South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have become the latest in a long line of people to run afoul of Muslim extremists - for depicting the Prophet Mohammed in last week’s 200th episode of their Comedy Central show.
In the episode, the Prophet was thought to be hidden in a bear costume (as depictions of the Prophet are verboten). It spurred threats from a New York-based group called Revolution Muslim, which warned on its web site that Parker and Stone could “end up like Theo Van Gogh,” the Dutch journalist who was murdered in 2004 after producing a film about violence against women within Islam.
The Prophet was referenced in last night’s episode as well, part two of the episode arc. But this time, Comedy Central executives put a black bar over the entity thought to be Mohammed and bleeped all dialogue referring to him, including the final speeches from Kyle and company about what the entire episode taught them.
In 2006, the Cartoon Wars episode of South Park, which parodied the Danish cartoon controversy, also got the black bar treatment.
Last week, representatives of Revolution Muslim claimed in media interviews and a blog post that they only intended to create a “deeper and more productive dialogue,” and were not threatening Parker and Stone. But the site features violent imagery including a photo of a Muslim man holding a sign that reads: “May Allah make a mushroom cloud over Israel.”
Revolution Muslim’s semantic argument notwithstanding, South Park has depicted Muhammad - as himself - multiple times going all the way back to July 2001.
In that episode, the fifth season’s Super Best Friends, several religious figures including Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Joseph Smith and Muhammad appeared as themselves. The episode did not raise any extremist hackles. And since then Muhammad has appeared multiple times in the opening credits - in the montage in front of South Park’s town hall with dozens of other characters.
And while episode 201 revealed that Mohammed was not in fact in the bear costume - it was Santa Clause - Comedy Central executives have nevertheless decided not to make the episode available on the South Park web site.
UPDATE: Parker and Stone posted a statement on the South Park web site blasting Comedy Central for festooning episode 201 with bleeps.
“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. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.”