An appeal to the American Arab and Muslim Communities

An appeal to the American Arab and Muslim Communities

by Sheila Musaji

I’m certain you are aware of the situation in which the Florida Family Association (FFA) put together a letter writing campaign to pressure advertisers on “The All-American Muslim” television program to drop their advertising.  (I have a lengthy backgrounder on this here which is regularly updated as the situation develops.)

The FFA got the support of a veritable who’s who of the Islamophobia industry and managed to send out 70,000 letters and get at least two companies - Lowe’s and Kayak to withdraw advertising.  They also succeeded in generating a firestorm of controversy.

The Muslim and Arab communities must respond to this issue, and hopefully more interfaith, civil rights, and anti-defamation organizations will join in the effort to oppose this bigotry.  Whether they do so or not, we still must fight back against this bigotry. 

Prior to this demonization effort, there were Muslims who had reservations about the program.  Some thought it was focused on only one small group of Muslims, i.e. Lebanese, Arab, Shia’s living in Dearborn, and wished that it included a more diverse sample of Muslims.  Some thought that the particular people selected did not represent their particular view of Islam, etc.  Wajahat Ali provided a good overview of the various responses.  The titles of many of the articles listed at the bottom of this page also reflect that internal discussion. 

However, once this became an issue not of whether or not the television program itself was worthwhile, but instead an issue of whether or not Muslims - any Muslims - could be represented without including demeaning stereotypes, then it became an issue for all American Muslims to be concerned about.

As Imraan Siddiqui said

... No matter what your view on the show may be, the Muslim community now has a call to action – and this will definitely serve as a litmus test for the community.  There is no doubt that we are living in a time of great challenge and turmoil as Muslims in America.  Although we are 10 years past the attacks of 9/11, the level of Islamophobia in the U.S is at its highest and most well-established level.  The Learning Channel took a bold step by introducing a show that featured Muslims, living a normal – middle-class, well-entrenched American life.  As soon as the show launched, it was met with fierce opposition, by the usual Islamophobic cast of characters ...  So now that the facts are in front of us, what is the Muslim community going to do?  With the rise in anti-Islam sentiment, we have seen a dichotomy in the community; on one hand we have seen a great increase in activism – led by groups such as CAIR and MPAC, among others.  On the other side, there remains a disturbing amount of apathy when it comes to issues such as this.  Many think the best way to react to a hostile environment is to ride the situation out, and that this will all pass.  Will ignoring these issues help the cause of the Muslims and the entire nation in the long term?  The answer is no.  For those who think that groups like FFA are just a flash in the pan, and that Pamela Geller has used up 14 of her 15 minutes, it’s time to think again.

Racism has manifested itself in many eras and in many different ways throughout history.  There were times when racism was institutionalized, as in the case of the post-slavery and Jim Crow era toward African Americans.  There have been times where the racism or anti-religious sentiment has hovered beneath the surface –as in the case of the attitude toward Catholics, throughout much of America’s history.  As we zoom out and examine the timeline of this relatively young country’s history, there has been a relatively unbroken chain of racism or religious discrimination that has manifested in some way, shape or form.  There has always been small, yet vocal minority who have latched onto these movements and who have attempted to fear-monger against a perceived outsider group.  This has shifted at one point or another from Catholics, to blacks, to Jewish people, to Asians.  The focus is now squarely upon the Muslims.  When multi-billion dollar firms such as Lowe’s are allowed to make moves such as this, the threat of institutionalized racism becomes that much more of a reality.

Those at the Florida Family Association hide behind a false sense of morality, trying to build a connection to what they perceive as “traditional American values.”  In the course of their faulty logic, they completely ignore the rights of all religions (including specifically Muslims) to enjoy the same freedoms under the First Amendment of the Constitution, that they claim to cling to so dearly.  The reality is that the Thomas Jefferson’s, John Adams’ and Benjamin Franklin’s of the world were much more sophisticated in their worldview and more accepting of all peoples centuries before there was any television or Internet.  Past precedent shows us that these hate groups would have likely been on the side of segregation and the marginalization of the aforementioned race and religious groups, had they been present during those times.  We must ask ourselves if we are truly at a crossroads when it comes to how Islam is perceived moving forward in the U.S.

