Islamophobes would like you to believe that they're not anti-Islam. They're only anti-Islamic extremism.
So why is it that Islamophobes are always going after mainstream Islam? They lampoon Muhammad. They want to burn not the writings of Osama bin Laden but the Quran itself. They target an Islamic community center in downtown New York City that's the brainchild of an interfaith dialogue proponent and an overseas emissary of the George W. Bush administration.
And now they're venting spleen at an innocuous cable TV show called "All-American Muslim." This reality show on TLC follows five Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich. It explores typical family situations (getting married, having a baby), cultural traditions (hookah, bellydancing) and religious experiences (wearing the hijab, converting to Islam). There's a cop, a football coach, a businesswoman, a tattooed rebel. The program showcases the diversity of the community.
It's so all-American, so earnest in its efforts not to offend anyone, that it verges on boring. Sure, the show does address some provocative issues, such as anti-Muslim sentiment and 9/11. And there are the usual inter-personal tensions familiar to reality-show connoisseurs. But all in all, it's light on outrageousness and exhibitionism, two critical qualities for successful television these days.
You'd think that social conservatives would embrace ventures like "All-American Muslim." The show features people who are hard-working, religious and family-oriented. But that's not how bigotry operates. Otherwise, social conservatives would be the first in line to support gay marriage and the repeal of don't ask, don't tell in the military.
It was no surprise, then, that the Florida Family Association, an evangelical Christian outfit infamous for its intolerance, called on advertisers to boycott "All-American Muslim." Several businesses cravenly followed suit, most prominently the home improvement chain Lowes. In mid-December, Lowe's issued a half-hearted apology but refused to reinstate its ads on the show, which will air the final show of its first season on Jan. 8.
Both Florida Family Association, and noted Islamophobes like Pamela Geller who have supported its campaign, complain that "All-American Muslim" is not representative because it doesn't dwell on sharia law or feature a terrorist or two.
But although it might boost ratings considerably -- and "All-American Muslim" has seen its viewership slip recently -- the inclusion of a terrorist in the program would not be representative. Political extremism is in fact extremely rare in the Muslim-American community.
Since 9/11, there have been only 11 cases of Muslim Americans who have committed terrorist acts in this country, resulting in 33 deaths. Between 1980 and 2005, according to FBI statistics, approximately 6 percent of all terrorist attacks in the United States were conducted by Islamic extremists. These perpetrators of violence are not representative of the 2.75 million Muslim Americans. Moreover, Muslim American organizations have all condemned terrorism, and the FBI has long relied on the help of the community to identify the few individuals who are inclined toward violence. As for sharia law, except for one minor case in New Jersey that was subsequently overturned, it has had no impact on the U.S. court system.
In other words, the attempts by Islamophobes to rationalize their bigotry on factual grounds is just plain wrong.
I'm no fan of reality shows. But if "All-American Muslim" can prove to mainstream America that Muslims are as boring, community-minded, socially conservative, occasionally wacky and celebrity-obsessed as the rest of us, then it deserves a place on TV. And companies like Lowe's should support it.
It's one thing for big mouths on the margins to voice their extremism. There's a long American tradition of that, from anti-Catholic Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan to anti-Semitic preachers and homophobic radio hosts.
But it's quite another matter when these extremists block community centers, win passage of ludicrous anti-sharia laws and convince major U.S. businesses to join their Islamophobic campaigns. There's an equally long American tradition of denouncing bigotry. In the TLC show, Muslims amply demonstrate that they're ordinary, mainstream Americans. Now it's time for the rest of us to do the same by standing up to the Islamophobes.
John Feffer's latest book is the forthcoming 'Crusade 2.0' (City Lights).