In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving
As I have said multiple times, I am a very big fan of the website LoonWatch. To my delightful surprise, I have been quoted by Danios, my favorite writer there! Gosh! It feels good to know that my writing is being noticed by prominent people in our community (blush). The post is reproduced below. Apparently Danios quoted my Chicago Tribune blog post. My quote is highlighted below.
South Park, the “Four Morons” of Revolution Muslim, and CNN’s Epic Fail.
The creators of South Park–Matt Stone and Trey Parker–decided that they would depict the Prophet Muhammad on the 200th episode of their show. A radical group known as “Revolution Muslim”–based out of New York–issued thinly veiled threats against the South Park creators, hinting that their misdeed would result in their untimely deaths. CNN picked up the story, and soon the controversy that the South Park creators so desired came to fruition.
Muslim Americans are irate. But not so much at South Park. Rather, the anger is directed at two groups: CNN for their poor journalism and Revolution Muslim for their insanity. Let’s start with CNN: Anderson Cooper covered the topic for over ten minutes and even found time to interview the famous Islamophobe Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Surprisingly, Cooper did not interview a single Muslim American spokesman, thereby giving–whether he intended it or not–the false impression that Revolution Muslim represents a broad spectrum of the Muslim American population, and that the organization speaks for Islam itself. In reality, the radical fringe group is composed of no more than two to ten members, and one could easily find similar sized extremist groups belonging to other faiths.
The vast majority of Muslim Americans despise Revolution Muslim and their hate-filled ideology. The New York mosque the group frequented banned them from setting foot inside the premises, forcing them to preach on the street corner. Muslim Americans don’t even believe that Revolution Muslim are real Muslims, and instead hold them to be agent provocateurs who wish to smear Islam. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said Revolution Muslim is “an extreme fringe group that has absolutely no credibility within the Muslim community” and that the “wild and irresponsible things” they say has led to “a strong suspicion [in the Muslim American community] that they’re merely a setup to make Muslims and Islam look bad. ”
There’s reason to believe that. The founder of the group goes by the name of Yousef al-Khattab, but his real name is Joseph Cohen. He was born and raised in the United States as a Jew, and holds both American and Israeli citizenship. In the late eighties, Cohen embraced an ultra-orthodox interpretation of Judaism, and began attending a yeshiva (rabbinical school). In 1998, Cohen hearkened to the Zionist call, and packed up his bags to relocate to the Israeli Occupied Territories where he became an Israeli settler. As an ardent Zionist, Joseph Cohen fell in with the Jewish fundamentalist group Shas, an extreme right-wing political party that believes in flouting international law based on their religious beliefs. Less than three years later, Cohen magically “converted” to Islam, moved back to the United States, and founded the most radical Islamic group in the country.  His underling Younus Muhammad–the other half of the dynamic duo–is similarly a mysterious “convert” to Islam.
This pair of former Zionists –who together form Revolution Muslim–conveniently read off a script that could only be written by an Islamophobe. For example, one of the two claimed that the Quran commands terrorism, something that no sincere Muslim would ever say (and a claim that is patently false); those are words that an Islamophobe (or Zionist) would agree with, not a Muslim. Considering the founder’s background in an extreme right-wing and fundamentalist Israeli political party, Muslim Americans have reason to be suspicious. Revolution Muslim is just too convenient. Regardless, they are simply inorganic wackos that have no community support whatsoever. Yet, that hasn’t stopped the media frenzy from portraying two “Muslims” as being representative of the millions of Muslim Americans.
