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Apr 23, 2010, 7:29 PM
Malaysia's conservative Islamic PAS party demanded Friday that the makers of the satirical cartoon sitcom South Park apologize to Muslims around the world for its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad dressed as a bear.
Malaysian Islamists want apology from "South Park"
Comedy Central deleted all references to the prophet from Thursday's show 201 after the show's creators were threatened by a radical Muslim group. The previous week's show and series' two-hundredth episode 200 also met with death threats from Muslim groups for depicting Islam's prophet Muhammad dressed in a bear suit.
"Even though they have added the audio bleeps, South Park's producer and broadcaster should apologize to the Muslims, as this is a sensitive issue," said PAS vice-president Mahfuz Omar. "The show itself spells of bad intention, and the depiction of the Prophet is provocative. It creates religious tension."
Over 60% of Malaysia's 28 million population are Muslim Malays, and Islam is the country's official religion.
The New York-based group Revolution Muslim
warned threatened that SP creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker could share the fate of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim extremist in Amsterdam in 2004.
"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 this show," the posting said. "This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them."
A photo of Van Gogh's body lying in the street appeared with the original posting, which could not be seen by some Web users since news of the threat broke.
In 200, the April 14 episode of the series, Mohammad was shown wearing a bear mascot costume in order to avoid his image being shown. This was the second of two episodes slated to feature the religious founder in a bear costume.
Comedy Central would not comment on the Revolution Muslim blog post or say if it was taking any precautions because of it. However, Parker and Stone made no secret of their displeasure of the network's censorship.
"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," Parker and Stone wrote in a statement posted on their Web site.
The customary closing speech from one character "didn't mention Muhammad at all, but it got bleeped too," they said, noting that -- ironically -- it was to be "about intimidation and fear."
"We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different, and we'll see what happens to it," they observed.
Comedy Central censored the producers' plans to depict Muhammad in the 2006 "Cartoon Wars" episodes of the series. "It's just sad," Stone said of his employers in an interview with boingboing.net.
Ironically, he pointed out, CC continued airing episode from an earlier season in which Muhammad is depicted and speaks, along with such religious leaders as Jesus of Nazareth and Buddha. "It was before the Danish cartoon controversy, so it somehow is fine," Stone said. "After that, [network self-censorship was] "the new normal."
Although UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh expressed sympathy with Comedy Central's dilemma, he said that by the way it handled the threat, the network may have given other extremists encouragement.
"The consequence of this position is that the thugs win and people have more incentive to be thugs," said Volokh, who teaches free speech and religious freedom law. "There are lots of people out there who would very much like to get certain kind of material removed, whether religious or political. The more they see others winning, the more they will be likely to do the same. Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated."
Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, described Revolution Muslim as a relatively small fringe organization.
There are about a dozen members of Revolution Muslim, which was established in 2007. Its Web site has hosted angry and often threatening remarks, including a poem during the High Holy Days last October asking God to kill all the Jews. Its members have also called for a more fundamentalist form of Islam when protesting in front of New York mosques.
Segal doesn't expect Revolution Muslim's warning to lead to the huge protests that followed the controvery of Danish cartoon depictions of Mohammad. However, he said that the group's remarks must be taken seriously.
"You don't know what crazy person is going to respond. This is in context of a relatively silly, funny show, but a threat is a threat," he said.
The FBI declined to comment, although it is aware of the threats. The bureau does not "monitor people or groups, we investigate criminal activity.," Special Agent Richard Kolko, an FBI spokesman in New York, said in a phone interview.
"The FBI will investigate threats that occur over the Internet to determine if there is a potential for the threat to be carried out. However, in most cases these are First Amendment issues, and the FBI vigorously defends people's First Amendment rights."
The New York Police Department was "aware of the threat, and we've looked at it," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "We don't think that this threat, as is currently assessed, rises to a crime right now."
Police investigators have met with Comedy Central staff and "made arrangements to address security concerns," said a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the continuing investigation.
"This group definitely crosses the line, or is right on the line, in terms of what is acceptable speech," Segal said. "There is no direct link between this group and violence yet. But by posting this type of information, you never know who is going to take it seriously."
Revolution Muslim member Younus Abdullah Muhammad repeated the group's claim that the post was a prediction, not a threat.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, he said that the post on the group's blog "was intended in a principle that's deeply rooted in the Islamic religion, which is called commanding the good and forbidding the evil." He linked the group's complaints about the cartoon series to bigger concerns about American support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee was the blogger who posted the warning about South Park. The ADL has identified him as former George Mason University student Zachary A. Chesser, a Virginia resident who has increased hit activity with Revolution Muslim in recent months.
"May Allah kill Matt Stone and Trey Parker and burn them in Hell for all eternity. They insult our prophets Muhammad, Jesus, and Moses," he wrote April on one of his Twitter accounts:
He later posted a clip from an interview of Stone and Parker with the boingboing.net site, in which the host asked if they worried about bombing for depicting the prophet Muhammad on their show. "Perhaps they are not, perhaps they should be, only time will tell," Al-Amrikee commented.
Revolution Muslim is "an extreme fringe group that has absolutely no credibility within the Muslim community," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington.
"In fact, most Muslims suspect they were set up only to make Muslims look bad," Hooper said. "We just have very deep suspicions. They say such outrageous, irresponsible things that it almost seems like they're doing it to smear Islam."
Although Hooper knows about the South Park depiction of Muhammad, CAIR has not issued any formal statement because the organization doesn't want to publicize the show any more, he said: "People are pretty tired of this whole 'Let's insult the prophet Muhammad thing.'"
The latest SP episode, aired Wednesday, displayed some self-censorsihp by Parker and Stone. The character of the Prophet Muhammad, was hidden beneath a "CENSORED" graphic, and an audio bleep was heard when his name was said.
However, Comedy Central has further censored the episode, said a message Thursday morning on SouthParkStudios.com, the Web site of Stone and Parker's company. "After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode," said the message.
The show's creators said that CC isn't letting the episode be streamed on the Web site, where they usually appear after being aired on the network.
A network spokesman confirmed Thursday that Comedy Central had added more bleeps than were in South Park Studios' version, and that it wasn't allowing the episode to appear on the studio's Web site. Instead of its customary midnight repeat of the new South Park episode, Comedy Central showed a previous episode from this season instead.
[Via Australian Associated Press --
http://www.news-mail.com.au/...-from-islamic-party/, Los Angeles Times -- http://www.latimes.com/...0,5617877,full.story, New York Times -- http://www.nytimes.com/....html?ref=television]
(This post was edited by eminovitz on Apr 23, 2010, 8:01 PM)