Heard the one about the prophet Mohammad? No? And nor are you likely to, either – particularly in the mainstream media.
Since nine-eleven, and more particularly the storm over the Danish cartoon that lampooned Mohammad, the west has been walking on egg-shells over the issue of poking fun at radical Islam, and no-one has been tip-toeing quite as lightly as the media.
The latest betrayal was delivered by the Comedy Central channel in the United States last week, when an episode of South Park (C4, Thursdays, 9pm) that parodied Mohammad and dealt with issues such as fear and intimidation, was censored before going to screen.
Responding to a threat levelled by what has now been depicted as an insignificant, tin-pot group of juvenile delinquents (acting under the name of Revolution Muslim), the US channel decided to bleep out 35 seconds of dialogue between cartoon character Kyle, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.
The move followed complaints and controversy over the previous episode depicting Mohammad in a bear costume, and a not-so-subtle threat from RM that included a photo of the mutilated body of Dutch columnist Theo van Gogh, murdered six years ago in Amsterdam by an extremist nutcase.
The furore over the South Park episodes was nonsensical enough but the decision from the television network to censor what was, after all, a very general message about tolerance and moderation, only shows how superficial the issue has become for the media.
Rather than taking a responsible lead, the move to censor the show has only reinforced the view that all Muslims are likely to be terrorists and radicals, secretly praying at home for the overthrow of everything western.
It has dignified the notion that there is no difference between moderate, reasonable Islam and a pack of complete screwballs; it’s encouraged all similarly-deluded idiots to follow-suit and, most importantly, has prevented an opportunity to promote moderation and inclusiveness ahead of hate and sectarianism.
As American Muslim Arsalan Iftikhar wrote recently on the CNN site, “Instead of dealing with the real cases of racism, bigotry and xenophobia regularly injected into our public airwaves … we have instead allowed ourselves to get sucked into a faux controversy involving two no-name idiots with a radical website taking on four pre-pubescent, fictitious cartoon characters from South Park, Colorado.”
And it’s no different in New Zealand, when you think about it. The media encourages us to throw our arms in the air over the Destiny Church but pretty much looks on idly as the Catholic pope dismisses reports of institutionalised paedophilia.
The media whips us into a frenzy over the ruthless, inconsiderate and unforgiving nature of modern life, and then gives prominent platforms to right-wing fundamentalists such as Garth McVicar and David Garrett.
But nothing causes our television, radio and newspaper executives to lose the plot quite as much as the Islam “question”. Trouble is, by running scared all the time they not only tar all Muslims with the same brush. They tar the rest of us as well.