Cowardice, bravery and blasphemy

I highlighted Ross Douthat's excellent New York Times op-ed last time we talked about the censorship of the South Park cartoon. He had written a bit about what the incident meant in larger context:

This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that "bravely" trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.

I thought of that when reading this Associated Press story about a new series that Comedy Central has in development.

Having already caused a fuss this spring with the depiction of the prophet Muhammad on "South Park," Comedy Central said Thursday that it has a cartoon series about Jesus Christ in the works.

"JC" is one of 23 potential series the network said it has in development. It depicts Christ as a "regular guy" who moves to New York to "escape his father's enormous shadow."

His father is presented as an apathetic man who would rather play video games than listen to his son talk about his new life, according to Comedy Central's thumbnail sketch of the idea.

The article is just very predictable. After treating this potential series as a joke and not blasphemous, it quotes William Donahue for the requisite response. And look at how it mistakenly describes Muslim views about physical representations of Muhammad:

Whenever "South Park" features Muhammad in an episode, Comedy Central obscures the character with a black box; Muslims consider any physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous.

Except that there is Muslim art throughout the world that depicts the prophet. There is a ban but it's debated and definitely not been enforced consistently, even in recent times. You can view a number of beautiful representations of Muhammad at this internet archive, or visit a major museum in a city.

This Los Angeles Times story from February 2006 explains that curators of Islamic art do not believe that the Koran forbids representations of Muhammad. Many Islamic artists have done just that and these works can be found worldwide. The Freer in DC has four portraits of Muhammad, the LA County Museum of Art has two and the Metropolitan in New York has three. The largest collection of such images is in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.

If this was known at the Times four years ago, why does the Associated Press repeat the error?

The whole story goes about an inch deep. I realize we're talking about Comedy Central and simple entertainment, but these issues of free speech and consistent respect for religious adherents are very important and need to be taken as such.

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