Expert says Comedy Central censorship signals ‘slow-motion surrender’ in the West

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Comedy Central censored any mention of the word “Muhammad” in a recent “South Park” episode following threats from a radical Islam group, and one terrorism policy expert says the network’s decision is part of a trend of America surrendering its freedom of speech in the face of intimidation.

Clifford May, who presides over the Foundation for Defense of Democracies terrorism policy institute, said “it would be nice” to see artists and film directors “really stand up for freedom” and that “it’s really disappointing when they don’t.”

“What we are seeing, if this continues, is a slow-motion surrender in the West, and that’s a pretty terrible thing,” said May, when asked to comment on the censoring of words in the show. “South Park” in the past has not shied away from depicting religious leaders engaged in outrageous behavior.

Radical New York group Revolution Muslim took to their Web site after last week’s “South Park” episode, which portrayed the prophet Muhammad in a bear costume. Revolution Muslim posted the names and work addresses of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show’s producers, on its Web site and warned that they could end up dead like a Dutch filmmaker who was killed by a Muslim extremist for his portrayal of the prophet.

In this week’s episode, every mention of Muhammad was bleeped out.

“We should be very concerned about intimidation leading to self-censorship. We are seeing this increasingly,” May said. He pointed to the Ayatollah of Iran’s issuance of a fatwa against Westerners in 1989 and to the death of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was killed by an Islamic extremist for his portrayal of Muhammad.

Company spokesman Steve Albani would only confirm to The Daily Caller that “Comedy Central did add additional bleeps to the episode that was delivered by South Park,” but he would not elaborate.

Revolution Muslim is hardly a mainstream organization. Leaders of the radical group have called on Muslims to “rise up” against America, according to a Newsweek article, and they praise Osama bin Laden. “I love him more than I love myself,” one of the group’s leaders told CNN. Yet, law enforcement has said, other than keeping a close eye on them, there’s not much else that can be done.

‘It’s usually a First Amendment right if they don’t cross the threshold of making threats,” an FBI spokesman told Fox News about the group. “There’s nothing we should or could do.”

Albani would also not comment on whether the company has been in touch with the authorities over the group’s threat.

Since news of the censorship broke, there has been outrage among viewers who say the show has no problem poking fun at other religions, despite drawing the line when it comes to Islam.  One viewer expressed his complaint on Twitter this morning: “OK @comedycentral,  [“South Park” episode] ‘201’ shows Buddha snorting coke and Jesus downloading porn, yet you censor the word ‘Muhammad.’ Are you insane?”

May said that, despite the Muslim group calling the Comedy Central show degrading to religion, the disrespect of Christianity and Judaism — and the belief in their religion’s supremacy — is a “vital part of militant Islamism.”

The question remains: Could Comedy Central’s censoring of South Park following threats from an extremist Muslim group actually encourage more terrorism? Comedy Central’s Albani would not speak to that, as well as to any discussions between the network and producers that led to the censorship.

But in a statement posted on their Web site, the producers distanced themselves from the censorship, blaming the network for the bleeps. “In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park, we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode,” they said.

“It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it,” said Parker and Stone.

Revolution Muslim’s Web site appeared to be down Friday afternoon after reports surfaced that it had been briefly hacked, and its leaders could not be reached for comment. Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee had written on the Web site that the show “outright insulted” Muhammad and added 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,” Al-Amrikee wrote.

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