The latest flap concerning Muslim extremists getting bent out of shape over a South Park episode, and how the network censored images of the prophet, is a case of history repeating itself.
A previous ep from 2006 supposedly depicted Mohammad, until the network excised all images of that particular worthy. They even went so far as to bleep out every utterance of his name. All done in the fear that, unless appeased, intolerant practitioners of the Religion of Peace would indulge in an orgy of bloodshed and fire.
I wrote Comedy Central at the time, taking them to task for their shameless act of cowardice. I received a well spoken, thoughtfully composed reply that explained the concerns of the network.
Comedy Central reaches an audience worldwide. While people in the United States can enjoy a government that will protect their fundamental right to free speech, such a right is not recognized practically anywhere else on the globe. Allowing images that inflame the passions of intolerant and violent ideologues to be shown is not an act of bravery for executives and employees that enjoy the protection of the Constitution, but it could very well place the very lives of innocent foreign employees, and their families, in grave peril. Would it not be the responsible act to try and safeguard those lives if possible?
Before anyone dismisses this viewpoint out of hand, please take a moment for introspection. Would you be so quick to urge that the South Park episode in question be shown without altering if your life, and the lives of your family, were on the line? And those closest to you might be the focus of horrific violence simply due to a cartoon?
Consider, if you will, that people who were not more than peripherally involved in the book The Satanic Verses have been brutally killed. The Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in Tokyo, and the Italian translator attacked in Milan. Censorship at the edge of a knife.
Not only that, but 37 people were burned to death in a hotel fire set by those protesting the Turkish translator. Completely uninvolved with the issue they were, nothing more than simple travelers enjoying the hospitality of a local hotel. But victims of an agonizing and unwarranted death all the same.
How do I feel about all of this?
Considering my own charity work, I have a great deal of sympathy to the position taken by Comedy Central. Not only do I have no desire to place such danger on the heads of innocents, but I have also sacrificed in order to help safeguard people like them. If I could place myself between them and those who want to do harm, then I would.
But I also recognize that this is but a very small part of a much wider struggle. Violent extremists of any ilk always follow the same pattern, constantly seeking controversy and conflict in an effort to see how far they will be allowed to go. If they are unopposed, then they simply escalate. Do nothing, and the amount of violence is increased.
The good people at Comedy Central probably think this whole thing is terribly unfair. They are trying to earn an honest living through bringing ha-ha entertainment to the world. Where in the job description did it mention that they would be the focus of a free speech issue? And one backed by what could be very real violence, to boot!
But someone has to make a stand somewhere. If they pass the responsibility off, then even more lives will be at stake the next time around.