I do not make many incursions into the realm of art here, but the Comedy Central/”South Park” imbroglio beckons to me. It is interesting and very important, as many other commentators have noted. It is not just about displaying images of Mohammed or offending Muslim religious sensibilities. It is about freedom of speech.
As evil as government-enforced censorship is, self-censorship is arguably a worse evil. It means that a government bureau needn’t threaten you with punishment if you refuse to wear its gag; you volunteer to fix the tape over your mouth (or your mind) yourself. The speech police are not meant for you, but rather for those incautious fools who insist on indulging in what former president Bill Clinton called “careless language” that hurts or offends. Self-muted, you are merely a neutral, blameless spectator, watching those efficient SWAT teams descend on the perpetrators and roust them from their beds, jobs, rights, and futures.
Some reactions to the alleged censorship of “South Park’s” fillip to freedom of speech deserve examination. I should caution that having seen or sampled past episodes of this relatively primitively done cartoon program, for me its humor is consistently coarse and offensive, ergo boring. For cartoon humor, give me Daffy Duck, or “Fractured Fairy Tales,” or the Road Runner. I’ve seen better animation in anti-Semitic Palestinian cartoon programs than the static hand-puppet-like actions in “South Park.” (And production of those Palestinian cartoons is undoubtedly assisted with the generous support of readers like you — the American taxpayer — through foreign aid.)
As for humor itself, I prefer that of Oscar Wilde, or of Noël Coward, or even of “Fawlty Towers” or “Wodehouse Playhouse” over a regular diet of Lenny Bruce or “Married With Children.” I grew out of the cartoon stage of “funny” decades ago, thank you very much.
The Washington Post ran an article about seventeen cartoonists who signed a petition against “threats” against Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators and writers of “South Park,” by Revolution Muslim, whose blog host insists that it was merely a “warning.” I fail to see the distinction. Incidentally, the cartoonists condemned” Comedy Central’s “censorship.“ It may be commendable that other cartoonists have spoken out against Islamic censorship by murder.
However, “censorship” is the wrong term to employ when judging Comedy Central‘s actions. Only a government can impose censorship on state matters (spy secrets, military matters, etc.) or on citizens to stop discussion or disclosure of the truth. Hugo Chavez shutting down private Venezuelan newspapers and radio and television stations is censorship. He employs force. Comedy Central’s executives did not employ force. They edited.
Look at it this way: a newspaper employs editors to edit its writers’ stories and columns, sometimes objectively with an eye to economy and style, other times with a bias that conforms to a political agenda handed down from higher up. That is not censorship; it is editing.
I can wish that Comedy Central had let the Mohammed segments run, but when a would-be terrorist states that he has the names, personal and work addresses of the “offenders” and more or less suggests to fellow Muslims that they prove their devotion to Allah and Mohammed by garroting Parker and Stone, it was prudent to not provoke the terrorist or anyone wishing to engage in what Hirsi Ali has called in the Wall Street Journal an “informal fatwa.” It was a wise decision pending whatever actions the FBI or whoever is responsible takes to find and reel in Zack Chesser, a Muslim convert.
Comedy Central’s executives did not employ censorship. They exercised their right to edit. We can fault them for the reason — which may have been cowardice — but not for the action. If the cartoonists quoted in this story wish to accuse anyone of censorship, they should focus on Islam and Muslims. It is Islam that sanctions gagging, by lawsuits, by intimidation, or by direct force. And while most Muslims wouldn’t think of sticking machetes into Trey Parker or Matt Stone, they remain silent, for their creed forbids them, under pain of a similar fate, to object to that form of jihad, or because they agree with permanently silencing the blasphemers. Whether out of fear or agreement, silence is a sanction.
There have been other incidents in this country of publishers self-censoring themselves in the face of threatened violence. These would not have been necessary had our government eradicated states that sponsor terrorism; at the moment, these are exclusively Islamic states. Instead of protecting its citizens against Islamic jihad, President Barack Obama sanctions the “cleansing” of all references to Islam from national security documents.
The Wall Street Journal ran two distinctly different perspectives on the “South Park” episode. James Taranto, in “Everybody Burn the Flag,” ran a fallacy-ridden piece that scores the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” phenomenon, which invites Americans to draw Mohammed to their hearts’ content and which has produced hundreds on the Internet. His basic argument is that drawing Mohammed in defiance of an Islamic taboo against images of the prophet is inconsiderate of Muslim beliefs, and therefore is wrong.
Why is “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” different? Because the taboo against depictions of Muhammad is not a part of America’s common culture. The taboos against flag burning, racial slurs and Holocaust denial are. The problem with the “in-your-face message” of “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others–Muslims–as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders. It is an unwise message to send, assuming that one does not wish to make an enemy of the entire Muslim world.
So, we should refrain from asserting the right to mock a religion whose adherents bow to a rock five times a day, conform to a primitive, Dark Age theology, and condone, vocally or in silence, the murders of those who mock the religion, lest we make an enemy of the entire Muslim world? I have news for Mr. Taranto: We are already the enemy of that world.
And why not telegraph to Muslims that they are outsiders and not part of a “common culture”? Their creed sanctions its destruction so that there is only one culture, a stifling, mind-suffocating Islamic one. If Muslims wish to redeem themselves, they should speak out against Chesser and his very large company of potential and actual “martyrs,” past, present, and future. But, they can’t, not without implicitly repudiating their creed. They elicit no sympathy from me. Boundless contempt, yes. And I can and will continue to mock any religious faith, regardless of its taboos. I am no friend of the irrational, secular or religious.
