Imagine if a major American advertiser were to pull its ads off of Jersey Shore because they received objections that the show while portraying a group of Italian-Americans, made the glaring error of excluding Mafiosi.
Imagine if the absence of characters “whacking knee caps” and “making offers you cannot refuse” was deemed as an “omission” and therefore pro-Italian propaganda, and as a result too controversial to sponsor.
Well imagine no more.
Such is the pitiful state that Islamophobia has reached in this country, and it’s very real.
All-American Muslim is an American reality show like any other. It portrays the trials and travails of five Michigan families with typical reality show themes like marriage, birth, business, faith, food and of course drama queens.
There is one problem however, at least for the Florida Family Association: the characters in the show are American Muslims.
The Florida Family Association got its members to send in dozens of emails to the show’s advertisers based on a pre-written template that stated in part:
“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.”
So basically, their objection is that the show is portraying “ordinary Muslims” as – you may need to sit down for this – “ordinary Muslims”! Of course this runs the risk that unsuspecting Americans may come to view their ordinary Muslim neighbors as ordinary. According to this Florida group of nuts, this would be a travesty that American corporations must not contribute to.
We are more or less used to the unfortunate fact that there are anti-Muslim loons lurking about out there. There’s the burn-a-Quran-day pastor from Florida, there’s the group from Florida that tried to ban a Muslim professor from the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission because he was Muslim, and there’s that guy who tried to organize against Muslim family day at a Six Flags Texas theme park in Texas. Yes, yes, he was from Florida.
But what is real cause for alarm is the creeping influence of Islamophobia into mainstream American politics and culture. From the Peter King radicalization hearings that use taxpayer funds to put mainstream American Muslims and their institutions on mock trial, to the frequent anti-Muslim rantings of the Congressman from Florida, Allen “Islam is not really a religion” West all the way to presidential hopeful Newt “Palestinians don’t really exist” Gingrich. And now, we have the weak-kneed primetime corporate sponsors.
That a group of extremists from Florida would exercise their first amendment right to carry out bigoted campaigns is unfortunate but not all that shocking. That 65 out of 67 advertisers (according to the Florida Family Association’s website of which only Lowe’s is independently confirmed) would capitulate to their nonsensical complaints that “ordinary Muslims are being portrayed as ordinary” is an alarming new milestone in the mainstreaming of bigotry in this country. For that reason, it ought to catch the attention of Americans who, for far too long, have stayed on the sidelines of the Islamophobia horror picture show.
Lowe’s admitted that they cut their ads short as a result of the emails they were receiving and after reviewing some websites and blogs out there (in the “bigotosphere”). Lowe’s is not just a tool in the hands of the far right, it’s the entire hardware store.
What Lowe’s is essentially saying by choosing to pull its sponsorship is that NOT portraying American Muslims as terrorists is just, well, too controversial for its brand:
“We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance. We strongly support and respect the right of our customers, the community at large, and our employees to have different views. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize.”
Lowe’s is putting forth a very dangerous argument: that the far right bigots and the mainstream Muslim voices with their pro-tolerance allies of all faiths are equal opposites; that those who wish to humanize a faith community that comprises 25% of humanity and those who wish to demonize them are equal opposites; that the forces of bigotry and the forces of anti-bigotry are equal opposites. The pervasive assumption that there is a moral equivalency between the two sparring sides is a major factor in the rise of Islamophobia in the US. But Lowe’s goes further than to claim moral equivalency. It actually takes sides, the wrong side: the side of the bigots.
The running complaint used to be that Muslims are always portrayed as terrorists. But now, the message being sent is that “not portraying American Muslims as terrorists” is sufficient for complaint and controversy. It’s moving the goal posts to a dangerous new “lowe”.
There are three lessons to be extracted from this episode:
First, it is a confirmation of what we have been stating all along: Islamophobia is not merely a reaction to terrorism or radical ideologies (which would have been a welcome exercise), but, in fact, it is a form of bigotry that targets an entire faith community: the religion of Islam itself and its mainstream practitioners.
Second, Islamophobia is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s sort of like “we hate you because you are terrorists, but when you’re not terrorists, we want you to be terrorists so we can hate you.” In the case of American Muslim leaders and organizations, the line is “we hate you because you are terror-linked, but when you’re not, we need you to be terror-linked so we can hate you.”
Third, Islamophobia is but a smokescreen, a projection of sorts. We are often told that Muslims are trying to Islamize America and institute Islamic Shariah law (“Sharrorize” America as Imam Suhaib Webb puts it). We are told that the less than 1% of American Muslims is but a fifth column who is here to take over and subjugate the remaining 99% plus. Setting aside the obvious ludicrousness of the claim for a second, ask yourself when was the last time American Muslims organized to pull advertisements off the air from shows that do not conform with their faith values (and trust me there are many)? Our organizing campaigns are themed around anti-bigotry and social justice, not the imposition of our faith.
To the contrary, it is the Christian right, the same folks who comprise many of the leading anti-Muslim alarmists, groups like the Florida Family Association (and trust me there are many) that are time and again organizing to force their way of thinking on other Americans. A quick visit to their website shows that this is not the first time they have successfully harassed advertisers for advertising on shows that do not conform to their ideology. They’ve targeted gays, sexually liberal shows, and others they disagree with.
It is not a coincidence that the organized Islamophobia networks in this country often include the same people who are trying to force-feed the Bible into government, schools, and public life.
And so comes the most important realization:
The organized American Muslim community’s agenda is in fact a social justice agenda. Any objective scrutiny of our organizations, campaigns, projects, and discourse reveals that this is widely and consistently the case.
On the other hand, as I already mentioned, you will find that it is it is none other than the far right that is out to force their narrowly conceived socio-religious ideology and way of life on Americans.
They conveniently promulgate the whole Islamist supremacist takeover fantasy and the Shariah scare as a divergence, a distraction, a smokescreen.
Projection is the name of the game.
They often use soft namesakes like “family” and “freedom” to give the impression of docility, and they inundate their websites and blogs with American flags and eagles to give the impression that they are the tried and true patriotic Americans who are best poised to speak for the majority.
They are not the majority, but they are not less than 1% either. They are in the millions, have access to billions of dollars, and have sufficiently organized at both the grassroots level and onas well as the internet in recent years to start to flex some muscle. (It is often stated that if fascism were to ever come to America, it would be wrapped in the US flag and bearing a cross.)
There is a ray of light. More Americans are beginning to wake up to the Islamophobia disease and the attempts at divergence from the real threat to our freedoms and democracy.
A year ago, the scorching Park51 controversy, while contrived and sensationalized at the end of the day, failed to impress the media or the public. In the case of the Lowe’s controversy, Americans are joining hands in speaking out against bigotry. Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish groups, as well as notable individuals, including 2010 Spirit of Anne Frank awardee Anya Cordell, California State Senator Ted Lieu, music mogul Russell Simmons, actress Mia Farrow, and several other celebrities, have come out strongly to say “enough is enough.”
For Lowe’s and other companies that gave in to bigotry, the choice is simple: own up to your error and do the right thing – or risk being chalked up on the wrong side of history (not to mention the wrong side of an impending boycott).