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Jon Stewart untangles knotty South Park controversy

It only takes The Daily Show 10 minutes to shish-kabab all the most pertinent points clarifying yesterday’s murky South Park controversy. Meanwhile, The LA Times sought professional professorial advice:

Experts say that in trying to forestall such threats, media companies may be setting dangerous precedents ‚Äî a possibility underscored by the fact that “South Park” has strirred up a free-speech issue that, while dormant for years, has now exploded anew.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh said that although he sympathizes with the predicament faced by Comedy Central, the network has potentially empowered other extremists by how it has chosen to handle the situation.

“The consequence of this position is that the thugs win and people have more incentive to be thugs,” said Volokh, who teaches free speech and religious freedom law. “There are lots of people out there who would very much like to get certain kind of material removed, whether religious or political. The more they see others winning, the more they will be likely to do the same. Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.”

The Boston Globe agrees:

It’s understandable that the Comedy Central network would be skittish about putting its staff in harm’s way. But the network should realize that, in the long run, the best reaction to such threats isn’t to respond fearfully with censorship, but to allow the show to stick to its longstanding — if often irksome to many — ethos of equal-opportunity offensiveness.

Many groups have been offended by South Park’s inflammatory depictions of Jesus, Jews, Mormons, scientologists, and other groups and individuals; free-swinging political incorrectness is the show’s calling card. But while Comedy Central has given Parker and Stone mostly free rein, when it comes to Muslims the network has clamped down.

This response creates two sets of guidelines, one for Muslims and one for everyone else; it amplifies, rather than discourages, the idea that Islam is such a uniquely dangerous religion that ordinary concerns about free speech should be set aside for fear of threats.

Muslims have as much of a right to be offended by “South Park’’ as anyone else. They don’t have more of a right, though. That point, more than a misguided attempt to show extra sensitivity to one group, will help promote understanding among religions.

The print editorials are a lot more erudite than The Daily Show, but nothing beats a good cathartic “Fuck You!” to end a tense week.

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