Florida Family Association’s Anti-Muslim Campaign’s Unintended Positive Consequences - updated 12/21

Florida Family Association’s Anti-Muslim Campaign’s Unintended Positive Consequences

by Sheila Musaji

The advertiser boycott effort of David Caton’s Florida Family Association (FFA), and the anti-Muslim bigotry displayed by both the FFA and the other groups and individuals who joined FFA in their effort to further dehumanize American Muslims seems to have had an entirely different effect.  In this case bigotry had unintended consequences.

I published a “backgrounder” article on this issue on December 7th, and since then have updated it every day.  As the situation developed it was very depressing, and it was difficult not to focus on the negative.  However, over this past two weeks, many positive outcomes of this bigoted campaign are becoming more prominent.  For details, links, quotes, and an article collection on this issue see that “backgrounder” which I will continue to update.

First,  FFA claims of success are exaggerated

Although FFA claims that 65 advertisers cancelled due to their pressure.  We already know that this claim is false.  We know that only two companies have admitted pulling ads — Lowe’s and Kayak.  We know that 15 companies have said that they did not pull ads and were misrepresented — Amway, Art Instruction Schools, Bank of America, Campbell’s Soup, Cumberland Packing, The Gap, Green Mountain Coffee, Home Depot, Ikea, Pernod Ricard, Radio Shack, Sears,  Toyota,Walmart,  and Whirlpool.  We know that the FFA site has removed the names of 3 companies that were on their original list without any explanation at all (Lowe’s, McDonald’s, and Whirlpool).  We also know that 5 companies they claim pulled ads were still advertising after FFA included them on the list of companies that had withdrawn ads (Conagra, Honda North America, HTC Phones, SC Johnson, and Signet (Kay Jewelers).

Based on what we know so far, it is very probable that most of the other companies listed simply had no further ads scheduled.  This is even more likely since the FFA seems to be concerned about having anyone check up on their claims.  They have now removed the list and posted this Florida Family Association will NO longer post the names of the companies that pull off the show because of intense scrutiny by opponents.

This means that the claims of the FFA, Pamela Geller, and others are false.  Based on what is actually known, only two companies caved to bigotry, and that is less than a 1% success rate.

Reza Aslan from BoomGen Studios said “What I don’t think is getting enough attention is the overwhelming support of advertisers who have rallied around the show”  Russell Simmons came forward and offered to buy up any ad spaces that were left open due to cancellations.  As it turned out, this magnanimous gesture wasn’t needed as all of the ad spaces are sold out.

Second, there has been an outpouring of support for the American Muslim community and of opposition to bigotry

Some of the individuals and organizations who have issued statements supporting the American Muslim community, and expressing dismay for the bigotry expressed are:

INTERFAITH ORGANIZATIONS - LEADERS, AND CLERGY:  Rabbi Jack Bemporad Director, Center for Interreligious Understanding (NJ) and of the John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue (Rome); Professor Marshall Breger, Catholic University of America;  Rev. Chuck Curie; Rev. Thomas W. Goodhue, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches; Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, President of Auburn Seminary; Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA); Valerie Kaur, Director of Groundswell at Auburn Seminary; Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine;  National Council of Churches;  Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center; Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding; Rev. Charles Williams, head of metro Detroit’s African American Ministers Leadership Council

CIVIL RIGHTS & ANTI-DEFAMATION ORGANIZATIONS  Anti-Defamation League (ADL);  Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (AACAJ);  Japanese American Citizens League (JACL);  MoveOn.org

ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES:  Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI); Cory Booker (Mayor Newark NJ);  New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D- NJ-Middlesex);  Rep. John C. Carney, Jr. (DE-DE); Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN);  Rep. Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC);  Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI-Detroit);  Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI);  Rep. George T. Darany (D-MI-Dearborn); Rep. Rosa L. Delauro (D-CT); Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-Dearborn);  Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-MD);  Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MI); Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ);  Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL);  Rep. James A. Himes (D-CT); Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA );  Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA); Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL); Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH); Rep. John B. Larson (D-CT); Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA-9); Sen. Ted W. Lieu (D-CA-Torrance);  Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA); Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI); Rep. James P. Moran (D-VA); Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT);  Rep. John . Oliver (D-MA); Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ);  Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI);  Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME); Rep. David E. Price (D-NC); Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA); New Jersey Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Bergen/Essex/Passaic);  Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL); Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA); Rep. Fortney Stark (D-CA); Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS-2)

