Religious Intolerance

Christian Right’s Anti-Muslim War Targets Wholesome TV Series

Right-wingers attack TV’s All-American Muslim for portraying Muslims as ordinary folks, and Lowe’s pulls its advertising—signaling that it agrees Muslims shouldn’t be depicted as anything other than terrorists.

The boycott against All-American Muslim surely marks the first time that right-wingers have objected to a television program for being too bland and wholesome. Since the reality show debuted last month, the putative forces of anti-jihadism, both Jewish and evangelical, have attacked it not for promoting radical Islam but for portraying Muslims who are not remotely radical. “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,” said an email that the Florida Family Association urged its supporters to send to the show’s advertisers.

It’s not surprising that the Florida Family Association, which has previously waged a campaign against the sitcom Modern Family for attempting to “normalize homosexuality,” went after the show. Attacks by people like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who spend their lives warning of the Islamic menace, were predictable as well. What’s shocking, though, is that Lowe’s, the home-improvement chain, decided to bow to a handful of extremists. Responding to conservative complaints, Lowe’s recently pulled its advertising from All-American Muslim. By doing so, it signals that it agrees with the idea that Muslims shouldn’t be depicted as anything other than terrorists.

“Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views," the company said in a statement. "As a result we did pull our advertising on this program.” The show is only controversial, though, because it’s showing Muslims in a noncontroversial light. “There should just be no question as to the bigotry at play here,” says Matt Duss, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress and a coauthor of the report "Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America." “The complete moral cravenness of a company like this is disappointing at a level of American citizenship, but it’s also disappointing on a basic human level.”

The irony here is that this campaign has been a publicity bonanza for All-American Muslim, which has been falling in the ratings precisely because the people on it are kind of staid and boring. What little tension there is mostly comes from the efforts of its strong, assertive female characters—some of them pious women in hijab, some rebels with tattoos and cleavage-bearing tank tops—to negotiate the patriarchal strictures of their community.

Nawal, a religiously observant pregnant woman, is horrified by the suggestion that she return to her parents’ home after giving birth, as custom dictates: “I respect the traditions of my culture, but this is the new generation, and … if I have to stay at my parents’ house for 40 days, I think I’d kill myself.” Nina, a gorgeous blonde event planner who dresses like Kim Kardashian, wants to open a nightclub, but a male associate tells her it’s inappropriate for a woman. An imam counsels Samira, who has been struggling to get pregnant with her husband, that using donated sperm is forbidden. Yet, while the show deals with some of the struggles of an assimilating community, the men on it aren’t monsters. Nawal’s husband is a caring partner. Nina’s family accepts her even though she lives and dresses as she pleases. These are decent, loving people living lives that are utterly ordinary, which is what the show’s critics find intolerable.

Now the controversy sparked by Lowe’s has supplied some of the drama that the show lacks. California state Sen. Ted Lieu wrote a letter to Lowe’s CEO, Robert A. Niblock, calling the decision “bigoted, shameful, and un-American,” and threatening to “encourage boycotts of Lowe’s and look into legislative remedies.” Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, called on corporate America to “take a stand against these anti-Muslim fringe groups and stand up for what is right because this is what it means to be an American." Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons bought out the available advertising on the next episode. It will surely draw many more viewers than it would have received otherwise, and a lot of them will be baffled trying to figure out what the fuss is about.