TLC's reality TV series All-American Muslim showcases the lives of five motley families in Dearborn, MI -- a Detroit suburb home to one of America's largest and most vibrant Arab-American communities.
When I heard the cable television channel well known for its edgy yet insightful reality TV series was planning a show about Muslim Arab-Americans in Dearborn, I was thrilled! As a health researcher who studies Arab-Americans' health, much of my research takes place in Dearborn. Not to mention, I am a Muslim and an Arab-American myself, who grew up just miles away.
I know the community well. Its vibrant, self-absorbed character would provide the juice that makes these types of series so addictive, yet its dense social fabric and the diversity in its stories would cast Islam and Arab culture in a different light: perhaps the show might do away, at least in the minds of some, with the rigid perception of Muslims and Arabs and nuance it with stories about real people in a real place in their own backyards.
While the show hasn't dealt with many of the heavier questions surrounding Islam in America -- like the burning of Mosques or other hate crimes -- that wasn't its purpose. For a show meant to convey the truth about the diversity and honest normalness of the lives of average Muslims in the US, it succeeds brilliantly.
But some can't believe Muslims could be so normal. The Florida Family Association (FFA), the political arm of an extremist evangelical group, is in denial. In fact, in their eyes, Muslims being normal must be some covert tactic "clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law."
That a group of bigoted fanatics has issues with a show meant to portray Muslims in a realistic light isn't so surprising. But that some of America's largest corporations, including Lowe's, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, McDonald's and General Motors have fallen in line is astounding. On Friday, Lowe's confirmed that it's choice to pull its advertising was a result of pressure from the FFA.
Lowe's may know home improvement--but it seems to have forgotten history.
Our country has had a contentious past with discrimination, to say the least. In the Jim Crow era South, a powerful, landed, wealthy white minority (less than 25% in some states) lorded over their marginalized black counterparts via laws that were meant to exclude blacks from civic life, segregating them from institutions of power and privilege -- government, education, and industry. These laws saw local businesses and restaurants with signs displayed prominently in their windows: "No Colored Allowed!" In fact, at one hotel the "Whites Only" pool was drained after Dorothy Dandridge, a famous actress and singer of the era, dipped her toe in it. What's most disturbing is that in many of those instances, it wasn't that the business owners themselves had any issue with serving paying black customers -- but that they acquiesced to the hatred of the bigots in their communities. After all, being associated with blacks was "bad for business."
By pulling its advertisements from a television show meant to normalize the Muslim experience, Lowe's and other corporations have tapped into that murky history of institutional discrimination. They have chosen to give way to fear and hate over mutual understanding and inclusiveness, implicitly barring a minority community from access to the public debate on account of the reviling hatred of a few.
I guess being associated with Muslims is also bad for business: "No Muslims Allowed!" now sits in their proverbial windows.
Post-9/11 discrimination has dominated the Muslim-American experience for the past 10 years. The climate of hatred has been fueled by federal policies that implicitly target Muslims, such as the most recent provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that would require extrajudicial military imprisonment of terror suspects alleged to have ties with Al Qaeda. And it has been fanned by isolated hate crimes against Muslims across the US.
The discriminatory choices of these corporations only escalate the anti-Muslim fervor.
Such hatred doesn't deserve our dollars. Access the list of corporations who have chosen ideologues over inclusiveness on the FFA website. Boycott them. Spread the word to your friends and family.
Intolerance can't be tolerated -- "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Follow Abdulrahman El-Sayed on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AbdulElSayed