...  The answer is simple:  If we sit back and do nothing, we lose.  If we continue to ride this thing out, and wait for someone else to write a letter, or for someone else to call, or for someone else to boycott Lowe’s, then chances are that nobody will.  We have great organizations that work for our civil rights on a day to day basis, but they can only do so much.  Groups like CAIR have the same annual budget to handle hundreds of staff and operations as does a single anti-Islam blogger – as in the case of Bridgette Gabriel or Robert Spencer.  These people receive all kinds of funding from corporate interests and foundations in order to spread the fear of Islam – and sadly, they are successful in doing so.  All of us can do a small part to contribute to this cause – whether it is writing a letter to Lowe’s executives, calling them to express your dissatisfaction, or to just shop elsewhere in an act of conscientiousness.

As Eboo Patel noted, there is one glimmer of hope in this:

It took Muslims a full three months to figure out a strategy to counter the campaign against Cordoba House, otherwise known as “the Ground Zero Mosque.” This time around, it took about three hours.  ...  All American Muslim generated a lot of controversy amongst Muslims, a good deal of it from more traditional believers who didn’t like the community represented by people sporting tattoos and hanging out in clubs. But once Lowe’s pulled its advertising, even high-profile orthodox Muslims like Yasir Qadhi showed their outrage at the hardware chain, and thus their implicit support for the show.

Muslims, like every religious community, have a dizzying number of internal differences - theological interpretations, political persuasions, levels of observance, etc. These differences have long dominated discourse amongst Muslims, causing ugly divisions and an unhealthy blindness to the gathering storm from without. But now that the storm is upon us, we are banding together. Muslims of one sort who might otherwise actively denounce Muslims of another sort are now finding themselves supporting one another, all under the canopy of what I call ‘Big Tent Islam.’ There is a blessing to the forces of prejudice being so brutal and blatant: it’s uniting Muslims.

That this is an issue of concern not only to Arabs and Muslims, but also to all Americans who are concerned about stopping the spread of Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, or open bigotry towards any group is obvious from the fact that:

Many knowledgeable people outside of the Arab and Muslim communities see that this issue is a “clear and present danger” to all Americans, especially in light of the widespread Islamophobia that is going unchallenged.

Elected Representatives who have spoken out:

Keith Ellison,  John Conyers, Ted Lieu, Chris Murphy, Cory Booker, Andre Carson, Bill Pascrell, Barbara Buono, Judy Chu, Gary Schaer, Gary Peters, John Dingell, Hansen Clarke, Scott Stringer, Mike Honda -  have all expressed serious concern.

A statement signed by 31 members of Congress includes the following passages which show the importance of responding

“We are dismayed that your decision was influenced by an online petition from the Florida Family Association, a group that has advocated discrimination and bigotry in the past. This group alleges that All-American Muslim “is propaganda that hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”  This dangerously false view of American Muslims has no place in our society, and by pulling your advertising, you are tacitly agreeing that this absurd notion deserves credence. It does not.

“In your statement explaining why you decided to pull your advertising you claimed that this was a “hotly contested debate.” Quite frankly, there is absolutely no contested debate about the contribution of Muslim-Americans to American society. Yes, we face threats from radical Islamic extremists, but the millions of patriotic, peace-loving Muslims living and working in America are our best defense against them, and only strengthen the fabric of our nation. Instead, today they face the same bigoted notions that previously have been directed against African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Catholic-Americans and others.

“Further, your actions give credibility to the view that we accept discrimination towards Muslims as a nation, which harms our national security by feeding recruitment efforts by extremist Islamic organizations. In fact, Denis McDonough, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, recently noted that Al Qaida’s core recruiting argument is that the West is at war with Islam. A chief goal of our national security policy is to undermine this contention. We fear that public actions like the one taken by your company this week, if not quickly corrected, may buttress this false argument.


