It was once the case that entertainment shows steered shy of controversial subjects. They did not want to stir the bad feelings that come with controversy, and there are few if any subjects that can be more controversial than religion and politics. When the forbidden subjects were approached, it was with a certain sophistication. (Mort Sahl used to ask, toward the end of his stand-up performance, if there were any groups he had failed to offend.)
These days, Comedy Central’s South Park gets most of its mileage from being coarsely unconventional, from attacking, through sarcasm and lots of bathroom humor, beliefs that people hold dear. They have scathingly treated Christians, Jews, Scientologists, political parties, etc., or so I’m told (I have not watched much of the show, but did see most of the segments relevant to the cartoon controversy). No political or religious viewpoint has been left unsatirized. Except one.
The South Park story, as I understand it, involved a cartoon Mohammad as one of the characters in their show; Comedy Central would not allow it to be shown. Their reason? It came down to fear, as admitted in their form letter to viewers who had written them about the omission. Comedy Central, as did most American media outlets, succumbed to fear of retaliation by Muslims.
Their fear is rationally based; after all, Muslims perpetrated enormous damage and even killings in their outrage over cartoon depictions of Mohammed. The threat of more of the same is real. As with the fatwa against Salmon Rushdie, when publishers and some booksellers reacted with fear to Muslim threats, the fault does not lie with those who succumbed. Much as I would have liked to see Comedy Central — and the general media — stand up to the threats they feel, it’s not my place to say how others should react when they fear for their property, their families, and their lives.
Where, oh where is our government in this affair? It seems omnipresent in regulating what we can eat, our health care and medicines, our communications and on, and on. When it comes to real, physical threat, the very thing the government is there to protect against, it is not to be heard from.
All of us, especially South Park with all its smutty obscenity, deserve to be protected by our government from physical harm. (After all, nobody threatens physical harm when they are not offended.) The Muslim threateners apparently know that they can threaten with impunity. Our government has repeatedly shown that it can be counted upon to appease rather than protect. Contrary to Muslim casuistry, it is not evil to show depictions of Mohammad (and it certainly won’t lead to idolatry, the Muslims’ professed fear). The relevant evil here is the knee-bending stance of our government.