CELEBRITIES & JOURNALISTS:  Spencer Ackerman, Deepak Chopra, Mia Farrow, Glenn Greenwald, Ray Hanania, D.L. Hughley, Maz Jobrani, Aasif Mandvi, Keith Olberman, Meghan McCain,  Ryan Penagos, Kal Penn, Stephan Said, Russell Simmons Jon Stewart

NATIONAL ARAB & MUSLIM ORGANIZATIONS, SCHOLARS, AND COMMUNITY LEADERS  American Arab ADC, Arab American Institute, American Muslim Consumer, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) — Imam Mohamed Magid, Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, Imam Suhaib Webb, Dr. Ingrid Mattson.

The Arab American Institute posted a statement commenting on this positive outcome of this situation Guess what? We’re about to talk about Islamophobia, and we’re not just going to complain about yet another outrageous statement; we’re actually reporting on the fight back.

This issue is bringing together people across religious lines, and beginning to galvanize the interfaith community.

Even Politics USA noted Just when you thought you couldn’t stand any more negativity, along comes a redemptive moment.  Christians, Muslims, and Jews are standing in solidarity against Lowe’s decision to pull their advertising from TLC’s “All American Muslim.”

Third, this has had a positive effect on mobilizing the American Muslim and Arab communities across ethnic and sectarian lines

This crisis was responded to almost immediately by ordinary Muslims and Arabs.  Well before any national organizations (Muslim or non-Muslim) jumped into the fray, there were individual grassroots initiatives which were quickly turned into a network through facebook pages, twitter networks, and other social media.

One of the grassroots efforts to fight back was a petition “Repudiate Calls to Stop Advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim” which reached 40,000 signatures in only 6 days.  Three other petitions were also put online by Faithful America, Growndswell, and Credo Action.  Combined, these petitions have 63,000 signatures.

Sami H. Elmansoury, one of those who organized the petition described why so many took this as a call to action:

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.

As Daniel Tutt notes What’s most striking about their organizing is that individual citizens without the support of established interfaith or Muslim organizations initiated it. In fact, it was only late into the crisis that national interfaith groups began to write op-eds and really show their support. This grassroots network has managed to push back against the religious totalitarians, and at least thus far into the crisis, they appear to be winning.

Wajahat Ali wrote

The decision by Lowe’s, behemoth chain of retail home improvement and appliance stores, to pull its ads from TLC’s reality TV show “All American Muslim,” ceded to the bigotry, fear-mongering and paranoia of a deluded minority whose divisive ideology poisons America’s cherished history of inclusiveness and pluralism.  However, in doing so, they unwittingly inspired a sudden grassroots coalition of diverse Americans dedicated to defending American values and fighting back against hate. 

... Even more surprisingly, this protest has united the most diverse religious community in America, Muslims, in a coordinated campaign to effectively and intelligently respond to a fear-mongering.  As a Muslim American, I can assure readers Muslims cannot agree on anything, except how much we dislike other Muslims, and how there’s never enough parking spaces at the mosque.

Only last week, Muslim American communities were immersed in petty debates over whether or not to support the show, with some claiming it represented a positive milestone and others deriding it for not featuring more ethnicities or being reflective of their personal practice of Islam.

Essentially, we are witnessing an expanding notion of “big tent American Islam” where diverse Muslim American communities and organizations are uniting to defend the show and its characters – including a hijab-less, tattooed, skirted, Shia woman – in the face of oppressive Islamophobia.

Eboo Patel also wrote about the glimmers of hope:

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.

Fourth, this has focused awareness on the bigotry of the Islamophobic, anti-Muslim extremists

Who has supported David Caton and FFA’s effort?  Brigitte Gabriel and ACT for America, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and their SIOA have been the main promoters of this effort, although the online Islamophobia echo chamber magnified and spread their bigotry far and wide.  What sort of individuals and organizations allied with the FFA? 

