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Flunking Sainthood

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The news is filled today with reports that Lowe’s and other major corporations have pulled advertising from the new TLC series All-American Muslim, caving to the demands of the right-wing Florida Family Association. The FFA says it is concerned that the show is:

. . . propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.

So it has generated its very own propaganda in response, targeting the companies that advertise on TLC and threatening to boycott them if they continue to present Islam in a flattering or even neutral light.

What is the series that is generating such controversy? In typical reality show fashion, we meet five families in Dearborn, Michigan, and chronicle their ups and downs as they adhere to the demands of their religion while navigating contemporary American life. Contra to reality show fashion, these families all seem unusually functional, close, and happy. Probably that is what the FFA has deemed so dangerous: Muslims take their kids out for ice cream. They coach the local football team. They celebrate with wonder the birth of a child, then worry about that child incessantly for the next half century or longer.

What I love most about the series is the nasal Michigan accents of the families chosen. This highlights the fact that many immigrant-culture Muslims in America have been here for generations; in Dearborn, they came in the early 20th century to work in the factory of a certain upstart named Henry Ford. They are Mom and apple pie. Wait, with the accent make that Maaaam and epple pie.

But here is the biggest problem with All-American Muslim: it’s not that it skews portrayals of Islam so far to the left that it makes the religion seem homegrown. It’s that it doesn’t go far enough in showing the thoroughgoing Americanness of Islam today. By focusing on immigrants and their descendants, the series entirely ignores the fact that approximately 25%-30% of American Muslims are African Americans, born and raised here, also loving Mom and apple pie. If there is an ethnic bias to the series, it’s how anxious the show has been to make Muslims seem not just American, but white. Of the five families featured, not one is black. If the series had been set in nearby Detroit rather than Dearborn, we’d see a very different story.

One thing is certain, though; boycotts work both ways. Those new kitchen knobs and pulls I’m planning to shop for over the Christmas holidays? Lowe’s won’t be getting my business anytime soon.

 

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