The Cable Channel, TLC, has been airing a weekly program called the “All American Muslim.” This Sunday, December 11, will mark the fifth episode of the ‘reality’ show chronicling the lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan. I urge you to tune in at 10 PM, EST. By all accounts, the show attempts to show the often-misunderstood attitudes, customs, and beliefs of American Muslims. Pundits have either hailed it as a breakthrough while others trashed it as too scripted and unrepresentative of the larger and diverse American Muslim community.
But it appears that a sizable number of the show’s advertisers have decided to stop their commercials on the show due to a massive campaign by anti- Muslim groups. Islamophobia is a growing industry that has seeped into many aspects of American life. Lowe’s, the giant home improvement store with locations all over the US, is one of over three dozen US companies that have decided to stop advertising on the show.
I previewed the show and actually expressed my reservations about its plot. After all, this is not a show that was produced and vetted by a recognized Muslim religious organization. Therefore, the issue is not Islam but individual Muslims, and Muslims come in different sizes and colors as relates to their understanding of the faith and practice thereof. I recognize the show for what it really is, a TV show about American citizens who, as they struggle with their faith and cultural baggage, are living as a minority group in a seemingly unwelcoming land. However, I argue, “the show will not change many minds – especially those with an anti-Muslim agenda. For those with an open mind, it will do wonders. American Muslims are fully American while at the same time faithfully Muslim.” I felt, and strongly so, that the show will open up many eyes and hearts to a community that is most misunderstood and often absent from the public eyes.
The orchestrated anti-TLC campaign argues the show “is an attempt to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad.” No specific evidence is provided, only a continued castigation and religious lynching of fellow American citizens of the Muslim faith. The religious lynching of American Muslims has persisted unabated ever since the horrific attack of 9-11. Even with the killing of its mastermind, Osama Bin Laden, the terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, has been used to represent all of Islam and its 1.6 billion adherents. American Muslims, who had nothing to do with 9-11, have been atoning for the sins of criminals who were not American citizens and who, it must be noted, killed more American Muslims than anybody else. Here is a stark case of victims not allowed to mourn their loss and, worse, turned into scapegoats and permanent suspects.
Even before the show aired its first segment on November 13, extremist groups filled the Internet with hateful messages and warnings about the show. Now the call for a TV commercial boycott is coming from Internet hate sites like “Bare Naked Islam,” which recently featured a number of threats of violence targeting the U.S. and European mosques and right-wing groups such as the Florida Family Association and American Decency. Pamela Geller with her “Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance”, perhaps exemplifies the most hateful anti-Islam rhetoric on the Internet. To these bigots, Islam and American Muslims are an existential threat to America, and they believe any attempt to humanize and positively portray this community is un-American. To them, the moment American Muslims are humanized, their ideology will cease to attract followers.
It is most disturbing that a nationwide company such as Lowe’s would succumb to such low standards by agreeing to stop its TV commercials from appearing on the segment. Celebrating its victory, the Florida Family Association shows on its website the text of the email they received from Lowe’s, which says, in part, “While we continue to advertise on various cable networks, including TLC, there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe’s advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention. Lowe’s will no longer be advertising on that program.”
I wonder what these “guidelines” that govern the placement of Lowe’s advertising on television really are. A negative return on investment cannot be a justification because, according to reports, viewership has been healthy and actually exceeding expectations. Hence, I wonder what these guidelines would entail in specific relation to programs that portray American Muslims. That they are ‘average’ people like the rest of us apparently defies the image Lowe’s must have. If they were shown as aloof, extremist, violent, and bloodthirsty, that image might fit Lowe’s guidelines. There is no other explanation. The truth is that the great majority of American Muslims are loyal, patriotic, hardworking, and productive citizens. And they comprise a sizable buying block. If this is the scornful belief of a large American cooperation, action at the highest level must commence to confront it.If Lowe’s does not change its stance, it will be judged as nothing short of a large-scale discrimination policy. For Lowe’s to conspire with fringe groups is truly alarming and we call on our public officials, especially elected representatives, to speak up against this mass castigation of an entire community.
We continue to appeal to the management of Lowe’s to seriously reconsider its position on this matter. There is nothing wrong with the show being on television. Granted, some (including some American Muslims) may disagree and resent the show for one reason or another, but that was never a yardstick Lowe’s used with similar shows. If no change is forthcoming and soon, are we to assume that Lowe’s shares the extremist and xenophobic beliefs of such fringe groups that have exhibited utter hate towards our fellow citizens? American Muslims are consumers and customers. If Lowe’s persists in its advertising boycott, American Muslim consumers will no longer feel welcome and they will take their business elsewhere. And other more visible options will be considered, including large-scale boycotts and protests. Several Arab and Muslim organizations have already issued statements denouncing Lowe’s move and have urged the company to reverse its decision. We urge our friends to call Lowe’s now.
It is a sad commentary on our American pluralistic ideals when, such as Lowe’s succumb to the smear campaigns of hateful groups that lack credibility, legitimacy, and are founded on notions of bigotry and racism reminiscent of a shameful period in this country’s past. America has a much bigger heart than that.
Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum, a think tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs. www.aafusa.org