I’ve Learned Something Today (3 of 3)

Do South Park’s last two episodes constitute an insult to Muslims? In the opinion of Revolution Muslim, it all comes down to a rather simple question: “Is there a purpose, other than evil, in insulting something someone holds sacred?” I would answer that question with an unqualified yes.

A simple example: The Catholic Church holds its hierarchy sacred, but we can and must insult the craven hypocrisy of Pope Benedict II, who continues to protect the child molesters in his employ. Here the purpose of insulting the Pope–who is supposed to be infallible, remember–is to stop trusted authority figures from raping children. The purpose is to stop evil, because sacred institutions are perfectly capable of the most horrific evil.

One must believe that sacred institutions can do evil, unless one wants to say that everything every religion does is good–which would be paradoxical, since the world’s myriad religions openly (and often productively) contradict one another. And if religions can do evil, then we have to be able to call them out on it. In the case of Catholic priests raping children, the evil would be in not attacking the sacred institution in question.

Since this point is such an important one, let us examine Revolution Muslim‘s argument in a little more detail. I would like to speak directly to Revolution Muslim.

While insulting Jesus, Moses, or any other prophet would remove someone from Islam, we Muslims are also forbidden to insult the deities that other religions hold in high esteem. Allah says in the Qur’an:

وَلاَ تَسُبُّواْ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللّهِ فَيَسُبُّواْ اللّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ

Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully revile Allah through ignorance.

Therefore, as Muslims we do not define speech which has no place in a moral society as “free speech.”

Because I cannot read Arabic, I am utterly at the mercy of the translator as far as the wording of that Koranic quotation goes. But it seems to me that “reviling” is quite different from satirizing. Satires do not hate everything they mock. I believe that your assertion–that “speech which has no place in a moral society” is not “free speech”–confuses a moral society with a society in which everyone agrees about everything.

The entire point of free speech is that speech must be allowed to occur even if it offends people. That is precisely what makes free speech necessary. Without that safeguard, sacred institutions could do unlimited evil without being questioned or stopped. No individual, no group, and no religion should have the privilege of going unquestioned or uninsulted. A free society cannot afford to grant anyone that privilege.

We would also like Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone to understand the tastelessness of their portrayal, apologize and reflect on the words that follow. An apology or at least recognition of bad taste might not remedy the situation, but it would go a long way toward turning this situation from a gaping wound into an ugly scar.

No one denies that South Park is tasteless. Few satires retain good taste, for the simple reason that good taste is often incompatible with truth. But how has the show’s tastelessness wounded you? Where is the wound?

I do not mean that as a rhetorical question. I honestly want to understand. What gives Muslims the exclusive right not to be satirized, or even to be included in a satire of something else entirely? That is the question that Matt Stone and Trey Parker have asked, and they are still waiting for a satisfactory answer.

If the answer is simply that whoever threatens violence gets whatever he wants, then I resolutely reject that answer as unethical, arrogant, and incredibly dangerous.

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