CFI Condemns Intimidation of Comedy Central; Urges Solidarity in the Face of Threats

April 29, 2010

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) condemns the threats, express and implied, that were made against the producers of the show South Park by certain extremist Muslims offended by references to, and oblique depictions of, the prophet Muhammad on a recent episode of the show. (Muhammad was never actually shown, but the episode suggested he was inside a bear costume.) After the threats, Comedy Central censored a subsequent episode, deleting all references to Muhammad.

“Free expression is the cornerstone of a free society,” maintains Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of CFI. “No belief, no public figure, should be immune from criticism, whether that criticism takes the form of a book, an article in an academic journal, or a cartoon. What is especially disturbing about the South Park controversy is that the show did not even criticize Islam or Muhammad—it merely included Muhammad as a character along with many other famous figures. It is intolerable that the producers of South Park were threatened with violence.”

Noted Islamic scholar and CFI research fellow Ibn Warraq said, “Ever since Ayatollah Khomeini’s negative review of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses , Islamists, imams, and influential Muslim religious leaders have threatened violence to writers, artists, and any one else considered to have insulted their religion.”

Warraq believes strongly that publishers should stand by their writers and newspapers by their cartoonists. “While it is commendable and understandable to wish to protect, for example, the personnel of a publishing house, if the decision of a publisher to publish material considered blasphemous by Muslims leads to widespread violence, this violence cannot possibly be considered morally or legally the responsibility of the said publisher. The publisher, writer, comedian, cartoonist is exercising his or her constitutional right, and if threatened, the state should give, unbegrudgingly, every protection possible,” said Warraq.   

The controversy over the threats to the producers of South Park has sparked a second controversy, namely the disputes surrounding the announcement and subsequent cancellation (or attempted cancellation) of a “Draw Muhammad Day” by a Seattle cartoonist. Individuals were invited to depict Muhammad in any way they desired on May 20. Following criticism that this event unfairly targeted Muslims and that its primary purpose was to offend, the cartoonist has disavowed the initiative.
 
Opponents of free expression latched on to the “Draw Muhammad Day” event as an opportunity to score some rhetorical points and invoke the favorite bugbear of the politically correct: hate speech. But people want to be free to depict Muhammad not because they hate Muslims but because they love free speech, and they do not believe Muhammad should be treated any better—or any worse—than anyone else. 

CFI is strongly committed to free expression, and urges all who are interested in supporting free expression to show solidarity with those threatened by Muslim extremists. How individuals manifest their solidarity should be left up to them. But depictions of Muhammad would not be inappropriate. Taboos persist only as long as people allow them to control their conduct.

Added Warraq, “Unless we show greater solidarity, massive, public, noisy solidarity and show that we care for our freedoms, we risk losing all to Muslim thuggery.”