The “South Park” Speech We Wish The President Would Give

Obviously, this president won’t say anything of any substance about the controversy over the recent “South Park” episode making fun of the Muslim prohibition on showing images of the prophet Muhammad. The South Park kerfuffle has brought to a head something which has been brewing for a long time – namely, the incompatibility of Islam, and in particular Wahhabi Islam and sharia law, with a modern, open, democratic society. The understandable cowardice of Comedy Central in censoring the South Park episode so as to protect the lives and property of its employees from Muslim terrorists, after South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were threatened by internet savages at a site called RevolutionMuslim.com, is just another example of what Ross Douthat described in the New York Times today:

In a way, the muzzling of “South Park” is no more disquieting than any other example of Western institutions’ cowering before the threat of Islamist violence. It’s no worse than the German opera house that temporarily suspended performances of Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” because it included a scene featuring Muhammad’s severed head. Or Random House’s decision to cancel the publication of a novel about the prophet’s third wife. Or Yale University Press’s refusal to publish the controversial Danish cartoons … in a book about the Danish cartoon crisis. Or the fact that various Western journalists, intellectuals and politicians — the list includes Oriana Fallaci in Italy, Michel Houellebecq in France, Mark Steyn in Canada and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands — have been hauled before courts and “human rights” tribunals, in supposedly liberal societies, for daring to give offense to Islam.

The examples Douthat offers, or at least most of them, are disappointing. They represent, as he later points out, evidence of a society in decline, one which has lost its conviction for self-promotion or even self-preservation. Certainly one wouldn’t expect the management or employees of Yale University Press or Random House or Comedy Central to swear an oath to die for our way of life if necessary, but it would be as welcome as unexpected if that were to be the case. It would constitute societal leadership, and a standing-up for the right of free speech – even that speech which makes us uncomfortable. We’re supposed to believe that to be a fundamental element of Western civilization and a big show is made of preserving it, except where Islam is concerned.

Even the reaction to the reaction to South Park shows the intimidation some intolerant Muslims have managed in the guardians of Western culture. Seattle-based cartoonist Molly Norris originally was on the right track with her suggestion of an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” in response to the South Park controversy, but upon sparking national interest, she has since run for the hills in fear.

While the private sector can be excused for a lack of leadership on behalf of Western culture, this issue would be a perfect place for a president to set the tone. As said above, the current occupant of the White House will not address the issue of the Muslim “heckler’s veto” over our culture, and his immediate predecessor certainly didn’t do much to stand against the barbarism and intolerance of those who threaten or practice violence at a hint of disrespect to their faith. But perhaps someday we’ll have a president who would defend American culture in a speech like this:

“Today I’m weighing in on an issue which on the surface isn’t all that serious a matter. But for some time we’ve seen a disturbing interference in the freedom of expression on the subject of Islam, and the recent controversy over a South Park episode which does little more than mention the prophet Muhammad has brought to light a subtle but substantial threat to our very way of life. And I’m not going to be quiet about it.

“I am president of the entire United States, and as such my job is to serve folks of every conceivable religious background. Americans are, among other things, Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Episcopalians, Methodists, Hindus, Amish, atheists, agnostics, Quakers, Buddhists, scientologists – and Muslims. And as it happens, virtually all of those groups have been subjected to the “horror” of having been poked fun at. Probably by South Park, as it happens.

“I know a good bit about this. I’m the President. Probably no American gets to be the brunt of more jokes than I do. Some of them are funny, some aren’t. All of them are protected by the freedom of speech.

“I have the ability to press a button and bring on a nuclear holocaust which wipes out virtually everyone. So if I can stand jokes being made at my expense without acting to destroy the freedoms of my fellow man, even those I disagree with, so can everyone else.

“And that includes Muslims.

“It is not acceptable for a minority of Muslims to sully the reputation of the religion as a whole by threatening or practicing violence against those who might poke fun at their faith. No other religion’s practitioners react violently to being treated as the rest of us are. Muslims who come to America do so to embrace – and be embraced by – our freedoms and the prosperous lives which have resulted from them. But with freedom comes responsibility, and we all have the responsibility to get along with one another. Threatening violence over cartoons or critical examination is wrong, and it’s unacceptable.

“I will not propose legislation on this issue, and I will not abuse my power to impinge upon the rights and liberties of America’s citizens to address this question. But I will use my bully pulpit to say this – leave South Park alone. Leave the book publishers alone. If you want Islam to be treated with respect, you’re going to need to treat people of other faiths with respect. And that means they have the right to criticize you, question you, even ridicule you. You have the right to make your own case, or even to protest what you may feel to be untrue statements. But threatening the lives or property of your fellow man is unacceptable, and we won’t stand for it.”

Since we don’t have such a president, perhaps we Americans will have to lead from below. One potential suggestion is to participate in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day on May 20. We at The Hayride will be happy to publish submissions which are not vulgar, profane or overtly defamatory or in poor taste; the point of the exercise is the promotion of free speech and not particularly an assault on Islam.

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