The news that South Park has offended someone is…well, not normally news. The show likes to characterise itself as an equal opportunity offender – so it’s probably more of an insult not to have been a target, just through virtue of being considered below notice. And indeed, anyone who only watched the first couple of series would not be far wrong in saying that the cartoon did often seem pointlessly crude.
One can only assume that the people behind Revolution Muslim, then, aren’t big enough fans of the show to have noticed its increasing sophistication over the years. The US-based blog warned creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker that they would likely end up “like Theo van Gogh”, after they depicted the prophet Muhammad hidden in a bear suit. Van Gogh was murdered for associating Islam with violence towards women, so the comments have attracted some attention.
“While South Park certainly insulted someone, it didn’t insult Muhammad.”
I suggest that Revolution Muslim hasn’t noticed the sophistication of the show, because the blog seems to have misunderstood the joke.
Their basic response is as follows:
1. South Park insulted Muhammad.
2. The penalty is death.
3. We aren’t trying to incite violence, but you better watch out.
You can get the rest in the link above, but that’s essentially it. The problem here is that while South Park certainly insulted someone, it didn’t insult Muhammad. There are two better candidates.
First, there are the networks, who have repeatedly bowed to threats from extremists, and forced shows to censor themselves. South Park has a history of taking issue with this – just have a look at the two part “Cartoon Wars” episodes; in them, FOX is pushed to the wall by the ever-popular family guy, who demand to, guess what, depict the Prophet Muhammad.
“We see Buddha snorting coke with abandon”
Secondly, there are the extremists themselves, who are obvious targets for insults, having made the threats in the first place. Hence in the episode causing the current ruckus, we see Buddha snorting coke with abandon. The insult is not to the Buddha, or Buddhists – it’s actually a compliment, because it’s pointing out that they aren’t about to threaten the show’s creators with death, even for such a blatantly offensive characterisation of something religiously important to them.
So, Revolution Muslim is quite wrong – South Park hasn’t insulted Muhammad, it has insulted murderers and network executives. Which seems alright to me.
South Park is forced to make its point in this way, by (admittedly otherwise degradingly) dressing Muhammad up in a bear suit, only because of the very threats that Revolution Muslim seems to be at best predicting, and at worst encouraging.
And it really does lean towards encouraging. They claim they aren’t trying to incite violence. But then they repeatedly endorse the penalty of death for insulting the Prophet-“The renowned scholar Imam Malik said, ‘If someone says that the button of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is dirty, then he should be executed!'” At no point does the blog implore people not to seek violent revenge. So the notion that their agenda is merely to seek a better “dialogue” is pretty ludicrous; you can’t say you’re seeking a peaceful exchange of ideas, whilst both justifying and not ruling out the murder of your prospective pen-pal.
If Revolution Muslim believes that Parker and Stone should take stock of the potential implications of their actions, perhaps they should re-examine their own. Supporting violence is contrary to stopping satire of Islam.
If nobody thought that it was justified to murder on the basis of offence, South Park wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. And then they just wouldn’t do it; depicting Muhammad would be needlessly offensive and culturally insensitive, and for a show which has changed its brief from mindless scat-jokes to fairly astute commentary, there would be no fun in it.
So if anyone should watch their words, Revolution Muslim is the first on the list.