In the wake of the firebombing of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by what appears to be Zen extremists, satirists worldwide are now thinking twice about making fun of Buddhism or their spiritual leader Siddhartha Gautama.
In fact, popular media outlets who purportedly produce satirical material are increasingly reluctant to mock the Buddha. Funny or Die, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live have all made fun of Islam on numerous occasions, parodying the prophet Muhammad in a number of sketches. Heck, they're even bold enough to ridicule Jesus every once in a while, but very seldom if ever do they attack “the awakened one”.
Even the usually intrepid satirical magazine The Onion, which skewers everything, seems reticent to take on the Buddhists. “We ridicule peaceful religions like Islam all the time, but when our writers were tossing around several ideas to lampoon Gautama Buddha, the publishers felt they were just too incendiary in light of recent events, so we scrapped them”, said senior editor Joe Randazzo.
Indeed, many satirists have felt the wrath of Buddhists for daring to depict the enlightened teacher in a disparaging manner. Artists such as Lars Vilks and Kurt Westergaard, who’s Danish cartoons of the laughing Buddha sparked a wave of violent protest across Tibet and Southeast Asia, have had reason to fear for their physical safety.
More recently, the artist formerly known as Molly Norris, who’s poster art inspired the “Everybody Draw Buddha Day” to protest threats against the creators of South Park for depicting the ascetic holy man, assumed a new identity on advice from the FBI after receiving death threats.
The most famous case, of course, is that of Salman Rushdie, who’s irreverent depictions of Siddhartha in The Shramanic Verses, sparked worldwide outrage and even had a bounty put on his head by the Dalai Lama for, “blasphemy against the Middle Way”. The edict was recently reaffirmed by hardliner monks.
Such are the risks satirists take when choosing to take on the more extremist elements of Buddhism, say many commentators. In fact, Time magazine’s Paris bureau chief Bruce Crumley thinks the French magazine had it coming.
“It’s hard for me to have much sympathy for the French satirical newspaper firebombed this morning, after it published another stupid and totally unnecessary edition mocking Buddhism”, he was quoted as saying.
“Not only are such Buddha-phobic antics futile and childish, but they also openly beg for the very violent responses from extremists their authors claim to proudly defy in the name of common good”, he continued.
In other words, bomb the messenger, and shame on Charlie Hebdo for attempting to exercise its free speech by mocking extremists. Instant karma’s gonna get ya’!
And it appears that many satirists agree, as evidenced by their silence on the matter. Better to play it safe and attack more peaceful religions like Islam, than provoke the ire of vengeful meditating monks, or worse, risk being reincarnated as a German or Swiss humorist. God… er, I mean… Allah forbid!
After all, the right to free expression isn’t something worth actually dying for, is it?