“South Park” and the informal fatwa
Dear Press For,
For years “South Park” has lampooned pretty much everything and everybody. Unlike some satirical programs, “South Park” is not afraid to touch even the most supposedly untouchable “sacred cows.”
Even the “sacred cow” of Islam.
In 2006 “South Park” lampooned the controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. But Comedy Central blacked out the image of Mohammed, revealing that, yes indeed, there is a double standard in the world of satire when it comes to Islam.
So as Ross Douthat notes in a recent New York Times editorial, “the next obvious step [for “South Park”] was to make fun of the fact that you can’t broadcast an image of Muhammed.”
This episode led to what Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes in a Wall Street Journal column below as an “informal fatwa.” Comedy Central reacted to this informal fatwa by censoring the follow-up episode out of concern for the safety of the creators of “South Park.”
When even “South Park” is censored, and when even a New York Times editorial lashes out against the not-so-veiled threats of an Islamist, we should all sit up and take notice.
All it took to get “South Park” censored was one Muslim posting a notice that the show’s creators will likely wind up dead.
And people say we shouldn’t take the threat of radical Islam seriously?
WSJ, Opinion, April 27, 2010
'South Park' and the Informal Fatwa
The veiled threats against the Comedy Central show's creators should be taken very seriously. Islamists seek to replace the rule of law with that of commanding right and forbidding wrong.
By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
'South Park" is hilarious, right? Not any more.
Last week, Zachary Adam Chesser—a 20-year-old Muslim convert who now goes by the name Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee—posted a warning on the Web site RevolutionMuslim.com following the 200th episode of the show on Comedy Central. The episode, which trotted out many celebrities the show has previously satirized, also "featured" the Prophet Muhammad: He was heard once from within a U-Haul truck and a second time from inside a bear costume.
For this apparent blasphemy, Mr. Amrikee warned that co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone "will probably end up" like Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh, readers will remember, was the Dutch filmmaker who was brutally murdered in 2004 on the streets of Amsterdam. He was killed for producing "Submission," a film that criticized the subordinate role of women in Islam, with me.
There has been some debate about whether Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker should view the Web posting as a direct threat. Here's Mr. Amrikee's perspective: "It's not a threat, but it really is a likely outcome," he told Foxnews.com. "They're going to be basically on a list in the back of the minds of a large number of Muslims. It's just the reality." He's also published the home and office addresses of Messrs. Stone and Parker, as well as images of Van Gogh's body.
According to First Amendment experts, technically speaking this posting does not constitute a threat. And general opinion seems to be that even if this posting was intended as a threat, Mr. Amrikee and his ilk are merely fringe extremists who are disgruntled with U.S. foreign policy; their "outrage" merits little attention.
This raises the question: How much harm can an Islamist fringe group do in a free society? The answer is a lot.
Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim first thought to have been a minor character in radical circles, killed Theo van Gogh. Only during the investigation did it emerge that he was the ringleader of the Hofstad Group, a terrorist organization that was being monitored by the Dutch Secret Service.
The story was very similar in the case of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The cartoons, drawn by Kurt Westergaard, were published in September 2005 to little notice but exploded five months later into an international drama complete with riots and flag-burnings. The man behind this campaign of outrage was an Egyptian-born radical imam named Ahmed Abu-Laban.
Prior to this conflagration, Mr. Abu-Laban was seen as a marginal figure. Yet his campaign ended up costing Denmark businesses an estimated $170 million in the spring of 2006. And this doesn't include the cost of rebuilding destroyed property and protecting the cartoonists.
So how worried should the creators of "South Park" be about the "marginal figures" who now threaten them? Very. In essence, Mr. Amrikee's posting is an informal fatwa. Here's how it works:
There is a basic principle in Islamic scripture—unknown to most not-so-observant Muslims and most non-Muslims—called "commanding right and forbidding wrong." It obligates Muslim males to police behavior seen to be wrong and personally deal out the appropriate punishment as stated in scripture. In its mildest form, devout people give friendly advice to abstain from wrongdoing. Less mild is the practice whereby Afghan men feel empowered to beat women who are not veiled.
By publicizing the supposed sins of Messrs. Stone and Parker, Mr. Amrikee undoubtedly believes he is fulfilling his duty to command right and forbid wrong. His message is not just an opinion. It will appeal to like-minded individuals who, even though they are a minority, are a large and random enough group to carry out the divine punishment. The best illustration of this was demonstrated by the Somali man who broke into Mr. Westergaard's home in January carrying an axe and a knife.
Any Muslim, male or female, who knows about the "offense" may decide to perform the duty of killing those who insult the prophet. So what can be done to help Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone?
The first step is for them to consult with experts on how to stay safe. Even though living with protection, as I do now in Washington, D.C., curtails some of your freedom, it is better than risking the worst.
Much depends on how far the U.S. government is prepared to contribute to their protection. According to the Danish government, protecting Mr. Westergaard costs the taxpayers $3.9 million, excluding technical operating equipment. That's a tall order at a time of intense fiscal pressure.
One way of reducing the cost is to organize a solidarity campaign. The entertainment business, especially Hollywood, is one of the wealthiest and most powerful industries in the world. Following the example of Jon Stewart, who used the first segment of his April 22 show to defend "South Park," producers, actors, writers, musicians and other entertainers could lead such an effort.
