Monday, December 19, 2011

All-American Americans

The home-improvement store, Lowe's, has pulled its advertising from TLC's "All-American Muslim," a reality series based on the lives of five American Muslim families from Dearborn, Mich.
Lowe's decision was prompted by the complaint of an evangelical Christian group known as the Florida Family Association, who threatened to boycott the company's products because they believed the show projected "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
Lowe's customers are divided in their support for and against the decision, and protests have also started. Senator Ted Lieu has called the action "bigoted, shameful and un-American." 
This is a free country, one may argue. Lowe's is a private company and unless it is in breach of contract with TLC, it is entitled to making its business decisions independent of any outside influence or interference.
That would be a valid argument, except for a minor detail: Lowe's decision to withdraw its advertising from TLC's reality show is a direct response to the negative campaign against Muslim Americans by an interest group. Hence, it brings to surface a deeper debate – a debate about American liberties and consumer driven social order.   
So, what is this reality show called "All-American Muslim" about? Who are the "controversial" characters that are so out of favor with the Florida Family Association that they threaten their sense of civil liberties and traditional values?
A quick viewing of the pilot episode introduces one to the five American Muslim families. One couple deals with family drama while tying the knot, another welcomes their first baby; a third couple teaches their four children to balance religious and cultural identities, the fourth juggles an all too familiar balancing act of parenting and careers, and a fifth family features an independent and ambitious Muslim woman.
Their professions range from special education aide to respiratory therapist, federal agent, football coach and law enforcement – as diverse in their line of work as they are in the expression of their faith where hijab and low necklines make for an interesting contrast. What, one wonders, could be more representative of the American experience and less threatening to American liberties? "All-American Muslims" should really be called "All-American Americans," and the only controversy they may be accused of evoking is challenging the stereotype. 
When the producers at TLC conceived the idea of a show about American Muslims, it was likely to gain some good publicity and steady viewership, and challenging negative perceptions about a community that is openly vilified.
The five families featured in the show also aimed to discourage hate-filled rhetoric they encounter in public by allowing TV cameras into the privacy of their homes. A 2010 Gallup survey reveals that 63 percent of Americans acknowledge that they have "little" or "none at all" knowledge of Islam, and 53 percent have a "not favorable at all" view about Muslims. The FFA's complaint shows that many of us would rather continue to embrace their willful ignorance than welcome the opportunity to become better informed.
No matter how one analyses Lowe's decision, it comes out as irrational. Perhaps FFA and Lowe's should have read the 2011 Pew Research Study titled "Muslim Americans: No Sign of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism" to alleviate their fears. In the absence of solid evidence of the "Islamic agenda" that Muslims have been accused of, there can be no justification for FFA's insinuation.  
Business-wise, the decision seems unwise, and Senator Lieu speaks for many when he says, "As a consumer, I find Lowe's bigotry to be nonsensical."
When experts at Lowe's put their heads together to weigh their options, perhaps they should have done their research thoroughly.
According to the largest advertising agency in the U.S., JWT's 2007 study,  the combined annual disposable income from Muslim households in America is estimated at more than $170 billion, and for 70 percent of the respondents "brands play an important role in their purchasing decisions, compared to 55 percent for the average American." It is sad that Lowe's has chosen to embrace the bigotry purported by the FFA. Unless some steps are taken as redress, it is not hard to imagine where that disposable income will not end up.
Interest groups are at liberty to push for their agendas because this is a free country, but we have a civic responsibility to reject what damages societal harmony. To suspend rational thought and give others the power to exploit us leads to social chaos, and we inadvertently become enablers of hatred. That only makes for a fractured community, not a strong cohesive one. 

Published in Sharon Patch as  'All American Muslims' are Really All-American Americans Dec 2011