Grin and Bear It: Profiting From The Prophet

Grin and Bear It: Profiting From The Prophet
by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, April 22

I don’t think teddy bears are mentioned anywhere in the Quran. Therefore, is the animated satirical series ‘South Park’ well within its rights to portray Prophet Mohamed dressed in a bear suit? What was the pressing need for such a depiction? The latest bit of news is that in the episode they have added the word Censored and replaced the image of the Prophet with that of Santa Claus in a similar suit.

Is there a message here?

Both convey in the popular imagination the spirit of giving. However, since the tele-series is known for its “biting satire”, it cannot be all about nurturing. As has become the norm, the makers have been threatened. By whom? A website called RevolutionMuslim.com that has 20 posters. In their enthusiasm to appear significant, they put up a picture of the Dutch filmmaker who was murdered for portraying violence against Muslim women. "They will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them," the posting said.

I would like to know what makes this group important. Are they not akin to criminal gangs that operate in every society? Anyone can upload a picture and post a threat. Why has it been given this much mileage? Why are people like Sudanese writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali appearing on television to speak out almost immediately? If the channel, Comedy Central, wanted to ultimately censor the reference to the Prophet, it ought to have done it without too much noise. But would it have grabbed eyeballs? Would someone like me who has never watched the show even know about it? How many more viewers did they manage to get? How many hits did this website garner? It is commercial interests at work. Isn’t Santa also about marketing? Christmas is less about Christ than what you put on the Christmas tree.

The ‘South Park’ team as well as this kneejerk Muslim group are part of the same construct – to capitalise on people’s emotions. Normally, satire has a different purpose and anyway the show’s targets are celebrities and media icons. The Prophet, despite a huge following, does not quite fit in.

This really is not about the Prophet, but about profit. One in every four people in the world is a Muslim. It is a captive audience. Every once in a while, this happens and there is the usual ‘backlash’. Someone ought to conduct a study as to where and how this backlash begins? Is it engineered by vested interests rather than upholders of the faith?

Flashback to 2007. In Sudan a teddy bear was named Mohammed. This was in a school and from all accounts the Muslim students chose the name and the parents agreed to it. Again, there was a ruckus.

The ‘South Park’ protest group is based in the US. No one is asking the American establishment to waste its drones; they can simply give a warning as they would to a group of petty thieves. It is crucial that not every little organisation becomes the spokesperson of a faith.

There will be many fans of the series who will be disgusted because the new episode showed Jesus Christ watching pornography and the Buddha snorting cocaine. How liberal we are, they’d say. The only problem is that both these figures have been depicted in various forms and are recognisable. The Prophet is not. The Danish cartoons too had the typical bearded Bedouin look, but we do not know.

‘South Park’ uses animated characters, so it will not be an adequate representation. It is not meant to be. It might help Muslims to realise that when Barbie was taken off the shelves in the Middle East, she was replaced by Fulla, who was quite similar but was dressed in a black robe and matching scarf and promoted as espousing ““Muslim values”. There was a counter-reaction by a French sociologist who thought it was an Islamist strategy!

Did I not mention commercial interests? You take the mickey out of the Disney Mouse or the bluster out of Barbie and the world loses a huge market. No one is interested in really hurting religious sentiments if those sentiments can be reined in. Did not these same Muslims ask the buyers to get Fulla her “new spring abaya”? At one level, it really was a great move. But it was paying obeisance to Mammon.

It is the attitude that makes even Barbie’s makers, Mattel, have the audacity to create a doll called Leila who was supposed to represent a slave girl in the Ottoman court. This is pandering to several fantasies – the master syndrome, financial superiority, and a backwardness that people are expected to hark back to. Barbie gives no lessons in history, so this was deliberately vicious.

Given that this is the social structure, I would think sensible Muslims should just give ‘South Park’ a miss. Don’t watch it if it bothers you. Your god lies within you or, if you insist, in the holy book. If you want to play into the hands of those with dire motives, then be ready for more such ridicule. This is what they want.

Deny them their archetype and they will get tired. As I have said several times, there are people with the name of the Prophet who are unsavoury characters. You cannot go about changing all their names. If you believe in the Prophet, then there is nothing to defend. If you are insecure enough to become a chattel of muckrakers, then you are in no position to stand up for the belief system or the believers.


  1. FV, you would be hard-pressed to find a single personality that has not been portrayed poorly in South Park, which I admit to have watched quite a bit.

    But then, the opening credits for the show start with this disclaimer that is prominently displayed for quite a few seconds.

    "All characters and events in this show—even those based on real people—are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated.....poorly. The following program contains coarse language and due to its content it should not be viewed by anyone."

  2. To be frank, South Park is pretty gross, but the writers have many points to make in their own way, if you are willing to sit through it.

  3. Al:

    I have no problems with satire of any kind. A disclaimer of this nature is an arrogant invitation to partake of it only if you can handle it. This sort of cockiness is pretty juvenile, but it's ok.

    My issues are with what they wish to portray and why this stupid group has become so important.

  4. See, I get these 'anti Muslim' jokes in my mailbox and I am supposed to feel offended. I find some quite sharp and funny. Here is one:

    >A Guy goes in an adult store and asks for an inflatable doll.

    Guy behind the counter says , 'Male or female?'

    Customer says , 'Female.'

    Counter guy asks , 'Black or white?

    Customer says , 'White.'

    Counter guy asks , 'Christian or Muslim?'

    Customer says , 'What the hell does religion have to do with it?'

    Counter guy says , 'The Muslim one blows itself up.<

  5. FV:"A disclaimer of this nature is an arrogant invitation to partake of it only if you can handle it. This sort of cockiness is pretty juvenile, but it's ok. "

    That would be in line with it being a pretty juvenile show with a lot of pointless violence and other gross-out juvenile stuff, even if the overall message is not juvenile.

  6. I think the core of the conflict is that religion is of the heart and mind gets lost in dealing with it.

    I consider myself atheist and a very left-brained person (who can't spell meditation even if my life depended on it) but I do understand why it (religion) is a source of comfort to billions.

    There is a constant turf battle between secular matters and religious realms despite protestations from both sides; so we are destined to live with this basic conflict for a long time. We just need to figure out a way to allow more of humanity to enjoy life and be happy and whatever is impeding it at a given time (Christian Inquisitions, Hindu Feudal, Barbarism, Zionist Encroachment, Islamic Terrorism, Brutalities of Buddhist Japan, Chinese Communism etc.) needs to be opposed.

    Beyond that there is no perfect world. Islam is coming of age; being one of the youngest religion. It too will adjust to modern life in time and as living conditions, political rights and education improve in these places, newer generation will learn to look at their faith in proper light.

    We can't make sense of events just 50-60 yrs ago (read holocaust) now, I am not sure how people are quick and certain to judge something so far back in history with contemporary ethos.

    All religions have enough craziness buried in its scriptures and precepts that anyone can go off the cliff; interpreting them literally. Way I look at it is that large chunk of humanity (from across countries and ethnicities) came together and created a flourishing culture and society for centuries.

    In modern day it was the Europeans who have taken the leadership and it would serve us all well to take this change in stride because as Buddha said:

    Change is the only permanent thing

    Not sure if he said it or just an interpretation of what he said but seems like a universal truth to me.

    sorry for the long essay,


  7. Hitesh:

    Thank you for the long essay. We indeed have to accept secularism within the broad spectrum of different religions rather than something outside it.

    It is strange that history is viewed often in religious terms.

    PS: If your life depended on it, you might not need to spell meditation but just do it!


    If the message is not juvenile, then no one would find the method juvenile. The medium, as you know, is the message.


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