TEL AVIV – Amid outcry over the deadly terrorist attack at the Paris office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, some are looking to Comedy Central to lift its censorship of a 2010 “South Park” episode in which the image of Islam’s founder, Muhammad, was obscured in response to threats from Muslims.
At least 12 people were killed in the attack Wednesday, including staff cartoonists widely known in France as Charb, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Wolinski.
The attack is seen as retribution for the French publication’s repeated printing of cartoons that mocked Islam, Muhammad and figures such as the leader of ISIS. Charlie Hebdo famously republished the 2005 Danish newspaper cartoons of Islam’s founder, Muhammad.
In 2010, the writers of “South Park” wanted to depict Muhammad, but Comedy Central altered their plan following death threats. Episode 201 of “South Park” depicted Muhammad with the word “censored” in a black triangle and bleeped all references to him.
To this day, the episode, the sixth of the 14th season of the series, is still not available for online streaming. The episode was a continuation of the prior episode, in which a group of celebrities demanded “South Park” produce a Muhammad episode.
The death threats came primarily from the Islamic extremist organization Revolution Muslim.
On its website, RevolutionMuslim.com, it warned that if the uncensored version aired, there was a “very real possibility” that “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone would end up murdered like Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker killed by an Islamic extremist in 2004 after making a film critical of Islam.
The website then issued a statement pointing out the Islamic punishment for mocking Muhammad is death.
The threats prompted “South Park” to censor the Muhammad image in the episode. Last January, the original uncensored version was posted on the Internet without authorization, but it since has been pulled.
The founders of RevolutionMuslim.com, Younis Abdullah Muhammad, Zachary Adam Chesser and Yousef Al-Khattab, have been arrested and convicted in U.S. courts for the threats.
Now, some are calling for “South Park” to release the uncensored version in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders.
Writing at IndieWire.com, blogger Sam Adams complained, “It doesn’t take fanatics with guns to suppress free speech, just media conglomerates with stockholders where their spines should be.”
Time Magazine media writer James Poniewozik said “the Charlie Hebdo attackers were attacking you too.”
He wrote that “unless all of us reject the kowtowing and the playing-it-safe, it absolutely has worked and will work again,” referring to the “South Park” case.
Continued Poniewozik: “No one had to physically attack Comedy Central to make this happen; to this day, you can’t stream an authorized version of “201” online. Ironically, part of the program that was censored was making the point that suppressing speech with violent threats works.”
“The killers in Paris may have been lashing out at cartoons you never saw and would never have wanted to. But the same attack was also against something you would be interested in. You just may never know it, because you’ll never get to see it.”