Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The "passive-aggressive death threat"/"informal fatwa" must be culturally resisted

There are so many things going on presently, including the daily doses of hubris on Capitol Hill from Goldman Sachs executives and one arrogant young man, dubbed by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, Wall Street's Mr. Fabu-less, also known as Fabrice Tourre, mastermind of the scheme that succeeded in getting Goldman Sachs sued by the S.E.C., and author of such e-mail missives as, "The whole building is about to collapse anytime now. Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab . . . standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implications of those monstruosities!!!" Okay, enough about all that, monstruosities, indeed!

I now turn my attention to a most troubling development: the assault on free speech by on-line jihadists right here in the United States. I am referring to Comedy Central's decision to censor the recently re-broadcast Super Best Friends episode of South Park due to commercial pressures, which still resulted in a threat by one Zachary Adam Chesser, a twenty year old convert to Islam, who lives in Virginia, and who now goes by the name Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee. Al-Amrikee simply means "the American" in Arabic. Due to the fears of the not-so-brave folks at Comedy Central, you can't even livestream Super Best Friends from According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who knows a bit about death threats from the Islamic fringe, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Zach found this installment of South Park, "which trotted out many celebrities the show has previously satirized, also 'featured' the Prophet Muhammad: He was heard once from within a U-Haul truck and a second time from inside a bear costume," offensive and issued what Hirsi Ali calls an "informal fatwa" against South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on, which seems to have subsequently gone off-line. While I readily admit to not being a huge South Park fan, I do enjoy it from time-to-time. Most recently I thoroughly enjoyed Make Love, Not Warcraft, which I saw for the first time, despite the fact it originally aired in 2006, just to give you an idea.

Hirsi Ali, citing Zach's missive, writes that he reckons for their blasphemy Parker and Stone "will probably end up" like Dutch film-maker, Hirsi Ali's collaborator on the film Submission, Theo van Gogh. "Van Gogh, readers will remember," continues Ayaan, "was the Dutch filmmaker who was brutally murdered in 2004 on the streets of Amsterdam. He was killed for producing 'Submission,' a film that criticized the subordinate role of women in Islam, with me." You can watch Submission on-line, beginning with part one below:


Coming from my cultural and religious background, this film also depicts very well why I am a staunch opponent of plural marriage as practiced among certain groups and, at least here in Utah, often indulgently tolerated.

Of course, Hirsi Ali, a former member of the Dutch parliament, while not, as it turned out, exactly in the Netherlands legally, having lied on her asylum application, all of which has since been resolved; she remains a Dutch citizen, though now living in the U.S., requires 24 hour protection, much like Salman Rushdie, who has lived under a fatwa, issued by the late Ayatollah Khomeni, since 1989.

Both Ross Douthat and Kathleen Parker weighed in on the side of free speech.

I am on-board with Ms. Hirsi Ali's proposals:

1)"One way of reducing the cost is to organize a solidarity campaign. The entertainment business, especially Hollywood, is one of the wealthiest and most powerful industries in the world. Following the example of Jon Stewart, who used the first segment of his April 22 show to defend 'South Park,' producers, actors, writers, musicians and other entertainers could lead such an effort." Given my very small sphere of influence, I will use my blog to stand in solidarity with Parker and Stone. Rather than castigate Coemdy Central, let's stand together.

2) "Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with." Because I am a Christian, whose faith is routinely ridiculed, caricatured, and degraded, and because I have a healthy respect for Islam and Muslim friends, I will not do anything to insult the sensitivities of true Muslims, those hundreds of millions of devout men and women, who seek to surrender themselves to the will of Allah, which is the Arabic word for God, the same word used by Arabic-speaking Christians to call upon the Almighty. As Nostra Aetate, promulgated by Vatican II, says: "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God" (par. 3). Nonetheless, I do not hesitate to push for reforms in Muslim countries and the abolition of many so-called Islamic practices that are neither in the Qu'ran nor the hadiths, but primitive cultural accretions that pre-exist Islam, like female circumcision and other unjust and cruel practices against women.

I agree with Douthat when he writes: "if a violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship, it suggests that there’s enough rot in our institutions that a stronger foe might be able to bring them crashing down." I am glad that he mentioned last year's controversy at Yale University Press over its fear-driven decision to publish the book The Cartoons that Shook the World, edited by Jytte Klausen, which is an anthology of academic essays regarding the 12 cartoons by different artists published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper back in September 2005, without the cartoons appearing anywhere in the book and over the stringent objections of the book's editor. It was these cartoons that sparked widespread violence and attacks in 2006-07 in Europe and parts of the Muslim world.

Christos Anesti

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