicting Mel Gibson as a masochistic Daffy Duck infatuated with his own nipples, to Saddam Hussein as Satan’s gay lover, it was beginning to seem like creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker could make jokes about any religion, celebrity or political figure without having to worry for their safety. For 14 years it seemed that way. After all, we all have a sense of humor. We’re all mature here.

So just what happened with the recent death threats from, and the resulting network-imposed censorship, over South Park’s episodes focusing on the Islamic prophet Mohammed?

I’d be very surprised if this is the first death threat Matt and Trey have received. I can tell you this is not the first time South Park has poked fun at Islam, either; they visually portrayed Mohammed in “Super Best Friends” in 2001 with literally no incident. But in 2006, Comedy Central censored out the prophet’s character in “Cartoon Wars.” And now, for their 200th episode, the network bleeped out even the very utterance of Mohammed’s name. What gives? What happened between 2001 and 2006 to make the network lose its spine?

Does it have to do with the 2006 Danish Mohammed cartoons controversy that infuriated the Muslim world? The ones that resulted in riots, the storming of buildings in Europe, the destruction of Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, French and German embassies and flags all over the Muslim world, and the deaths of over a hundred people? Yes, it probably does. And the brutal 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, co-producer of a film that highlighted the violence Muslim women endure in some Islamic societies? You bet.  It’s apparent that Comedy Central is afraid to invoke the wrathful retribution of the Muslim world through a simple cartoon, and they’re not alone. Sadly, they’re right to think so.

After the “offending” South Park episode, there were no threats from Buddhists. None from Christians, Jews or Hindus – not even Tom Cruise or Barbara Streisand fans. Yet they all had far more reason to be offended by Muslims, as the episode didn’t even poke fun at Mohammed, but showed Buddha snorting cocaine and Jesus watching porn. It merely included Mohammed in a bear costume – and even that turned out to be Santa Claus. In that vein, the Arab world continues to churn out untold numbers of cartoons portraying America and hook-nosed, devil-horned Jews as perpetrators of all the evil in the world. But produce something they don’t like about their prophet, and you risk a worldwide riot.

The escalation of Mohammed censorship in South Park – from non-existent to censoring speeches that don’t even mention his name – reflects a disturbing trend in the international community. People have no problem making fun of every religion on Earth. But when it comes to Islam, matters of personal safety suddenly spring to mind. Just like with the Danish cartoon riots, a group of Muslim extremists – only a minority when compared to the global Muslim population, but still large and widespread enough to cause significant damage and terror – has once again succeeded in preventing someone from saying something they don’t like.

It’s no secret that free speech isn’t that popular in the Middle East (outside of Israel). Write an article slamming the government in Lebanon, and you’ll be lucky to live out the day.  Suggest on your talk show in Gaza of reaching a middle ground with Israel, and Hamas operatives will throw you off a hospital rooftop for conspiring against them. Iran doesn’t even need an example. Free speech simply isn’t that widespread in most Islamic societies. It’s a sad fact of life.  Caught between the holy fire instilled by the Qur’an and the iron-fisted control of Islamic governments, one does not grow up in such communities being taught about tolerance and acceptance.

So when such a mindset – let’s call it RevolutionMuslim – journeys to New York, digs out a hovel for itself in what should be the shadows of the World Trade Center, and sees some foul-mouthed American cartoon parading around what they say is the prophet Mohammed in a bear costume, what logically follows isn’t all that surprising.

The world’s free speech is being faced with flagrant aggression.  Fearless jokesters like Matt and Trey – who would have aired the episode uncensored had they been in charge – are swiftly becoming beacons of free speech, whether they like it or not. Entities like Comedy Central have become unknowing assistants to the destruction of our free speech in shutting us up for our own good.  It only takes a certain number of times for people to be shut up for fear of offending a dangerous entity before that fear becomes a rule of thumb.

If we are freedom-loving human beings, then the suppressive members of RevolutionMuslim and their like-minded compatriots are our enemies. As Jon Stewart said in his segment defending Matt and Trey, politicians, celebrities and sports figures are all just decent human beings that we disagree with. They’re not horrible people. Those like RevolutionMuslim, though, who would use the freedoms our country grants them to shut us up and kill us, stand against the very idea of freedom. They refuse to adapt to culture in the countries to which they immigrate, instead preferring to change that culture. Not even politically, but violently. In effect, that makes them our enemy. And as Stewart put it, they can “go f—k themselves.”

South Park has been ripping on Jesus, gay rights, abortion, Black people, Jews, Mexicans, Canadians, Italians, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormons, Latinos, White people, Republicans, Democrats, George Bush, priests, the Pope, Muslims and the rest of the world for its entire existence. Damn it, this is the show that depicted God as a squat lizard-tongued hippo-headed monkey.

When a show like that continues unimpeded for 14 straight years but is suddenly censored for showing what is said to be but isn’t even a religious figure in a bear costume, it’s a sign that things are starting to go very, very wrong.

AE Anteater is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at