Cohen (Khattab) is just selling the mainstream media the narrative they want to hear. According to these preconceived notions, Muslims lose their minds when the Prophet Muhammad is depicted. The reasoning is simple enough: Muslims reacted in a frenzy to the Danish cartoons, so doesn’t it just make sense that a similar reaction would take place when South Park depicts the Prophet Muhammad? However, the reality is that South Park has already portrayed an uncensored Muhammad in 2001, in an episode entitled “Super Best Friends”. In fact, the image of the Prophet Muhammad was not only used in that episode, but appeared in the opening segment of the show for four entire seasons. What was the Muslim reaction? Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. No protests, no riots, and no death threats. The Muslim American community shrugged it off, as they did the recent episode (barring the Revolution “Muslim” group). Muslim columnist Zahed Amanullah wrote an article for the Guardian entitled “No [Muslim] freak-out over South Park”, saying:
But has there really been any Muslim outrage? The characterisation of Muhammad in a July 2001 episode entitled “Super Best Friends“, where he teams up with Jesus, Moses, and Buddha to defeat evil (even though Buddha “doesn’t really believe in evil”), has been available for viewing online (if not on a spooked Comedy Central) for nine years without censorship, more than enough time to spark another cartoon crisis if Muslims really cared. As should be obvious by now, they don’t.
Somehow “a couple of misfits” from Revolution Muslim are allowed to smear the entire Muslim American community. The reality is that the vast majority of Muslims in this country barely flinched when they heard of South Park’s intention to portray the Prophet Muhammad. Anderson Cooper covered Revolution Muslim months ago, and at that time he had concluded that “it’s just a bunch of, you know, four morons standing on the street corner, shouting at the top of their lungs–how many people are really listening?” That summation of Revolution Muslim, “four morons standing on [a] street corner”, is exactly how Muslim Americans view them as. Yet flash forward to the recent Cooper report and there is no mention of this fact, and they are instead portrayed as spokesmen of Islam.
To really seal this impression, Anderson Cooper had on his show the vitriolic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an ardent Islamophobe. Unbelievably, she told Cooper that one religion (Islam) is “beyond criticism” nowadays. What world is Ms. Ali living in? Today, Islam is the most vilified religion ever, and you can say things against Islam and Muslims on television that you simply could not say against any other religion or religious group. On Fox News, that’s simply routine, and guests (and oftentimes hosts) can get away with virtually any swipe at Islam. And on the internet, the level of Islamophobia is astronomical, with Islamophobic websites being amongst the most popular sites on the net, and anti-Islamic comments being hurled at Muslims from sites ranging from YouTube to our very own LoonWatch. So it is actually the opposite of what Ms. Ali claims: there is no other religion which is criticized more than Islam. And it’s gone far past criticism but entered into wholesale bigotry, which explains the hypersensitive reaction of some Muslims to this abuse.
In any case, the idea that only Muslims have ever threatened people for portraying their prophet in a certain way is false to begin with. The indefatigable Glenn Greenwald decimated this argument here, so I don’t need to belabor that point; for example, he mentions a play by the name of Corpus Christi which was canceled several times, due to death threats from extremist Christians. It is clearly not a Muslim only problem, and ought not to be used as a stick to beat Muslims over the head with. Ms. Ali takes this stick not only to all observant Muslims, but to all of Islam itself. On Cooper’s show, she claims that the Islamic scripture itself advocates killing those who criticize the religion. Last I checked, the Islamic scripture is the Quran, and not a single verse in it advocates such a thing. In fact, we find quite the opposite; the Quran commands believers to say “peace be unto you” to those who insult their religion. In the Islamic holy book, God describes the righteous:
They are patient, and repel evil with good…When they hear vile ridicule (against their faith), they ignore it and say: “We shall have our deeds and you shall have your deeds; peace be unto you!” (Quran, 28:54-55)
That’s what the Islamic scripture says. As for the hadiths (Prophetic traditions), these are an amorphous body of texts, which Muslims do not hold to be inerrant like the Quran. Rather, a large number of hadiths are rejected outright as apocryphal in nature, and controversy surrounds many others.  Muslim Americans focus on explicit hadiths in which the Prophet Muhammad forgave those who reviled him.  For example, a group of disbelievers cursed the Prophet Muhammad, and his wife angrily retaliated in kind. The Prophet, however, admonished his wife: “Calm down. There is not gentleness in anything except that it becomes more beautiful, and there is not harshness in anything except that it makes it ugly. So be calm.” He then expounded an integral Islamic belief, saying: “God is kind and lenient, and likes that one should be kind and lenient in all matters.”  Contemporary Muslims argue that if the Prophet Muhammad forbade even verbal aggression against non-Muslims who insulted him, then physical violence is even more loathsome.
