Freedom to Say "Oh No He Didn't!"
Published: Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 00:05
Well here we are, my last article for the SCCougar; the bittersweet end to my Community College writing career. Originally, my finale was going to be dedicated to our English department, including a section about our very own Professor Gray's fantastic teaching trip abroad across the big lake over in England, as sort of a thank you for helping me find my interest in writing. While I did get to hear all about Ms. Gray's incredible trip, the rest of my plans for the article didn't pan out as expected. It was a classic case of what we in the writing business like to call, ‘Community College luck'.
I was stuck in a dilemma; I had no article to write about and only four days to procrastinate. Knowing that this was my last semester here, that this was the culmination of everything I've ever done at the Community College, the article had to be something edgy, something fresh, something with pizazz. I sat in my room, sipping my coffee and exploring my thoughts for ideas. I could write about the recent election for the legalization of medicinal marijuana in Cottleville, which was only five votes away from being passed. Nah, my last two big hits were drug articles; I can't be a one trick pony. I could write about the rumors of the underground prostitution ring at the Community College. Nah, I don't need any more enemies.
Before I knew it, five whole minutes had passed and the brainstorming session went nowhere, which obviously meant it was time to check Facebook. After lolling at some pics and becoming a fan of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I decided I needed a new profile picture. I like to try to keep people guessing when it comes to that, and this time around I knew exactly what it was going to be. It was a charcoal sketch of the infamous Mohammed cartoon with the text ‘Ceci n'est pas une Mohammed' at the bottom, as a satirical play on Magritte's Pipe. Before I knew it, my page was swarmed with comments, some supportive and some not so optimistic, with one person even telling me that I'm a ‘brave soul'.
Why such an uproar over a Facebook profile picture? Well, unless you've been living under the only rock in town without internet access, you've heard about the recent controversy surrounding South Park. For their landmark 200th episode, Matt Stone and Trey Parker included most every celebrity they have ever used in the show all in a two part episode, and not wanting to discriminate against anybody and to prove a very good point, they once again included the Prophet Mohammed in the show. The last time they pulled this stunt, the depiction of the deity was simply blocked out, and while a small amount of debate was raised, it was relatively calm.
However this time, Mohammed played a much bigger role in the episodes, which resulted in a group of radical Muslims warning the creators that they might end up like Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was killed by an extremist in 2004 for depicting Mohammed on his show. In response to this idle threat, Comedy Central once again blacked out the image of the Islamic God, and this time not only going so far as bleeping out the very mention of the name ‘Mohammed', but also bleeping out the ending speech of the show. South Park's messages at the end of their shows are almost always good ones as the characters in the show learn a valuable lesson. However, this time around the mere mention of Mohammed in the speech lead to what had to have been the longest censor beep in television history.
According to the Islamic faith, it is forbidden to portray Mohammed in physical form, even in good light, because it might encourage idolatry, or the image becoming more important than the Prophet himself. This censorship, however, conflicts with a very profound and fundamental American right: freedom of speech. I believe that's exactly what Matt and Trey were trying to prove with this statement, and I admire them for doing so. South Park has poked fun at everyone equally, from every race to religion. They portrayed Buddha snorting lines of cocaine, and Jesus fighting ginger kids and looking for internet porn, but they weren't allowed to show Mohammed outside of a bear costume. They stood tall against the hate they knew they'd receive, but Comedy Central backed down and gave into the Fear and censored the episodes. I think this is an unfortunate loss for freedom of speech, and could very well be an unsettling foreshadowing of the future.
Zach White, a good friend of mine and a firm believer in our first amendment right, had this to say on the subject. "The instant a religious extremist argues that death is appropriate for the portrayal of their prophet in any form nullifies their beliefs causing them not to be acting on their faith, like they claim, but on their own twisted ideas that should be ignored by the general public and chastised by that religion. Threatening death over a cartoon of Mohammed is no different than St. Charles Community College alumni threatening murder if the Cougar was depicted in a cartoon."
Will my life be threatened for drawing that Mohammed picture? Frankly, I don't care, because I'm practicing one of the finest advantages of being American; saying exactly what I want. Realize that in some parts of the world, just simply writing this article alone would be probably get me stoned to death, but not here. Thankfully, I can express myself freely, as our founding fathers intended, and I don't plan on stopping any time soon. I hope Matt and Trey never back down, either.