South Park take on terror
The threat by Revolution Muslim, a New York-based group of extremist Muslim converts, against the makers of South Park shows that these groups share more in common with gangs and football hooligans than they do with the majority of Muslims, including those with radical views. South Park fans should direct their anger at them, not Islam.
To say that South Park often crosses the line of good taste would be a massive understatement. It does not so much as cross the line as exist entirely on the other side, in the realm of offense and distaste in a way that few have ever done before.
The episode in question would have depicted the Prophet Muhammad dressed in a bear suit. While this might appear a clever way of getting around the problem of depicting the Prophet Muhammad, it would still be deeply offensive to many practicing Muslims. It is central to Islam that any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is blasphemous and considered deeply disrespectful. This of course is irrelevant to the makers of South Park. In fact, it is probably their reason for devising the sketch. Their abiding philosophy has always been that there is nothing sacred.
After the Rushdie affair, the murder of Theo Van Gogh and the Danish cartoons, we’ve become accustomed to intimidation and threats of some radical Islamists.
However, the fact that the majority of Muslims would be offended by South Park does not make them any different than Christians who were similarly offended. What is different is the threat of violence by groups like Revolution Muslim, and the many preceding examples that show that there are extremist groups and individuals willing to use violence in the name of “defending Islam”.
Revolution Muslim are not defenders of Islam. They are thugs who have more in common with common criminals, gangs and football hooligans then they do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Revolution Muslim is indicative of a new phenomenon of ‘home-grown’ extremist groups that take inspiration from al-Qaeda and claim to represent Muslims.
In our new report The Edge of Violence, based on two years of research across Canada and Europe, we found that young people inspired by al-Qaeda and interested in violence have more in common with other subversive groups of angry young men, than they do with peaceful Muslims. In other words, the perennial youthful draw to rebellion and anti-establishment ideals is just as important to understanding this phenomenon as ideology or religion.
In this case it’s all in the name, “Revolution Muslim”. People drawn to these groups often have a shallow understanding of Islam and are more interested in being cool and appearing tough and courageous. Note the picture of one member, reported by the Guardian as holding a machete and appearing to wear a suicide bomb vest. Such images are painfully narcissistic and recall images of gang members showing off their tattoos and flashing gang signs.
Al-Qaeda recognises that this coolness factor is a big part of the motivation for ‘home-grown’ individuals and seek to draw on this by offering the adventure and excitement of being part of an underground group of courageous young men rebelling against the powers that be. Recognising this, we argue that an effective way of combating the al-Qaeda brand is stripping it of its glamour and cool appeal, and that ridicule and satire could potentially help. Exposing wannabe jihads as incompetent and narcissistic is no way worthy of imitation and could diminish the appeal to other vulnerable individuals. This does not mean however, ridiculing and satirising the religion of Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. As this controversy continues to grow, indignant South Park fans are posting cartoons targeting the Prophet Muhammad on websites and chat rooms. These fans should refocus their efforts to the target that really is worth their ridicule; the narcissism and absurdity of groups like Revolution Muslim instead.