Similarly, if the Prophet Muhammad did not seek vengeance against those who physically assaulted him and even tried to kill him, then how could it be justified against those who merely insulted him? For example, the Prophet Muhammad was poisoned by a woman who opposed his message, yet he forgave her and sought no retaliation against her. When the people brought her to him, and asked: “Shall we kill her?”, the Prophet replied emphatically “no.”  Contemporary Muslims argue that if the Companions were forbidden to kill the one who tried to physically harm and kill the Prophet Muhammad, then it seems safe to say that it is even more forbidden to punish the one who merely insults him or draws a demeaning cartoon of him. One last example I will give here (although there are many others) is that of Labeed ibn al-Asam, a sorcerer who cursed the Prophet Muhammad, and attempted to harm him through black magic. When his wife asked him why he did not seek retaliation against the sorcerer, the Prophet Muhammad replied “I hate to cause harm to anyone.” (Sahih al-Bukhari) Contemporary Muslims ask: if the Prophet hated to cause harm to anyone, then he would hate for Muslims to kill those who merely drew cartoons of him, a “crime” much less egregious than black magic.
Are there certain texts from the hadiths and classical scholars that say otherwise? Certainly, and I am not denying that. But the Islamophobes put a standard to Muslims that they themselves cannot meet. For example, the vitriolic Catholic crusader Robert Spencer would show such-and-such hadith, and then say “well, it says to kill people who insult the Prophet Muhammad, and so an observant Muslim must do that.” Yet, his own Bible says to kill those who insult his God (Jesus), commanding the faithful to stone the blasphemous infidels to death:
Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death. (Leviticus, 24:16)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s swipe at Islam can be applied here, with the condescending disclaimer that “not all Christians follow the scripture.” And what of Anderson Cooper’s comment on his blog: “I have no respect for a prophet or god that needs its followers to defend it by threats and murder.” Would he now think lowly of the Jewish and Christian God who–according to their most authentic scriptural source–calls for its followers to kill those who insult Him? Or do we realize that it’s not wise to cherry-pick a passage of a religious text and then vilify an entire creed? Islamophobes like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Robert Spencer claim that Islam itself and the scriptural sources themselves explain why the riots against the Danish cartoons occurred. I recently covered the resurgence of Christian witch hunts in Africa; one could make the unsophisticated claim that the primary blame for the witch hunts can be attributed to the Bible and Christianity itself, since the Bible calls for witches to be killed.  Yet, experts understand that “poverty, exacerbated by the current world economic crisis, often lay behind the [witch hunt] phenomenon as people sought to find scapegoats for their misfortunes and the illnesses they suffered.” Christianity was simply the currency in which the people expressed their frustration. In other words, it is a very superficial understanding to reduce the issue to Biblical verses.
Likewise, there were sociological factors behind the anger that fueled the Danish cartoon riots. Yet, an unsophisticated understanding of the issue would lead one to believe that the riots were simply the result of an Islamic prohibition on the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. The reality, however, is that–in spite of an orthodox ban on imagery of the Prophet –the Prophet Muhammad has been depicted in the Islamic world for centuries. Dr. Kenan Malik, an award winning British author, writes:
Over the past 400 years, a number of Islamic, especially Shiite, traditions have accepted the pictorial representation of Muhammed. The Edinburgh University Library in Scotland, the Bibliotheque National in Paris, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Topkapi Palace Museum, Istanbul, all contain dozens of Persian, Ottoman and Afghan manuscripts depicting the Prophet. His face can be seen in many mosques too – even in Iran. A 17th-century mural on the Iman Zahdah Chah Zaid Mosque in the Iranian town of Isfahan, for instance, shows a Mohammed whose facial features are clearly visible…
So, if there is no universal prohibition to the depiction of Muhammad, why were Muslims universally appalled by the caricatures? They weren’t. And those that were, were driven by political zeal rather than theological fervour.
