Kyle, Cartman & free speech: It’s time everyone lightened up

Suhail Khan Institute for Global Engagement
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It’s always sad to see bad behavior rewarded in any way. When a spoiled hotel heiress makes a naughty home video and instantly becomes a popular celebrity, or a tacky couple shamelessly crashes a White House event and is green-lighted for a reality TV show, we all feel a bit uneasy. (And don’t even get me started on dubious cultural icons  like Bret Michaels of VH1’s “Rock of Love”, Snooki, or Mike a.k.a. The Situation of MTV’s “Jersey Shore”).

The latest instance of unwarranted and undeserved attention surrounds a threatening online condemnation made by two extremist morons at a radical website aimed at the creators of the popular Comedy Central show “South Park.” The show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, humorously depicted the Muslim Prophet Mohammed disguised in a bear suit in the show’s recently-aired 200th episode.

Never mind the fact Parker and Stone are equal-opportunity offenders of everyone; Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Jennifer Lopez, not to mention FCC censors (who can forget the hilariously irreverant exchange between Kim Jong Il and the UN’s late Hans Blix in “Team America”?). And never mind that they had previously included a Prophet Muhammed character in an episode of the show a few years ago with nary a whimper. (The July 2001 episode entitled “Super Best Friends” included Jesus, Buddha, the Prophet Mohammed and other religious figures as the “Super Best Friends”). Now, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the 2005 controversy over the now infamous Danish cartoons (negatively featuring the Prophet Muhammed), a couple self-proclaimed defenders of the faith have taken it upon themselves to level not-so-veiled threats against Stone and Parker. These guys need to seriously lighten-up.

Worse, the on-line threats and condemnation made by these guys and the ensuing media hoopla has only served to obscure the fact that there are real racists and bigots out there who make all manner of threatening statements. Next week, for example, some Members of Congress unfortunately plan to host a National Day of Prayer event featuring evangelist Frankllin Graham. who has described Islam as ”a very evil and wicked religion.” Similarly, televangelist Pat Robertson recently warned his viewers, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world.” In another telecast, Robertson railed: “These people are crazed fanatics, and I want to say it now: I believe it’s motivated by demonic power. It is satanic and it’s time we recognize what we’re dealing with.”

And such hateful statements are not limited to religious fanatics. After claiming, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” (when referring to Muslims), best-selling author and TV personality Ann Coulter declared that “Jews need to be perfected by becoming Christians.”

Now, just as Parker and Stone enjoy a First Amendment right to entertain and even offend their viewers, televangelists, politicians and even columnists enjoy the same right to make their views heard, even if those views are misguided and even hateful. However, in exercising that fundamental constitutional right, we must also be cognizant that words have power and can often lead to positive and, unfortunately, negative action. And this is even more so in the emotionally-charged days since the tragedy of the September 11 attacks.

Just weeks after September 11, for example, two individuals associated with the violent Jewish Defense League were arrested plotting to bomb American Arab and Muslim targets including the offices of Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of Southern California. When the FBI searched through the plotters’ bomb-making materials and weapons, they came across the hate-filled ramblings of Debbie Schlussel, a fringe wingnut who ignorantly describes Issa, who happens to be of Lebanese Christian origin, as “Jihad Darrell.” And we know scores of Muslims, Arabs, and Americans thought to be either, were victims of vicious attacks and even murdered by angry individuals seeking revenge for the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Words do matter, and those irresponsibly driven by hate (as opposed to harmless humor), are often dangerous. Let’s preserve and exercise our First Amendment rights, but let’s do so responsibly. In the meantime, I think we can all afford to sit back and laugh at the latest irreverant episode of “South Park” “Family Guy” or heck maybe even “Jersey Shore.”

Suhail A. Khan serves on the Board of Directors for the American Conservative Union and as a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, a Christian organization dedicated to religious freedom worldwide. He is also a Colorado native, and yes a “South Park” fan.