If the war against Islamic extremism were left to Comedy Central, it would have been lost by now. The network's decision to censor last week's episode of "South Park" depicting Muhammad was an act of unilateral surrender in the face of violent jihadist threats.
"South Park" first depicted Muhammad in July 2001 in an episode in which representatives of major religions were envisioned as superheroes. No one objected. A second depiction in 2006 - intended as commentary on the 2005 controversy in which a Danish newspaper was threatened by Islamic radicals after running cartoons satirizing Muhammad - was censored. Last week's censorship was heavier still. "South Park" co-creator Matt Stone observed that this marked a cultural retreat. Censorship became "the new normal," he said. "We lost. Something that was OK is now not OK." His creative partner, Trey Parker, noted that if "everyone would have rallied together" after the first threats in Denmark, there never would have been a problem.
Comedy Central was not taking a principled stand against blasphemy because the episode showed Buddha snorting cocaine and - most outrageously - Jesus downloading Internet porn. "South Park" is an equal-opportunity slayer of sacred cows, both sectarian and secular, but the network is sending a message that it plays favorites to jihadists because they are the only ones who threaten violence.
The biggest losers are American Muslims because this reinforces the stereotype that their religion is represented by backward extremists who aren't ready for modernity and cannot cope with the sometimes uncomfortable freedoms of liberal society. American scholar and terrorism expert Walid Phares told The Washington Times, "This new crisis shows the fault line between jihadism and liberal democracies. Liberals, conservatives and moderate Muslims should respond to the jihadists: 'We stand by South Park's freedom of speech even if we do not agree with their art and comments.'"
The big winner was the Revolution Muslim website and one of its contributors, armchair jihadist Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, aka Zachary A. Chesser, a Virginia college dropout. He posted an implicit threat against the network that it might "end up like" Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered for making a film about the abuse of Muslim women. This threat was reported widely as the reason for the censorship. But even Comedy Central's heavy redactions did not satisfy Mr. Chesser, who the day after the broadcast tweeted to his followers, "May Allah kill Matt Stone and Trey Parker and burn them in Hell for all eternity." Rewarding these antics only empowers such people; we can expect to hear more from them.
Comedy Central needs to understand that there is nothing funny about caving to the demands of terrorists.