South Park, Round Three (Douthat Edition)
I am apparently alone in thinking that self-interest, rather than fear, motivated Comedy Central to censor South Park. In today’s column, Douthat, echoing Sullivan, simply takes it for granted that the “passive-aggressive death threat” to South Park creators Trey Parker and Matthew Stone (posted on revolutionmuslim.com) was directly responsible for the network’s decision. Did the threat to Stone and Parker somehow cause Comedy Central execs to fear for their own lives? Or did the network act out of concern for Parker and Stone’s well being? I’m puzzled.
In any event, I’m not sure where accusing Comedy Central of cowardice gets Douthat, apart from the satisfaction of accusing Comedy Central of cowardice. Some people are cowards, yes; Western institutions have often cowered “before the threat of Islamist violence,” undoubtedly; succumbing to the threat of violence may ultimately lead to the collapse of our civilization, perhaps. All of that may be true — but so what? It is a mere truism to say that a nation must be brave in order to ensure its survival. It is equally obvious that Europe has often failed to assert its interests vis-à-vis those of Islamist extremists. But we didn’t need Ross Douthat to tell us any of that.
Meanwhile, Douthat completely glosses over the question as to whether South Park’s cause is itself meritorious. Courage is not the same thing as justice. To say that the men who fought in Vietnam were brave, or that some draft dodgers were cowards is not to convincingly defend the Vietnam War. Our enemies are wrong, granted — but are we in the right? In a previous post, I made the case that sacrilege against Islam is not, in fact, a noble cause; that just because Parker and Stone have the legal right to speak freely doesn’t mean blaspheming someone else’s God is itself worth defending. I fear that we have become so obsessed with standing up to Islamic fundamentalists that we have come to totally disregard the dignity of law-abiding Muslims.
Douthat quite rightly defines decadence as “a frantic coarseness that ‘bravely’ trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.” There was a time when ridiculing Christianity or deconstructing Shakespeare was a brave and even honorable act. Both are now a dull exercise in conformity. The more pertinent question, however, is whether or not to defend a South Park episode that blasphemes Islam. Here, Douthat applies a double standard. Douthat, on the one hand, wants to defend Parker and Stone for “taking frequent risks to fillet the culture’s sacred cows”; at the same time he chastises the West for having “few taboos that can’t be violated,” and for having “largely given up on setting standards in the first place.” It is apparently admirable for South Park to fillet Islam’s sacred cows, but reprehensible for the West to have filleted its own cows. Douthat, in other words, wants to have his Christianity and blaspheme Islam too.
Here’s an idea. I realize that this is nuts — but what about respecting our culture’s values and traditions and someone else’s?