Another idea is to do stories of Muhammad where his image is shown as much as possible. These stories do not have to be negative or insulting, they just need to spread the risk. The aim is to confront hypersensitive Muslims with more targets than they can possibly contend with.
Another important advantage of such a campaign is to accustom Muslims to the kind of treatment that the followers of other religions have long been used to. After the "South Park" episode in question there was no threatening response from Buddhists, Christians and Jews—to say nothing of Tom Cruise and Barbra Streisand fans—all of whom had far more reason to be offended than Muslims.
Islamists seek to replace the rule of law with that of commanding right and forbidding wrong. With over a billion and a half people calling Muhammad their moral guide, it is imperative that we examine the consequences of his guidance, starting with the notion that those who depict his image or criticize his teachings should be punished.
In "South Park," this tyrannical rule is cleverly needled when Tom Cruise asks the question: How come Muhammad is the only celebrity protected from ridicule? Now we know why.
ACT for America
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Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years, and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
After scrutinizing Roosevelt's record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude in a new study that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.
"Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump," said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA's Department of Economics. "We found that a relapse isn't likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies."
In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.
"President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services," said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics. "So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies."
Using data collected in 1929 by the Conference Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cole and Ohanian were able to establish average wages and prices across a range of industries just prior to the Depression. By adjusting for annual increases in productivity, they were able to use the 1929 benchmark to figure out what prices and wages would have been during every year of the Depression had Roosevelt's policies not gone into effect. They then compared those figures with actual prices and wages as reflected in the Conference Board data.
In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt's policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.
Meanwhile, prices across 19 industries averaged 23 percent above where they should have been, given the state of the economy. With goods and services that much harder for consumers to afford, demand stalled and the gross national product floundered at 27 percent below where it otherwise might have been.
"High wages and high prices in an economic slump run contrary to everything we know about market forces in economic downturns," Ohanian said. "As we've seen in the past several years, salaries and prices fall when unemployment is high. By artificially inflating both, the New Deal policies short-circuited the market's self-correcting forces."
The policies were contained in the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which exempted industries from antitrust prosecution if they agreed to enter into collective bargaining agreements that significantly raised wages. Because protection from antitrust prosecution all but ensured higher prices for goods and services, a wide range of industries took the bait, Cole and Ohanian found. By 1934 more than 500 industries, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of private, non-agricultural employment, had entered into the collective bargaining agreements called for under NIRA.
Cole and Ohanian calculate that NIRA and its aftermath account for 60 percent of the weak recovery. Without the policies, they contend that the Depression would have ended in 1936 instead of the year when they believe the slump actually ended: 1943.
Roosevelt's role in lifting the nation out of the Great Depression has been so revered that Time magazine readers cited it in 1999 when naming him the 20th century's second-most influential figure.
"This is exciting and valuable research," said Robert E. Lucas Jr., the 1995 Nobel Laureate in economics, and the John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago. "The prevention and cure of depressions is a central mission of macroeconomics, and if we can't understand what happened in the 1930s, how can we be sure it won't happen again?"
NIRA's role in prolonging the Depression has not been more closely scrutinized because the Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional within two years of its passage.
"Historians have assumed that the policies didn't have an impact because they were too short-lived, but the proof is in the pudding," Ohanian said. "We show that they really did artificially inflate wages and prices."
Even after being deemed unconstitutional, Roosevelt's anti-competition policies persisted — albeit under a different guise, the scholars found. Ohanian and Cole painstakingly documented the extent to which the Roosevelt administration looked the other way as industries once protected by NIRA continued to engage in price-fixing practices for four more years.
The number of antitrust cases brought by the Department of Justice fell from an average of 12.5 cases per year during the 1920s to an average of 6.5 cases per year from 1935 to 1938, the scholars found. Collusion had become so widespread that one Department of Interior official complained of receiving identical bids from a protected industry (steel) on 257 different occasions between mid-1935 and mid-1936. The bids were not only identical but also 50 percent higher than foreign steel prices. Without competition, wholesale prices remained inflated, averaging 14 percent higher than they would have been without the troublesome practices, the UCLA economists calculate.
NIRA's labor provisions, meanwhile, were strengthened in the National Relations Act, signed into law in 1935. As union membership doubled, so did labor's bargaining power, rising from 14 million strike days in 1936 to about 28 million in 1937. By 1939 wages in protected industries remained 24 percent to 33 percent above where they should have been, based on 1929 figures, Cole and Ohanian calculate. Unemployment persisted. By 1939 the U.S. unemployment rate was 17.2 percent, down somewhat from its 1933 peak of 24.9 percent but still remarkably high. By comparison, in May 2003, the unemployment rate of 6.1 percent was the highest in nine years.
Recovery came only after the Department of Justice dramatically stepped enforcement of antitrust cases nearly four-fold and organized labor suffered a string of setbacks, the economists found.
"The fact that the Depression dragged on for years convinced generations of economists and policy-makers that capitalism could not be trusted to recover from depressions and that significant government intervention was required to achieve good outcomes," Cole said. "Ironically, our work shows that the recovery would have been very rapid had the government not intervened."