European Muslims have long suffered from high levels of unemployment, social alienation, and systemic discrimination–factors that contributed to the riots more than indignation over the pictorial representation of the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, most of the rioters had not even seen the cartoons, and the caricatures were–in the words of the Islamic scholar Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl–”the straw that broke the camel’s back” (an ethnically appropriate phrase). In the Muslim majority world, Muslims had long been suffering from what they view as Western “neo-colonialism”, and the Danish cartoons were viewed as salt on the wounds. The bewilderment of many in the West–”how could they react this way to some cartoons?”–only underscores a profound ignorance of the problems that plague those in the East, many of which the West either causes or exacerbates.
There were demonstrations and riots in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, Nigeria, Palestine, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Danish embassies in Damascus, Beirut and Teheran were torched. But, as Jytte Klausen has observed, these protests ‘were not caused by the cartoons, but were part of conflicts in pre-existing hot spots’ such as northern Nigeria, where there exists an effective civil war between Muslim salafists and Christians. The violence surrounding the cartoon conflict, Klausen suggests, has been ‘misreported’ as expressions of spontaneous violence from Muslims ‘confronted with bad pictures’. That, she insists, ‘is absolutely not the case’. Rather ‘these images have been exploited by political groups in the pre-existing conflict over Islam.’
Similarly, the Salman Rushdie affair had political not theological roots:
We have come to accept almost as self-evident the idea that the worldwide controversy was sparked by the blasphemies in The Satanic Verses that all Muslims found deeply offensive. It is not true.
The Satanic Verses was published in September 1988. For the next five months, until the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa on Valentine’s Day 1989, most Muslims ignored the book. The campaign against the novel was largely confined to the Indian subcontinent and to Britain. Aside from the involvement of Saudi Arabia, there was little enthusiasm for a campaign against novel in the Arab world or in Turkey, or among Muslim communities in France or Germany. When the Saudi authorities tried at the end of 1988 to get the novel banned in Muslim countries worldwide, few responded except those with large subcontinental populations, such as South Africa or Malaysia. Even in Iran the book was openly available and was reviewed in many newspapers.
As in the controversy over the Danish cartoons, it was politics, not religion, that transformed The Satanic Verses into a worldwide event of historic proportions.
Malik then explains the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both countries desperately competing for regional dominance. Each seeks–with its ultraconservative implementations of the religion–to assert itself as the standard-bearer of “authentic” Islam. Saudi Arabia had attempted to ban the book, and Iran’s fatwa was an attempt to one up the Saudis. In the words of Kenan Malik: “The Satanic Verses became a weapon in that conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Riyadh had made the initial running (by calling for a ban on the book). The fatwa was an attempt by Iran to wrestle back the initiative…The controversy over The Satanic Verses was primarily a political, not religious, conflict.” Unfortunately, many Westerners think it sufficient to hold superficial understandings of such complex issues (whereas others find it expedient to do so).
The elements that led to the Danish cartoon affair simply do not exist in today’s South Park controversy, which explains why the Muslim American community–notwithstanding the “four morons on [a] street corner”–have had such a subdued response. Interestingly, there has not even been any significant drive to boycott the show, nor any peaceful protests (let alone violent recourse)–which shows how little they care about this “controversy.” Most Muslim Americans understand that South Park pokes fun at people of every faith, and even if they may find it personally distasteful, Muslim Americans don’t think too much of it. As CAIR’s Ibrahim Hooper put it: “[Muslims] are pretty tired of this whole: ‘Let’s insult the Prophet Muhammad thing.’” They don’t want to dwell on it, and just want the incident to pass. Internally, Muslim Americans are telling each other to “ignore it”, and they are cognizant of the fact that outrage will only publicize the South Park episode more.
