Coexistence in Crisis and the Devolution of Satire

Shaykh Jihad Hashim Brown
22 May 2010 | The National Newspaper

This article originally appeared in the newspaper on the above date. It was edited on 23 May 2010 by the author and appears below.

“There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins”

– Isaac Hayes on his leaving South Park in March 2006

Of the many dumb things that Muslims have done, attacking South Park has to count among the top five. You never enter into an argument with someone whose disrespect for others knows no bounds. A more intelligent person would have known that such a move would open an almighty can of worms.

Most Muslims did not pick up on the twist that the comedy was directed at a bear suit allegedly containing the Prophet Muhammad. In the end it turned out to be Santa Claus – an attempt to point to the absurdity of the whole situation.

Some said that Muslims themselves empowered the cartoonists by acknowledging that their drawings had any relationship at all to the actual Prophet. However, this logic does not play out; these activities do constitute an attack on something every Muslim holds dear to the heart.

At the same time, death threats? This is obviously disproportionate. It only reinforces the premise of the cartoons. The logic will be inevitably that if the followers who represent the Prophet Mohammed are violent, then the Prophet also must have been violent. And now the almighty can of worms has bestowed upon us “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day”.

South Park, as the bottomless wood-chipper of everything near and dear (the mechanisation of nihilism if you will), is a particular outgrowth of American popular angst. I get it, a complete audit of everything as of yet un-ridiculed and then to systematically subject anything that might be accused of taking itself seriously to “the business”.

But to expect – even demand – that anyone who hasn’t graduated from an American high school also get it, is simply unfair.

Ridiculing those who have been arrogant and have hurt others is understandable and justifiable. But the Prophet Mohammed never took himself seriously; rather, he took seriously the well-being of others. Matt and Trey (South Park’s creators) are not ready for international markets. They are better off sticking within their own American context; it’s a different ball game out here.

Mainstream Muslims have been so far extraordinarily accommodating, given the circumstances. They have been relatively co-operative with two wars, industrial strength, civilian death tolls and the mandated curtailment of faith practice in their own countries. They have been relatively quiet about less than surgical air strikes and continuous subjection to “random” racial profiling. Now Muslim women are to have their modesty routinely subjected to compromising body scans. All the while the resurrection of the western civilisation is played out on the top of their heads.

These cartoonists and amateur satirists believe it to be their right to force each and every person to join in the ridicule of what they hold sacred. That’s all well and good if that’s what “turns you on”, but they’ve just picked a really bad time for it.

This whole cartoon episode has got Muslims feeling kicked in the teeth while they’re already down. The question is, will Matt and Trey and company allow them to maintain some semblance of dignity intact, if only vicariously through the person of their Prophet?

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