It's tempting to view this week's media firestorm over a radical Islamist group's threats against creators of a television comedy cynically. The 200th episode of the animated Comedy Central series "South Park" featured the prophet Mohammed in a bear suit.
South Park routinely lampoons religious figures including Jesus. In this episode, a central plot involved the question of whether and how an image of the prophet could be shown without offending radical Muslims. Because as that lovable scamp Cartman explains:
"Mohammad is the only person in the world that can't get ripped on."
Thus, the bear suit. Nothing negative was said about the prophet and no image of him was shown.
A radical, New York-based Islamist group posted a video in response saying the depiction defamed the prophet and compared show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker to Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh. Van Gogh was slaughtered on an Amsterdam street in 2004 following the production of "Submission," which presented a highly critical portrayal of the treatment of women in Islam.
Sounding every bit like a mafia extortionist, a Revolution Muslim official claimed the video is not a threat, but a warning of what might happen to Stone and Parker.
The story is among the hottest out there, drawing coverage from CNN, the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, just to name a few.
Revolution Muslim's web site was down Wednesday afternoon, perhaps overwhelmed by traffic. And the attention isn't likely to hurt "South Park" ratings.
But as the Van Gogh murder shows, the message is a threat and any lone extremist is capable of acting on it. It includes this:
"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 the show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them."
Entertainment Weekly notes that the Revolution Muslim response includes a recording of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American cleric considered an inspiration to a spate of recent terror attacks, including the Fort Hood massacre and the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing over Detroit.
Revolution Muslim long has offered radical rhetoric supporting "jihad" against the West and praising al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. As we previously reported:
"Revolution Muslim pushes the limits of the First Amendment freedom of speech protections in showing support for violence."
Their "warning" to Parker and Stone included the addresses of their Los Angeles production company and of Comedy Central's New York office.
This follows a pattern of intimidation and violence meant to silence literature and other expressions deemed offensive by the radicals after the Van Gogh murder. In 2007, British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for insulting the prophet. Her crime? The class of seven year-olds she was teaching at Unity High School in Sudan named a teddy bear Mohammad. As part of the exercise, Ms. Gibbons told her pupils to take the bear home, photograph it, and write a diary entry about it. The entries were collected in a book, "My Name is Muhammad." Her punishment of 15 days imprisonment and deportation was not viewed as harsh enough, with over 10,000 protestors taking to the streets to demand her execution.
Even more disturbing however, was the 2005 controversy which erupted over cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammad. On September 30, 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a dozen editorial cartoons most of which depicted the prophet Mohammad. The result was violent protests throughout the Muslim and Western world, resulting in more than 100 deaths, the burning of Western embassies, and death threats against one of the cartoonists Lars Vilks.
In 2008, Random House dropped plans to publish The Jewel of Medina, a fictional account of the life of the prophet's wife A'isha due to a fear of a violent backlash. The home of the British publisher was the target of an arson attempt weeks later.
As we have previously reported, RevolutionMuslim.com has become a mouthpiece for radical Islamist ideology. The "South Park" episode was intended to be controversial. It mocked everybody. And Revolution Muslim took the bait and made a big deal out of a television show. An animated comedy at that.
"South Park's" critics find often some of its content offensive. But most just opt not to watch.