According to the ADL, Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, and Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA) are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated SIOA as a hate group, and these folks are featured prominently in the SPLC reports Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.  They also feature prominently in the Center for American Progress “Fear Inc.” report on the Islamophobia network in America.  Geller is featured in the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism, and in the NYCLU report Religious Freedom Under Attack:  The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State, and the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security.  These folks are featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. 

Lowe’s posted a statement on their Facebook page “clarifying” why they had withdrawn their ads, and within days 22,000 people had posted comments. A significant portion of these comments were racist and contained anti-Muslim/anti-Islamic hate speech.  After articles were written about this raising the question of why Lowe’s didn’t moderate it’s Facebook wall, Lowe’s deleted that comment thread.  In their statement about removing the thread Lowe’s said However, we have seen a large volume of comments become more pointed and hateful. As a result, we have taken the step of removing all previous posts and will more tightly filter future comments on this topic.

And at a protest in Michigan on 12/17, about 15 counter-protestors showed up, among them members of the Michigan Militia, who displayed the fact that they were carrying guns in holsters. 

Geller posted an article “responding” to Nawal and Nader’s appeal below.  Here are a few of the comments her readers left — Islam is deceptive to it’s followers, who in turn look to deceive the masses into the same deceptive doctrine. Seems like a pathogen 2 me. — al taquiah,
a faithful follower of islam is allowed to lie to the infidel, how do you know when a muslim is telling the truth? his mouth is closed. — She can start erasing the hatred by ripping up the Koran and while she’s at it, she might as well rip up her hideous shrouds… Ah, wait a minute: if she did that, her completely ‘normal’ hubby might just have to kill her to cleanse his ‘honor’. (spit)  I ain’t buying any.  They are not “normal”. Far from it! — Pam - don’t fall for this so-called ‘sincerity’ - this is what they are good at. They are ALL tarred with the same brush. — Don’t blame Pamela, she is just the messenger, the evil which is Islam is out there, enacted by Islam, by muslims, not Pamela, you dumbasses. — Islam is a terrorist organization. — This couple has been brainwashed. they have swallowed hook, line and sinker the LIE that IS “islam”. — Never, ever believe anything a muslim says.  Never trust a muslim. — Pamela is NOT deceived. Neither should any of the rest of us be deceived.  There is no truth in Islam. There is no hope in Islam. Human beings are merely the tools used for the spread of Islam.  Islam would like to use you. Islam would like to use me. People are for loving. Islam is for exterminating. Islam is disease and TRUTH is the cure.  Love the Muslims - hate the taqiyya and the Islam. If the two beautiful young people in the video want to “fight the hate and extremism” they will fully and publicly renounce Islam. There is no “moderate” Islam. There is no middle ground. — The biggest mistake we’re making, is only targeting radicals. By doing this, all we’re doing is allowing the enemies to “peacefully” grow their forces. If this couple truly wanted a religion of peace, and equality for women, they would leave Islam. — Don’t fall for it, Pam. The koranimals are only buying time but tell them it’s not for sale.

These are the sorts of disreputable individuals and organizations that the FFA was able to attract to aid them in this bigoted effort.  And, this is the sort of bigoted response they instigate.

Fifth, there have been some incredibly creative and humorous responses

Jon Stewart and Aasif Mandvi who aired a segment on The Daily Show about this issue.  As usual, what Stewart calls a “fake” news program understands the issue better than most of the “real” news.

Singer Stephan Said released his song “What Is America?” from his new album for free download here  in response to the Lowe’s Islamophobia scandal.

Kal Penn has also produced a brilliant satirical video about Lowe’s decision.  Three young filmakers Gregory Bonsignore, Parvesh Cheena, and Rizwan Manji created a hilarious short film called the “unaired Lowe’s commercial for All-American Muslim.”  Hussein Rashid’s interview with the filmakers here.

The Arab American Association of New York Youth respond to the controversy in a short video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quRCeN5WbcY

Daniel Tutt and a group of filmakers is working on a short PSA in response to this controversy.  They are doing this independently and attempting to raise the money from individual contributions http://www.indiegogo.com/All-American-Muslim-PSA

There is a satirical video Lowe’s Addresses Pulling Ads from TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’

Amer Zahr posted a video of him returning $2,600 worth of merchandise to Lowe’s

South Asian for Justice Bay Area Chapter, Bay Area Solidarity Summer and Alliance of South Asians Taking Action (ASATA) put together a “hijabi flash mob” at a local Lowe’s.  See video here.  Creative, but they should have done this outside the store to stay within the law.

