Often, in conversations about covering Islam in America or Europe, journalists are asked why we don’t cover regular Muslims, why we exceptionalize Islam, why we create scenarios of difference, why we only focus on the strange, the worrisome. “No more photos of piles of shoes outside a mosque,” I’ve heard. Or “Please not another hijab story” or “Why so much about the far right?” But news being news, covering events about regular people, going about their regular lives, living normally is so, well, normal.
Enter TLC’s “All-American Muslim” the show about well, nothing, really. A group of Muslims, living their lives, playing football, getting married, getting pregnant, having kids, starting businesses — just as boring, just as normal as the rest of us.
In all likelihood, you might never even noticed the show. Except that it was so boring, it alerted the ever-bright antenna of the radical, Islamophobic right in America which targeted advertisers on the show, claiming TLC was misleading viewers by not showing jihadist, terror-minded Muslims. And a few advertisers listened: in particular, the massive hardware store chain Lowe’s, which is now desperately trying to figure out how it got itself in this racist mess to begin with. They might start by wondering about who started the campaign against them.
“All-American Muslim” – which also caught the attention of the usual suspects, flamethrowers like Pamela Geller (atlasshrugged.com) and Robert Spencer (jihadwatch.org) – particularly irked a strange, fringe group called the Florida Family Association, run by a man named David Caton who has made it his life’s mission to bring down corporate relationships connected to things he doesn’t believe in, like gay rights, gay characters on television (like those on “Degrassi” and “Pretty Little Liars”), gay-friendly activities (Gay Pride Days at Disney), queer theory in college, transgender rights, skin-magazines in news shops (really), and Muslims living relatively normal lives in America. There was one diversion, a few years back his organization foundered a bit, financially, so he also took on Florida’s efforts to bring in light rail, saying it was “immoral” to tax for mass transit.
In other words: Caton targets things that run counter to a certain, personally determined, value structure. Once focused almost exclusively marginalizing LGBT members of society he has recently shifted into Muslim bashing. He tried to launch a campaign to warn the city of Tampa Florida about Sharia law, (one conservative website quotes him as saying “Tampa officials and political allies are clearly embracing Islamic leaders without regard for policies that could change traditional American values. And as we have seen with Michigan what grows in one community will likely spread to others.”) He attacked a former director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for having “terrorist associations.” People for the American Way explained on Monday that the Florida Family Association has a “long history.”
But while his campaigns have been long been bigoted and aggressive, none had been nearly so nationally broadcast, or nationally effective, as his effort to strip the TLC show “All-American Muslim” of its advertisers.
This time he hit it big. Prompting his readers to launch an email campaign against several dozen advertisers with the TLC programming, Caton’s FFA was able to get high profile Lowes’ Hardware to back away. (They also claim to have won over Bank of America, the Campbell Soup Co., Dell, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Goodyear, Green Mountain Coffee, McDonalds, Sears, and Wal-Mart as well. Thus far no one else has confirmed.)
Here’s the email the FFA encouraged people to send:
The Learning Channel’s new show ‘All-American Muslim’ is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.
The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.
One of the most troubling scenes occurred at the introduction of the program when a Muslim police officer stated ‘I really am American. No ifs and or buts about it.’ This scene would appear to be damage control for the Dearborn Police who have arrested numerous Christians including several former Muslims for peacefully preaching Christianity.
Many situations were profiled in the show from a Muslim tolerant perspective while avoiding the perspective that would have created Muslim conflict thereby contradicting The Learning Channel’s agenda to inaccurately portray Muslims in America.
Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show.
I encourage you to stop supporting this show with your advertising dollars.
It is amazing in its baldness. Shocking that it would be effective. And yet it was. The condemnation, though, was swift and furious. Reeling, Lowe’s wimpered on its own Facebook page:
It appears that we managed to step into a hotly contested debate with strong views from virtually every angle and perspective – social, political and otherwise – and we’ve managed to make some people very unhappy. We are sincerely sorry. We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment.
Nearly 16,000 commentators logged on. Many called the decision to pull away from the show racist, or worse. A few stars announced their displeasure too: Hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons and actress Mia Farrow pushed for boycotts of the chain. Actor Kal Penn launched a letter writing campaign to the advertisers who had not yet confirmed they had pulled advertising from the show.
And yet, maybe the best outcome is a national realization that Muslims are just as boring as the rest of us. That the reason a reality show about Muslims isn’t heart-racing is because the majority of mosque attendees, or those who shun the mosque, just aren’t all that different. They’re Americans, like the rest of us. Worried about the economy. Figuring out how to raise kids.
And instead, if people want to get their heart rates up, they can do it not through looking for terror and security plots, but the way most of the rest of us do — through love and sex and relationships.
In San Francisco a few weeks back, the editors of “Love, Inshallah“ gave me an advance copy of their book, due out Valentine’s Day. ”Love, Inshallah” is a series of (often racy) essays on Muslim women in search of sex and life and love that, sure, highlight a bit of difference, but ultimately read like any women’s primer for finding a mate, losing mates, having one-night stands, and cultivating life-long partners. And really, what could be less controversial than that?