From Shas to Hamas: The group behind the ‘South Park’ controversy
By Maidhc Ó Cathail
Online Journal Contributing Writer
May 12, 2010
Muslims just can’t seem to take a joke. Or at least that’s what some would have you believe.
Like the contrived Danish cartoon controversy, the much-hyped Times Square car bomb incident provided an ideal opportunity for those who seek to make Islam look bad in the eyes of the world.
Before the arrest of Faisal “The Fizzler” Shahzad tied this latest botched terror plot to the Pakistani Taliban, some initial news reports suggested that it might have been the work of an Islamist group with a poor sense of humor -- and an even poorer sense of direction. The fact that the fertilizer-laden SUV was parked “about one block from” Viacom headquarters led the Washington Post’s pro-Israel staff writers Jerry Markon and Anne Kornblut to speculate that it may have been retribution for a satire on the Prophet Mohammed shown on one of Viacom’s TV networks.
After Comedy Central aired an episode of the satirical cartoon South Park in April that depicted the prophet in a bear costume, its creators received veiled death threats from a New York-based group called Revolution Muslim. The threats were issued on the group’s Web site by Zachary Adam Chesser, who now goes by the name Abu Talhah al-Amrikee.
Within days of the posting on the obscure Web site, Joshua Rhett Miller of FoxNews.com did a story on it, in which he interviewed Chesser. “They’re going to be basically on a list in the back of the minds of a large number of Muslims,” the recent convert told Fox. “It’s just the reality.”
A few days later, Miller did a profile of Chesser, in which he described the 20-year-old as “the boy next door” with a “dark side.” Quoting an anonymous high school classmate, Miller informed Fox readers that Chesser -- prior to his career as a humorless fundamentalist Muslim -- was a “loner . . . who frequently drew pictures of Satanic figures in his notebooks.”
The hype over South Park was not the first time, however, that Rupert Murdoch’s stridently pro-Israel media had publicized Revolution Muslim’s provocations.
On March 26, 2008, FoxNews.com trumpeted the group’s puerile puppet show mocking the 2002 beheading of a Jewish American journalist in Pakistan. “I could care less about Daniel Pearl,” group founder Yousef al-Khattab said in an interview with Fox. “I’m happy to see that he’s gone.”
In an Oct. 13, 2009, piece, Joshua Rhett Miller drew attention to a post by al-Khattab which asked Allah to murder the Jews and urged Muslims to “throw liquid drain cleaner in their faces.” In yet another interview with Miller, al-Khattab claimed that these outlandish statements reflected the “prayer of every true Muslim.”
On Nov. 8, 2009, Fox reported on Revolution Muslim’s tribute to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged with the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas. This time it was another one of Murdoch’s newspapers, the New York Post, which interviewed al-Khattab after he wrote, “An officer and a gentleman was injured while partaking in a pre-emptive attack. Get well soon Major Nidal. We love you.”
In one of his articles, Joshua Rhett Miller mentioned, almost in passing, that the provocative al-Khattab is “an American-born Jew formerly known as Joseph Cohen who converted to Islam after attending an Orthodox rabbinical school.” An insignificant detail?
The implausible story of Cohen’s implausible conversion was first told, it seems, in a most interesting venue: Israel’s leading right-wing English newspaper. Cohen, who moved with his wife and family from Brooklyn to Israel in 1998, was one of three people interviewed for a Nov. 25, 2005, Jerusalem Post feature on the spread of Islam among Israeli immigrants titled, perhaps ironically, “True Believers.”
While living in Netivot -- the only town in Israel without a public high school due to the extreme influence there of the ultra-Orthodox Haredim -- Cohen said he became disillusioned with Israeli secularism. “At that time I met this person on the Internet, a sheikh from UAE [United Arab Emirates], whom I met later on, and we started chatting and talking on the ’net,” Cohen told the Jerusalem Post. After two years of “theological dialogue” in a Jewish chatroom with the persuasive sheikh, Cohen was transformed from being a supporter of Shas -- the ultra-racist political party of Mizrahi Haredi Jews -- to a “sudden admirer of al-Qaeda and Hamas.”
Seemingly unable to interest “weak” Palestinian Muslims in his newly acquired brand of “pure” Islam, Cohen returned to New York to launch his online jihad for “the creation of an Islamic caliphate which will rule the world.”
Having not so long ago believed that Jews had a God-given right to Palestine, Cohen is now saying that Muslims should rule the world. The zeal of the converted? Perhaps.
But it also conveniently confirms the Islamophobic propaganda of the likes of Daniel Pipes who try to scare Americans into fighting Israel’s wars with dire warnings that the Muslims are coming.
Maidhc Ó Cathail is a widely published writer based in Japan.