Friday, April 14, 2006

Yes, Comedy Central did squelch South Park's Muhammad episode

So the reacted airing of "South Park" on Wednesday was no joke; Comedy Central did in fact refuse to broadcast Trey Parker and Matt Stone's representation of Mohammad "in light of recent world events." At the same time Comedy Central was reveling in South Park's prestigious Peabody Award win for being "TV's boldest, most politically incorrect satirical series," its executives had already decided to squelch the Mohammad episode's content.

Note that Comedy Central did not cut South Park's portrayal of Jesus defecating upon the American flag from the episode. Already the Roman Catholics have attacked that representation, with the AP quoting William Donohue of the Catholic League calling upon Parker and Stone to resign. "Like little whores, they'll sit there and grab the bucks," said Donohue. "They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus. That's their stock in trade."

Yet what's wrong with that stock in trade? What's wrong with criticizing religion or holding religious figures up to comedic scrutiny? In a sane world, absolutely nothing; speech is protected regardless of how deeply someone may disagree with its content.

Yet we do not live in a sane world. Free speech-the right to have ideas and communicate them to others-is under grave threat. Like it or not, South Park is now part of the front line of the free speech wars. By treating Islam with kid gloves because its adherents threaten violent retaliation if their sensitivities are offended, Comedy Central has signaled that anyone who is violent can control what others may say.

Comedy Central has also signaled the larger problem: our government has not stepped up and properly defended our freedom. No American should ever have to fear violent reprisal for his speech, yet when in recent months has our government unequivocally defended this right?

Remember the tepid stand the State Department took in February when the Mohammad cartoon riots first began? Remember how a State Department spokesman said "anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief" and that "we have to remember and respect the deeply held beliefs of those who have different beliefs from us," only mentioning the "the rights of individuals to express their freely held views" as a seeming afterthought. Or worse, remember when President Bush himself said "with freedom comes the responsibility to be thoughtful about others."

That is not a vision of freedom. Freedom means freedom from others-if we have a "responsibility to be thoughtful about others," then our own ideas and interests take back seat to their concerns. The right to our life, liberty and the freedom to pursue our own happiness evaporates as meaningless abstraction. And If the president of the United States of America can not articulate the moral meaning of freedom and is unwilling to defend it against mindless savages, this nation has lost its way.

My question for you is are you willing to take it? Are you willing to stand by as your freedom is betrayed? Do militant Islamists now inform what can and cannot be said in public?

Like me, I know a lot of my readers have posted the cartoon images of Mohammad on their websites. Yet at the same time, we are more or less anonymous and we can easily hide behind that anonymity. So I ask my readers directly: would any of us have decided differently if we were presented with the choice Comedy Central had to make in its decision to self-censor South Park? I hope we would have more courage than to sell ourselves so cheaply. I hope that we would fight for our intellectual freedom.

So I propose the following: it's time for each of us to make a public stand. It's time to protest our government for its appalling unwillingness to defend our freedom. I propose that we convene in Washington to protest in defense of free speech. We will show the forbidden cartoons, and as such, we will show that we are unwilling to sacrifice our right to speak freely.

Developing . . .

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