After the censored South Park episode about depictions of Muhammed and the media firestorm of condemnation it elicited, I feel like I've been impotently flailing my arms here in this corner of the internet about the twice-canceled-due-to-death-threats Tarleton State University production of Corpus Christi, a play that depicted Jesus as a contemporary gay man.
I know, the difference in coverage is mostly because the school in question isn't nearly as big a media outlet as Comedy Central (although I personally thought it was an important story for everyone, nationally, because of what it said about our political discourse), but the silence on the play compared to the outcry over the TV show reminds me of quite a few of the comments on many of the news sites covering the Corpus Christi censorship saying that the play wasn't brave enough because it "attacked" Christianity instead of Islam, and Christians don't threaten death when insulted.
Yes, there are actual human beings who read a story about Christians making death threats as a result of art they don't like and then say that Christians never make death threats about art they don't like unlike those barbaric Muslims. How they manage to tie their shoes each day and get food into the correct hole for eating is beyond my understanding.
Glenn Greenwald was thinking along similar lines, responding to a New York Times column by Christian conservative Ross Douthat that proclaimed that people are so afraid of Islam in the US (and the West generally) that they don't dare insult it like they do Christianity. He linked to this statement by Sarah Palin that I hadn't heard before today:
"We're not attacking Islam but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion."
Can you imagine a major political figure who's not Christian (say, Russ Feingold) saying "Christianity is a very evil and wicked religion"? Could Joe Biden have said that Judaism is evil and wicked and maintained the Vice Presidency in the ensuing outcry? And yet I didn't hear much outcry on this comment from Sarah Palin.
Muslims have attracted the same paradoxical mix of self-pitying "We're oppressed" narratives and dehumanizing paranoia the right hangs on every minority. They're falsely an oppressed minority that has tricked everyone into thinking they deserve special treatment, unlike Christians/straights/cissexuals/males/whites who get the short end of the stick because no one pities them. At the same time, Muslims in both the US and abroad are subjected to discrimination and violence (most obviously in the form of unnecessary war) because they're primitive, violent, and out to get the rest of us, and anyone not equally afraid is delusional, or, worse, colluding with the enemy. The result is that if they're being treated badly, they probably deserve it; if someone speaks out against that ill-treatment, they don't deserve that and therefore are getting preferential treatment.
Gays definitely experience the same paradox. Every time I check out what the right has to say about ENDA, it's "There is no discrimination against gay people since everyone's so politically correct that they already favor gays and they're rich anyway" coupled with "Do you want these people working in your schools teaching your kids?"
The entire incoherent art was perfected during the PC Wars of the 70's and 80's when it came to African American discrimination, where they were portrayed by racists as getting an unfair advantage by bleeding heart whites, as well as inferior and lazy and not deserving of the same opportunities since they'd just blow it. It's their winning formula.
But when it comes to Islam, the incoherence is unlikely to get a response from liberals. Even Jon Stewart last week, in a bit on the controversy, put together an entire montage of all the times he made fun of other religions to show how "cool" they are about it, never mind the fact that they had made many of the same light-hearted jokes about Islam and that the current death threat came from the website of group of five to ten Muslims led by an American cab driver, hardly a representative sample of the entire religion. Even Fred Phelps has more followers, and yet you can't go to Germany and say, "You celebrate Christmas? You'll probably protest a funeral afterwards!"
This is, again, another reason that freedom of speech needs to be absolute: credibility. Right now the way some of these folks are standing up for South Park shows nothing other than their own biases. It's easy to stand up for others to say stuff you already agree with or want to hear. But to do so when it's speech you dislike (in this case, I think it's terrible that the network censored that South Park episode, and I don't like that show at all), it shows an actual commitment to free speech.
In other words, if South Park put together an episode wherein Jesus had sex with men, then we could sit back and actually see the right's commitment to fight, as Douthat put it, a "violent fringe is capable of inspiring so much cowardice and self-censorship."