Civil Rights and Anti-Defamation Organizations who have spoken out:

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (AACAJ), and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and have all released statements expressing their serious concerns about how serious this issue is for Arabs and Muslims, and all minorities.  A few passages from them

“While there is reason to be concerned about some Americans motivated by radical interpretations of Islam, it is profoundly unfair and misguided to tarnish all Muslims in the United States with that brush.”  ADL

“Advancing Justice believes that Lowe’s reaction gives credence to these anti-Muslim sentiments and contributes to a negative atmosphere of intolerance towards minority communities and may incite hate crimes and related violence.”  AACAJ

“By pulling their advertising based on controversy generated by anti-Muslim sentiment, companies are condoning the continued fear- mongering and discrimination against Muslim Americans.  The JACL is deeply troubled by the backlash against All American Muslim and by the actions of companies that chose to cave to bigotry rather than stand up for what is right.”  JACL

Many CELEBRITIES and JOURNALISTS have expressed their concern: Russell Simmons,  Meghan McCain, Mia Farrow, Deepak Chopra, Jon Stewart, Aasif Mandvi, Keith Olberman, Glenn Greenwald, etc.  Russell Simmons even offered to buy up any ad spaces lost due to this bigotry.


We ask that if you are one of those who haven’t gotten involved in this issue to date, either because of reservations about the program itself, or because you just didn’t see this as a critical issue - you reconsider.

We would hope to see strong statements by every Arab and Muslim national organization, and by Muslim scholars, imams, and community leaders.

Sign the PETITION Repudiate Calls to Stop Advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim”

The petition went online on 12/11.  The petition now has 38,662 signatures.  Based on the population of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S., and the fact that perhaps half of these signatures are from non-Muslims, this is a disturbingly low number.  We would hope to see this petition reach at least 500,000 in the next few days.  And, that could be done if the Arab and Muslim communities just took this issue seriously.  If YOU sign, post to your Facebook or forward to your friends and ask them to sign and do the same, the power of social networking seen to be so effective in the “Arab Spring” could be put to work in defense of our communities.

The Islamophobes are serious, to get out their hateful anti-Muslim message they mobilized over 70,000 letters to companies.  And, their counter petition has managed to secure 24,000 signatures in just two days. 

Sami H. Elmansoury who is one of those who organized the petition provides some background on the importance of this effort in an article on Patheos:

So if there was ever a moment to say “enough” to those who continuously question how “American” you, I, or your neighbor is – I believe that this can be it. Now is the time to throw un-American, hate-mongering bigotry back into the hole from which it disturbingly emerges every few decades. We are all in this together as Americans — whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist – whomever we are, and whatever belief system we espouse. And, while we must strive to protect the homeland, together, we are one country. Personally, I will continue to work throughout my life to see that we remain that way.  This petition and the surrounding activism are only the beginning of an end, God willing, to this continuing absurdity. The next step will be upon our leaders, upon our politicians, upon our media, and upon all of us who continue to seek peaceful coexistence and American unity, to take back the microphone — and to put the bigots on notice.

After you sign and forward the petition, go to the “what you can do” sectiion of this backgrounder article on this situation and see if there are any other responses you can work with, or start your own.

Watch the next episode of “All-American Muslim” on Sunday night at 8 p.m. CST.  If there aren’t viewers,  why would producers consider making any more programs about Muslims.  If there aren’t viewers, why would anyone ever want to advertise on any program having anything to do with Islam or Muslims?  If there aren’t viewers, why would any channel want to air programs about Islam or Muslims.

As Wajahat Ali notes

That being said, nearly half of American Muslims say they have faced discrimination. The FBI just announced anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen 50%. And a Republican presidential candidate with an alleged proclivity towards sexual harassment and unintentionally hilarious campaign videos has claimed a majority of Muslim Americans are extremists.