By presupposing that the reaction of Muslim Americans would be the same as their coreligionists in parts of Europe and the developing world (some) non-Muslim Westerners have placed all Muslims into one box. According to this “the other” understanding, all Muslims–of every nationality and region of the earth–ought to react similarly. Yet, one clearly understands this not to be the case when comparing Evangelicals in America with those leading witch hunts in Nigeria. The reality is that Muslims in this country have a distinctly American Islam, one which has incorporated freedom of speech into it. Therefore, it is incorrect to simply assume that the reaction of Muslim Americans would be the same as their religious brethren elsewhere. Unlike the Muslim communities in many (but not all) European countries, Muslim Americans are well integrated; unemployment and poverty do not affect them in the same way. Instead, they tend to be rather well off, and are “overrepresented” in professional fields like medicine and engineering. The absence of the sociological factors present in the Danish cartoon affair explains the lack of response to the South Park cartoons, and this is so even though the scriptural texts are still the same–again pointing to the fact that the protests had sociological and not theological roots.
Another reason why the South Park cartoons did not cause a Muslim outcry like the Danish cartoons did is that the South Park cartoons were not Islamophobic in nature. The creators of South Park are equal-opportunity haters and have lampooned every religion, which really softened the blow. The Danish cartoons, on the other hand, were Islamophobic in nature, and portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a stereotypical Muslim terrorist with a bomb on his head. (The same publisher had earlier refused to publish cartoons that were deemed offensive to Christians.) The Danish cartoons were racist and bigoted. Can one imagine the reaction of socioeconomically depressed African Americans had a mainstream newspaper (like the New York Times) published cartoons portraying blacks as apes (a stereotypical racist image)? In the seventies or eighties, such a thing would have led to widespread riots. Would people still be bewildered as to how a population could react so violently to a “mere cartoon“? How is an ape-like representation of a black person any different than a stereotypical hook-nosed Muslim with a bomb on his head?
Freedom of speech is one of the principles of this country, and without it a democracy cannot flourish. But let’s not forget that racial and religious tolerance is another bedrock of democracy. It is a true oddity that certain segments of society have chosen that today freedom of speech is the most important issue to them, only because it allows them to channel their racial and religious intolerance. The neo-conservatives who are today masquerading as the defenders of the first amendment are the same ones who just yesterday were justifying warrantless wiretapping, racial profiling, suspension of habeas corpus, secret prisons, torture, coerced confessions, state-sponsored assassinations (of even U.S. citizens), and on and on…all because these things were directed at Muslims. In the words of Glenn Greenwald, the South Park controversy has been exploited so that the “majoritarian group [can act] as the profoundly oppressed victim at the hands of the small, marginalized, persecuted group which actually has no power [i.e. Muslim Americans].” It is selective and unprincipled outrage expressed by unsavory folks who don’t really care about the principles of freedom and tolerance, but are instead using the incident to promote intolerance and demonization of a minority group…something which threatens our democracy far more than “four morons on [a] street corner.”
In conclusion, this is a contrived controversy, and there was no freak-out by Muslim Americans over the South Park cartoons. Yes, many Muslim Americans were offended, but no more so than pious Christians whose stomachs churn at the South Park episodes mocking their religious icons. But most Muslim Americans know that this is the cost of living in a free society, and most importantly, they know that it won’t affect what they perceive is the greatness of their prophet. As one Muslim American told me: “Barking dogs cannot harm the moon, so let them bark.” Despite the crudeness of this analogy, it adequately depicts the indifference of Muslim Americans to the South Park cartoon. Dr. Hesham Hassaballah, a prominent Muslim spokesman and former board member of CAIR, said:
I must admit: I was offended. I was really bothered by the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit on Comedy Central’s satirical show “South Park.” …[But] ever since the beginning of his ministry, the Prophet Muhammad has been attacked, maligned, and insulted, including from his own uncle. The Prophet never retaliated against [them]. When he was brutally expelled from the city of Ta’if, two angels offered to crush the city under the mountains that surrounded it. The Prophet refused, hoping that their children may one day believe in God. After conquering Mecca, the Prophet issued a general amnesty to the very same people that brutally and violently opposed him, including the person who mutilated his beloved uncle Hamza after he was killed in battle.