Sixth, we now know that more Americans oppose than sanction bigotry

There were six petitions developed by different groups that were calls to reject bigotry.  As of 12/20 when a group of clergy took the signatures collected on petitions by People For the American Way, Faithful America, Change.org, CREDO, SumOfUs, and Groundswell.  The petitions they delivered represented over 200,000 signatures.  These 200,000 signatures are separate from the first SignOn.org petition that has gone viral, and now has 42,000 signatures.This means a total of 242,000 signatures have been collected.

Brigitte Gabrielle’s ACT for America had started a counter petition in support of Lowe’s decision and FFA’s original bigoted reasons for demanding an advertising boycott of this program.  As of 12/20, and after promoting this widely on many sites and in emails, they have collected 32,000 signatures.  Although, they do not list any names, they just put a number at the top of their petition page.  I have no reason to believe their claim.  .

As Deena Douara noted Lowe’s and Kayak did not kowtow to a fringe extremist group. They did a simple calculation: Are we likely to increase our customer base by advertising on a show about ordinary Muslim Americans, or are we going to lose customers who do not even watch the show because the Muslims portrayed are too ordinary? Are there more Muslims and progressives, or bigots and racists? In Lowe’s calculation, the greater risk was in losing the bigots.    Which is not an unreasonable assumption.    When politicians, networks, and journalists are comfortable airing their fears about Islam and presenting them as fact, then bigotry is normalized, rationalized, and acceptable.

In this case Lowe’s and Kayak miscalculated.  Even if ACT’s claims are true, 200,000 versus 32,000 signatures shows that there are a lot more Americans who want to end bigotry than there are Americans who want to perpetuate bigotry

Seventh, we have learned something about how much can be accomplished by a small group using social media

David Caton of FFA claims that the FFA was responsible for over 1,000,000 emails collectively sent to all advertisers on the show.

This email campaign is a lesson in the power of a very small group to create what seems like a much larger response than it really is by using social media.  Even if we take Caton’s claim of 1,000,000 emails sent out at face value, that number could have been generated by only 15,384 or fewer.  They provided a link that allowed you to click once and send out letters to all the companies they were targeting.  If that was 65 companies as they claim, then 15,384 people each sending 65 emails with one click could equal 1,000,000 emails.  FFA actually sent out the emails in waves and had four separate action alerts to all of the people on their email list.  Anyone sending out one of their letters automatically gets on their email list to be notified of the next letter writing campaign.  This means that it is possible that one individual sending letters in each of the 4 campaigns could have generated 260 letters.  This also means that it is possible that this huge volume of emails could have been generated by as few as 3,846 individuals.



Here is an inspiring and intimate interview clip of Nawal and Nader from “All-American Muslim” which was released by USA Today.  In this genuine and heartfelt message from the privacy of their own home, the couple has the courage to reach out to the FFA and Pamela Geller - the very people who have been preaching the most hatred against them - to ask them to unite against all forms of radicalism and hatred.  Nawal even says of Pamela Geller, “I’m exactly like her, I’m a working woman like her.  ...  The problem they have with Muslim extremists is the same problem we have with Muslim extremists.  We agree with Geller and the FFA that we want the extremists erased.” Nawal and Nader’s ability to rise above hatred captures the spirit of the Coalition to End Islamophobia in a way that should inspire us all in our efforts against bigotry in any form. 

All in all chalk up one small victory for bigotry and ignorance, and and one giant victory for decency and tolerance!



American Companies Accused of Joining the All-American Anti-Muslim Bandwagon (TAM Backgrounder with article collection), Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/all-american-muslim/0018896

Becoming all-American Muslims, Eboo Patel http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/becoming-all-american-muslims/2011/12/14/gIQAYZV8tO_blog.html

The Boycott of All-American Muslim: The Joke is on Lowe’s, Wajahat Ali http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/15/the-joke-is-on-lowes/

The Lowe’s Controversy and the Success of Religious Pluralists, Daniel Tutt http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-tutt/lowes-and-the-success-of-interfaith-dialogue_b_1156377.html