The portrayal of Muslims living their daily lives is not only a welcome relief from the usual tawdry caricatures of Muslims as terrorists, extremists and taxi cab drivers, but it also helps defuse the deep-seated fears and bias that unfairly lumps 1.5 billion members of a faith in with the perverse criminal actions of a few.

We know that our law enforcement agencies and personnel have been fed a steady diet of anti-Muslim propaganda.  We know that many of our elected representatives have expressed anti-Muslim views including the possibility that Muslims are not protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.  We know that the Senate passed a bill that would allow military indefinite detention for American citizens.  We know that there is a push to outfit FEMA and U.S. Army camps around the United States.  All of this makes these developments particularly alarming as they might relate to the American Muslim community.  All of these issues are important and we need to maintain vigilence on all of them.

All of this together should make us realize that we cannot allow the demonization of the Arab and Muslim communities to continue, and that we must put aside petty differences and work together while we are still able to do so.


A Litmus test for the All-American Muslim community, Imraan Siddiqi

All-American Mess, Jonah Goldberg

‘All-American Muslim’ Draws Over a Million Viewers

‘All-American Muslim’ is Action Packed Again, Casey Holley

All-American Muslim is Just TV, Folks, Zeba Iqbal,_folks/

All-American Muslim Meets an Un-American Advertising Pullout, By James Poniewozik

All-American Muslim TLC site

All-American Shame: A Wake Up Call from This Week in TV, Ilyse Hogue

Backlash Mounts Against Un-American Bigots Who Targeted All American Muslim

‘All-American Muslim’ review: Varied lives shine through on TLC, Robert Lloyd

An all-American reality show, Tuqa Nusairat

Becoming All-American Muslims, Eboo Patel

Boycotting the All-American Muslim, Tod Kelly

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

Corporations Pulling Ads From All-American Muslim Are Engaged in Jim Crow-Style Discrimination, Abdulrahman El-Sayed

Florida Family Assoc. has a history of protests

Hateful campaign targets “All-American Muslim” , Matt Zoller Seitz

How Lowe’s Walked Into the Morality War Against Sex, Gays and Muslims 

The Increasingly Fraught Position of American Muslims, Conor Friedersdorf

Let’s Face it: It’s the Radical Right, not Islam, that is the Greatest Threat to the American Way, Ahmed Rehab

Looking Beyond “All-American Muslim”, Rose Aslan

Lowe’s Among Companies That Have Pulled Ads From TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ Reality Show, Omar Sacirbey

Lowes Folds To Bigotry And Pulls Advertising From TLC’s All-American Muslim, Perez Hilton

Lowe’s pulls ads from ‘All-American Muslim’ after ‘ordinary’ portrayal protested

Lowe’s Pulls Ads from TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ for Portraying Islam POSITIVELY

Lowe’s Retail chain pressured into pulling advertising from reality show about Muslims

Media Matters notes that Anti-Muslim Activists Attack TLC’s All-American Muslim As “A Little Taqiyya On The Prairie”

Meet The Florida Family Association: A Faux Outrage Generation Factory

My Take: ‘All-American Muslim’ doesn’t speak for this Muslim, Aman Ali

My Take: Defending TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ against Muslim complaints, Khurran Dara 

My Take: Is ‘All-American Muslim’ begetting all-American bigotry?, Arsalan Iftikhar

NPR discussion about All-American Muslim with Wajahat Ali

The Reality of “All-American Muslim”, Wajahat Ali

TLC premieres ‘All-American Muslim’ reality TV show, Niraj Warikoo

TLC show flawed, crucial step, Noor Mir

TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’: A Step in the Right Direction, arsalan Iftikhar

TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’: A Step in the Right Direction, Dilshad Ali

TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim,’ Shot in Dearborn, Getting Attacked on Multiple Fronts, Jim McFarlin

Turning up the heat on Lowe’s and anti-Muslim bigotry, Greg Sargent