This is the example of the Prophet Muhammad that Muslims should seek to emulate whenever he is insulted. The Prophet once said, “I was sent to perfect the most noble of character.” He also said, “The best of you are the best in character.” Rather than pray for God to “kill Matt Stone and Trey Parker,” Mr. Chesser should have prayed for God to show Stone and Parker the beauty of the Prophet Muhammad, so they can understand more about the man whom 1.2 billion people around the world revere and honor. It is what the Prophet would have done.
No angry pitchfork, Dr. Hassaballah? The media thinks to itself: that won’t sell a story and certainly doesn’t fit our preconceived notions of what a stereotypical Muslim is, so let’s forget that you are a respected figure in the community and instead focus on “four morons on [a] street corner” who aren’t even allowed inside their mosque due to how much the Muslim American community dislikes their views. (Phew, that was a long sentence!) Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of CAIR-Chicago, writes:
The latest Muhammad cartoon controversy, courtesy of Comedy Central’s South Park, seems somewhat contrived…[Revolution Muslim is] literally 5-10 people who are widely reviled by the mainstream community for their radical and confrontational style including harassing Muslims outside mosques (where they tend to be banned) with outlandishly provocative anti-American rhetoric.
Most suspect the group is fraudulent. Its mysterious leader, born Joseph Cohen, is an American Jew who converted to Islam in 2000 after living in Israel and attending an orthodox rabbinical school there. Whether, true Muslims or agent provocateurs, the result is the same: they are five community outcasts…
South Park’s provocation was mostly met by silence and indifference [by the Muslim American community]. The widespread Muslim attitude went something like this: this is a free country, you go on mocking Jesus and Muhammad, and we will go on keeping them in our prayers. No harm done. Muhammad’s and Jesus’ value to humanity certainly will not dip as a result of your mockery.
The Muslim American community by and large supports freedom of speech, feeling that the right of the cartoonists to lampoon the Prophet exists and that the best thing to do is ignore such insults. Perhaps the lack of reaction by Muslim Americans has disappointed the sensationalist media looking for a story, forcing them to focus on a fundamentalist Zionist’s best impersonation of a Muslim. Amazing how “four morons on [a] street corner” are allowed to become the spokesmen for Islam. The message to Muslim Americans is loud and clear: even if 99.9999% of you behave, that last 0.00001% will be enough to hit you over the head with. The entire community will be defined by its two (or four) village idiots. Muslim Americans can never hope to have their voices heard, unless of course they become Revolution Muslims.
refer back to article 1. Yousef al-Khattab, My Reversion to Islam, http://www.scribd.com/doc/2901290/Brother-Yousef-al-Khattabs-Reversion-to-Islam-A-Former-Jew
refer back to article 2. I found less information on the character known as Younus Muhammad, and would welcome reader input confirming his real name and Zionist inclinations prior to his supposed conversion.
refer back to article 3. Although several textual proofs indicate that the Prophet Muhammad forgave those who insulted and abused him, a handful of texts seem to say otherwise. However, many contemporary Muslims view these texts to be apocryphal, including the stories involving Abu Afak (a poet), Asma bint Marwan (a poetess), and a certain blind man’s slave girl. As for the incident of Kaab ibn al-Ashraf, it is argued that he “was assassinated only because he violated the peace treaty and assisted in the war” (Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari) against the fledgling city-state of Medina. With regard to Ibn Khattal and his two slave girls, it is said that they “all stood convicted of atrocious [war] crimes” (M. Haykal, Hayat Muhammad).
refer back to article 4. Perhaps it would behoove me to compile these some day.
refer back to article 5. Sahih Bukhari, Vol.9, Book 84, # 61
refer back to article 6. Found in Sahih al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Abu Dawud, amongst others. She was eventually found guilty of the murder of Bishr ibn Al-Bara, and punished accordingly.
refer back to article 7. “Thou shalt not allow a sorceress to live” (Exodus, 22:18), and “sorcerers amongst you must be put to death” (Leviticus, 20:27)
refer back to article 8. The ban was placed to prevent idolization of the Prophet Muhammad, something which early Muslims feared due to the fate of Jesus in the Christian world. However, this ban on pictorial representations carries no worldly punishment if breached, neither in classical or contemporary understandings of Islamic law.