This week, whether intentionally or not, Kayak.com followed the poor example set by home improvement retailer Lowe's, when it, too, decided to pull future advertising from the TLC program "All-American Muslim." Of course advertisers have the right to decide where they run their ads, but it is disappointing to see a company feed into the fear mongering facing the American Muslim community.
No company can argue it is not taking a political stand when it yanks advertising from a TV program because of the religion of the people portrayed on the show and the unfortunate and unnecessary political controversies surrounding them. Kayak.com's decision to cease running ads on TLC during broadcasts of "All-American Muslim" is evidence not only that the travel website's leadership would rather sacrifice publicity and potential sales than risk being seen as supportive of a certain segment of the American population, but more importantly, that it sends a message that it may not respect the diversity of faiths that define and enrich our country, despite what Kayak officials might say to the contrary.
What makes the United States special is the very notion -- as enshrined in our Constitution -- that all Americans are free to believe in any religious faith, as they choose, without fear of criticism, retribution, or investigation because of it. Sadly, American Muslims are facing fear and criticism for simply trying to exercise these rights in the same way as their neighbors of other faiths. As TLC explains on its website, through the reality show examining the lives of five Muslim American families in Dearborn, Mich., "Each episode offers an intimate look at the customs and celebrations, misconceptions and conflicts these families face outside and within their own community."
TLC should be applauded, not punished, for seeking to illuminate the religion, culture, and, well, the normal daily lives, of a growing number of Americans -- and a too often misunderstood group of Americans, at that. Through making the active decision to remove its advertising, Kayak's goal may have been just to remove itself from what it acknowledges is a show "that may produce controversy." In fact, the company's decision in turn created negative publicity for both itself and on a larger level, the laudable goal of introducing viewers to American families whom they might not otherwise meet or get to know.
In a statement posted on Kayak's website, Kayak chief marketing officer Robert Birge claims that his company "adamantly support[s] tolerance and diversity." He adds, "Unfortunately, this decision comes across as bending to bigotry. It also appears that we did not support people who deserve support as people and as Americans. ... We would not want anyone to think that we caved to hatred." He goes on to argue that "TLC was not upfront with us about the nature of this show" and that "TLC went out of their way to pick a fight on this [lightning rod of a topic], and they didn't let us know their intentions."
It appears Mr. Birge and Kayak CEO and cofounder Steve Hafner, who issued a follow-up statement, simply seek, with an air of naiveté, to cover up and deflect the company's decision to remove advertising. In reality, this cowardly decision does not reflect the values they claim to espouse. Anytime words and actions conflict, I take more seriously the actions; shame on Kayak for its hypocritical behavior. Caving to a controversy that is rooted only in bigotry, which is exactly what Kayak has done, endangers religious freedom for all Americans through the implication that there is any reason not to support a program about the lives of an American religious community.
I can only hope that the torrent of press attention that has come out in response to this controversy serves not only to call Kayak and Lowe's out on their weak moves, but simultaneously to take us forward, not backward, in the fight to ensure religious freedom for all.