Super Best Friends
South Park's Super Best Friends: Who's that fellow on the right?

In the face of threats and intimidation from religious zealots, do you submit or do you speak up? Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of “South Park,” speak up — often hilariously and crudely. Comedy Central, the network that broadcasts “South Park,” decided this week it would be better to submit. The decision to censor an episode lampooning the fear and hysteria surrounding depictions of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, sets a very bad precedent.

The Associated Press reports Friday:

Producers of “South Park” said Thursday that Comedy Central removed a speech about intimidation and fear from their show after a radical Muslim group warned that they could be killed for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

It came during about 35 seconds of dialogue between the cartoon characters of Kyle, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus that was bleeped out.

“It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part,” producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone said. Comedy Central declined to comment.

I haven’t watched the latest episode of South Park yet, and evidently I won’t be able to either until it appears on DVD or Comedy Central relents and allows the episode to rerun. Episode 201 was scheduled to air again Thursday night, but Comedy Central subbed in the episode from April 8.  But judging from last week’s 200th episode controversy, I knew it would be radioactive.

The New York Times reported Thursday:

An episode of “South Park” that continued a story line involving the Prophet Muhammad was shown Wednesday night on Comedy Central with audio bleeps and image blocks reading “CENSORED” after a Muslim group warned the show’s creators that they could face violence for depicting that holy Islamic prophet. Revolution Muslim, a group based in New York, wrote on its Web site that the “South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker “will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh” for an episode shown last week in which a character said to be the Prophet Muhammad was seen wearing a bear costume. Mr. Van Gogh was slain in Amsterdam in 2004 after making a film that discussed the abuse of Muslim women in some Islamic societies.

The new episode of “South Park” on Wednesday night tried to revisit this character, but with the name and depiction of the character blocked out.

If you visit the South Park Studios website, you’ll find the following:

South Park’s irreverence is not to everyone’s liking, I realize. But the position of Viacom, the media conglomerate that owns Comedy Central, MTV, and other cable networks, is sickening. Do you know what Comedy Central “bleeped” out? Not the F-word, the C-word, or the Z-word — those are already on the bad list.

No, Comedy Central bleeped the M-word: Muhammad.

In an era in which virtually no subject, however disgusting, is taboo on television, the very name of Islam’s holy figure is barred from the airwaves.

Recall how most American newspapers refused to publish the Danish Muhammad cartoons a few years ago. My employer at the time, the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California, was one rare exception. Even then, the paper only printed one of the more innocuous images. Although the publisher was supportive, the newsroom reacted with horror. The paper’s religion reporter argued strenuously that we would alienate a swath of readers and there would be a backlash. (There wasn’t one.)

Now, the difference between a newspaper publishing a potentially offensive cartoon and Parker and Stone going out of their way to offend Muslims is the media in the former instance had an obligation to readers and viewers to put the controversy in some sort of context. Why were Muslims rioting in Gaza and Cairo over these cartoons? Why were the cartoonists in hiding? Well, here’s why. Judge for yourselves. Most newspapers failed to do their job.

Surrendering to the phony notion that depicting Muhammad is blasphemy while allowing ridicule of other religions is hypocritical and cowardly at best. I suppose Viacom could make the not unreasonable argument that gratuitously offending a segment of its audience does not serve the bottom line. But this hasn’t stopped “South Park” from going after Scientology, which has well-paid lawyers, or the Catholic Church, whose American adherents far outnumber Muslims.

More likely, Viacom would say it does not want to endanger the lives of its employees. It’s worth noting that Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has been a frequent and persistent critic of “South Park.” But nobody expects an irate Catholic to shoot and stab Parker and Stone in broad daylight, as a jihadist in Amsterdam did to filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in 2004. So South Park’s Catholic-bashing continues unabated.

David Goldman (a.k.a. Spengler) at First Things opines: “We are living under censorship by terrorists. Even South Park can’t make fun of [censored], and I can’t say anything about the fact that [censored] had a father and stepfather who were both [censored], not to mention offer comments about [censored]’s mother.”

And Greg Pollowitz at NRO’s Media blog quips: “If were named, I suspect we’d see more coverage of their demands and threats.”

Robert Spencer at Jihad Watch is not happy at all: “Comedy Central submits to Islamic intimidation — now South Park cannot even say the word “Muhammad.” This is why Islamic supremacists issue threats and practice intimidation in the first place: because it works.”

Glenn Reynolds has a slightly more snarky take: “Obviously, Christians — and Sarah Palin fans, and lovers of My Mother The Car — should take heed of this incentive system our modern media is creating. Don’t want things you treasure satirized? Just issue a “prediction” and — voila!”

Ann Althouse praises Parker and Stone: “I have no end of respect for Stone and Parker. What brilliant artists! What political heroes!”

“Allahpundit” at Hot Air pronounces on what is permitted and what is haraam: “Mohammed also figured in last week’s episode; he wasn’t shown, per Comedy Central’s policy in recent years of bowing to Islamic blasphemy laws, but his name was mentioned in the dialogue. This week, after the new threats from filthbags like al-Amrikee, even that was gone. So absurd was it that some South Park fans thought Trey Parker and Matt Stone might have bleeped the name themselves as a goof. Not so.”

Woody Hochswender at Big Hollywood sounds the alarm: “Stone and Parker are — like Theo Van Gogh — free-speech fundamentalists. Are we going to allow courageous artists to go it alone? We can’t let the bullies win.”

Commentary’s Abe Greenwald is disappointed with Viacom’s spinelessness: “What’s a “Muslim Group”? Call me old-fashioned, but I thought bodies that reportedly threatened violence and murder because of the portrayal of religious figures were called alleged terrorists. I just hope someone tracks this angry bunch down before they’re able to pull off a deadly act of groupism.”

The Denver Post’s David Harsanyi observes: “Needless to say, Voltaire is not in charge of Viacom. So if you’re interested in working as a part-time censor for Comedy Central, all you need is a violent temperament, a demented ideology and a poorly constructed website.”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed the great Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who lives under 24-hour protection because of a jihadist fatwa:

Parker and Stone issued a statement Thursday afternoon, which the New York Times posted:

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.

One question is whether Parker and Stone could take their show elsewhere. If Viacom has lost the nerve to stand up to savagery, perhaps another company could find it?

A version of this post first appeared at Freedom Pub.