The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

South Park, speak free!

Matt Parker and Trey Stone may have finally gotten in over their heads. In the past, the “South Park” creators have poked fun at celebrities, politicians and even gingers (people with red hair and freckles). It seems that no one, and nothing, is safe from their animated scrutiny. While offending viewers and even cast members is nothing new to Comedy Central’s cartoon cash cow, never, to my knowledge, have Parker and Stone been the subject of death threats.

That is, until they decided to tangle with Islam in their 200th episode.

To cut a long story short and not to ruin the episode for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, the prophet Mohammed makes an appearance. Well, sort of. First, Mohammed is kept in a moving truck, then hidden in a bear costume. Finally, he is completely covered by a large black censor. Any time his name is mentioned, it is bleeped out. While this may not seem to be the most controversial thing the show has touched on, it has the potential to be deadly for its creators.

The episode soon caught the attention of an Internet-based radical Muslim group out of New York, Revolution Muslim, who posted the following on their website:

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“We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”

The site also offered addresses for where Parker and Stone live and work, as well as the image of slain Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, with a knife through his chest. Van Gogh was murdered for his work in the controversial film, “Submission,” which criticized Islam for its treatment of women.

In a letter to CNN, leaders of the group said their comments shouldn’t be taken as a call to violence, but as an opportunity for Muslims to express themselves in angry letters to South Park’s creators.

Obviously, whoever is in charge of public relations for the group issued that statement. Of course it is a call to violence! Was the image of a man murdered for crossing Islam just there to spruce up the page? Another variation on this theme: a letter was on the weapon conveniently protruding from Van Gogh’s chest.

Then, of course, there are the posted addresses for both men. This says to them, as well as the rest of the world, ‘We’re watching you. We can get to you. We know where you are.’ It effectively signals to Parker, Stone and anyone else who would consider criticizing Islam to watch out.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Van Gogh’s partner in the creation of the film, also remarked in an interview on CNN at the similarities between the threats issues against her partner and South Park’s creators.

“It is an attack on the freedom of expression and we must fight it tooth and nail,” Ali said in the same interview. Ali also said it was important to treat Islam as any other religion – not above scrutiny and criticism. By doing so, she said that will be too difficult to target individuals and to scare the general public back into silence.

I agree with Ali. Our First Amendment rights are too important for us to acquiesce. In fact, as Americans, aren’t they the rights we guard most zealously? While watching Ali, I was reminded of a passage I read in my media ethics text book. It basically boiled down to this: the cure for hate or offensive speech should be more speech by those who disagree with the original statements.

So, if you’re like me and you disagree with the ridiculous threats being made towards the creators of a cartoon, stand up. Say something. We have power, as well as protection in numbers. The only way to take the power away from these fundamentalist and hateful groups is through discussion.

It is especially important for those who are moderate Muslims to make their voices heard as well. Don’t let yourself and your faith be lumped in with radicals who seek to destroy what they disagree with. In order to de-stigmatize Islam as a violent religion, moderate Muslims need to start speaking openly against their fundamentalist brethren. Violence should not be an accepted response when it comes to any person or group, Muslim or otherwise.

I want you to remember, Mohammed wasn’t the only deity depicted in the 200th episode. Jesus, Buddha, as well as some Hindu gods made an appearance too. However, they weren’t censored on the program and none of their respective religions made any comments or threats toward the creators of the show. My parting statement is this: fear generates power and until we start taking a stand against the progenitors of this fear, we lose not only our power, but one of our basic freedoms as well.

Nemec is a senior print journalism and German major and news editor for The Spectator.

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South Park, speak free!