Why should one be “considerate” to a another’s deeply held beliefs, when one knows them to be irrational and rife with fallacies? Consideration implies respect for the irrational, which sabotages one’s respect for the rational. It puts them on the same footing. The rational earns one’s respect; the irrational invites disrespect and mockery.
The Wall Street Journal also ran an op-ed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a person who has had more intimate and perilous experiences with Muslim sensibilities than has Taranto and so speaks with a more realistic perspective. The threat made by Zack Chesser, she warns, should be taken seriously, even though it appears that Chesser, a Muslim convert, is a “lone wolf” and perhaps a basket case. Theo van Gogh, her partner in the production of Submission, a short film about the Islamic view and treatment of women, was murdered on an Amsterdam street by just such a “lone wolf,” who, it turned out, was part of a larger group of Islamic conspirators.
So how worried should the creators of “South Park” be about the “marginal figures” who now threaten them? Very. In essence, Mr. Amrikee’s [Chesser’s] posting is an informal fatwa. Here’s how it works:
There is a basic principle in Islamic scripture—unknown to most not-so-observant Muslims and most non-Muslims—called “commanding right and forbidding wrong.” It obligates Muslim males to police behavior seen to be wrong and personally deal out the appropriate punishment as stated in scripture. In its mildest form, devout people give friendly advice to abstain from wrongdoing. Less mild is the practice whereby Afghan men feel empowered to beat women who are not veiled.
By publicizing the supposed sins of Messrs. Stone and Parker, Mr. Amrikee undoubtedly believes he is fulfilling his duty to command right and forbid wrong. His message is not just an opinion. It will appeal to like-minded individuals who, even though they are a minority, are a large and random enough group to carry out the divine punishment. The best illustration of this was demonstrated by the Somali man who broke into Mr. Westergaard’s home in January carrying an axe and a knife.
On the other side of art, a grand indictment of President Barack Obama has appeared, courtesy of an individual who has produced some of the best “poster art” of Obama since the 2008 presidential campaign. In it one encounters a broad statement that encapsulates the character and destiny of his whole administration, which is fated to be a one-term wonder. It is called “The Rise and Fall of Hope and Change,” and is an alteration of French artist Thomas Couture’s finely detailed and lively fresco, “The Romans During the Decadence” (1847). “Rise and Fall” captures the literal orgy of the mindless and drunken character of the current Washington regime in a way no other poster art about Obama has. Coulture’s painting hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
While I am not an advocate of adulterating genuinely great or near-great art — it is rare enough and is certainly not being produced in our “common culture” today, and its political and commercial adulterating is symptomatic of our culture’s bankruptcy — the cartoonist responsible for “The Rise and Fall” deserves some recognition for his own “in your face” satire.
Is the painting offensive to Obama or to his loyal admirers? Perhaps. It concretizes — relying on artistic skills no longer evident in our culture — the essential corruption and brazen insouciance of Obama and his extraordinarily large clique of office-holders and allies in Congress and in the mainstream media. This clique has been successful in abrogating the Constitution and violating the individual rights of Americans at home and abroad (re the concerted hunt by the Treasury Department for “illegal” offshore wealth and bringing American expatriates to “justice”). Offending Obama and his “believers in change,“ however, is far less important than distilling and expressing the anger of all who have been offended and, hurt and condemned by him and his clique.
Is it disrespectful of the President of the United States? To the office, no. To the subject of the painting, yes, and it is an earned disrespect which Obama shares with every figure in the tableau. The central focus is a statue of him as a triumphant, Caesar-like icon and Obama as a flesh-and-blood reveler, leaning to offer Hillary Clinton what one surmises is a grape (a consolation prize, the office of Secretary of State), while Michelle Obama’s head rests on his lap.
“Rise and Fall” could easily be retitled “The Obama Bacchanal.” In the painting one can see the faces of Tim Geithner, John Kerry, KSM, Oprah, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, David Axelrod, Obama, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, the two party crashers, Rahm Emanuel, Eric Holder, Harry Reid, John Edwards, Bluto (John Belushi, of Animal House notoriety?), Andy Stern, Bill Clinton, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, Barney Frank, and Kevin Jennings. All the usual suspects. The five statues are of Che Guevara, Saul Alinsky, Obama, Chairman Mao, and Vladimir Lenin. The reworked statues to the right and left represent the essential ideology of the current administration and its adherents in Congress.
Who is missing from this gallery of rogues? One would need to recreate a Colosseum-sized banquet hall to include just the more prominent but absent Democratic Party animals in the Obama bacchanal: Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd, Charles Rangel, Henry “Pigman” Waxman, Sonia Sotomayor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Janet Napolitano, Kathleen Sebelius, Bill Ayers, Steny Hoyer, and Alan Grayson. Press secretary Robert Gibbs could be portrayed as a puckish court jester, outfitted in the traditional donkey-eared cap with bells, pointy slippers, brandishing a mock scepter, and performing an amusing dance on the backs of the prone, submissive figures of Goldman-Sachs executives in hair shirts.
Mohammed and Obama should be regularly and offensively characterized as the destructive demons they are. The ineradicable facts about them, so widely disseminated in books, studies, and testimony, available to anyone who chooses to see and to think, support such expression. One demon represents the religious variation of censorship; the other represents an intention to practice the secular version. Free-thinking Americans should oppose both, speak out, and support anyone targeted and personalized by either faction.
And, in the meantime, they should draw the images of both “prophets” to their hearts’ content.