All-American bigotry

December 17, 2011

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-Photo courtesy of TLC.com

The Learning Channel, a US cable network, took a positive step this month in airing an eight-part reality series called All-American Muslim, which follows the lives of several Muslim families living in the States. The show’s innate aim is to break down the mainstream stereotypes of Muslims as being violent, anti-social extremists. Though the show deconstructs some of the divisions in American society, some right-wing radicals have responded with indignation and called for a boycott. While individuals are legally permitted to hold such ignorant views in the US, this sentiment is increasingly dangerous when propagated by conservative political leaders to drum up public support.

The Florida Family Association, a conservative religious group, has led the attack against All-American Muslim, calling for a boycott because the show, “is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimise these nice people.”

Such an ironic statement would be funny if the Florida Family Association were a fringe group that no one paid attention to. However, the group was able to convince some advertisers, including a major retail store chain, Lowes, to drop its advertising for the show. Lowes responded to public outcry by stating that it pulled advertisements in order to ‘avoid controversy’ rather than due to an enmity towards Muslims.

The veracity of that claim is debatable, but even if we could prove that Lowes is acting out of a discriminatory bias, there is little that can be done legally. The US Constitution allows for private individuals and companies to be bigoted, so long as they don’t discriminate in their employment practices. When it comes to optional contracts, like the advertising Lowes offered to buy, there is no law stopping a company from discriminatorily pulling its investment in one product.

There are legal protections for religious minorities in the US, but most of these concern governmental action and have nothing to do with the acts of the private sector. In many ways, the Constitution and American Capitalism do not thrust tolerance on the American people, but allow them the freedom to choose it themselves. Therefore, rather than the government banning companies that engage in discriminatory practices, it is the power and duty of the consumer to stop patronising that business, causing it to fail. In this vein, Lowes has faced an organised boycott from many liberal groups who challenge the claim that Lowes is merely attempting to avoid ‘controversy.’

If one were to watch the show for five minutes, one would see there is hardly any controversy involved: just young Muslim adults living normal lives, raising their children, and doing their 9-5 jobs. The controversy is for those radicals who believe that this show is deceiving the American public because no matter what Muslims say, they are all hell-bent on taking over the US through violent means. Though only a small part of the population thinks this way, the great majority of Americans do not know much about Muslims outside of what they see on war coverage news. I know this because I have served the ubiquitous role as the “token” Muslim friend for dozens of my acquaintances.

However, through my own experience and that of the show’s moderate popular success, it seems the majority of Americans are eager to learn more about what similarities they share with their Muslim neighbors.  Representative Keith Ellison, a Muslim member of the US Congress, said, “the success of ‘All-American Muslim’ shows how ready the country is to learn about Muslims as Americans, which probably makes hate mongers uncomfortable — as they should be.”

Indeed, it was these hate-mongers that were busy at work after 9/11 attempting to dehumanise Muslims in order to justify abuses against them in the global and domestic war on terror. As stated by Dr. Dale McKinly, “At its conceptual heart, xenophobia is a fear of the ‘other.’” With Bush at the helm, conservatives in the government and media painted Islam and its followers as an evil monolithic anti-American force that had to be fought with US soldiers and drones. The “othering” of the enemy is a tactic that US has adopted time and time again during war, which is how the American people allowed for the internment of thousands of innocent Japanese citizens during World War II.

It is no coincidence that the group behind this recent wave of bigotry, the Florida Family Association, is in full support of Newt Gingrich’s run for the White House. Mr. Gingrich has been the face of Islamophobia, and in many respects wears his hate for Muslims as a badge of honor in the face of those who have accepted the dehumanisation of Muslims as “terrorists.”  In his documentary, “America At Risk: A War With No Name”, Gingrich shows the US locked in an eternal struggle against Muslims, who all inherently wish to impose Shariah law on the rest of the world. Gingrich has further called for a law banning the use of Shariah law in American courts, as well as denouncing the Palestinians as an “invented people.”

While there are laws to physically protect religious minorities like Muslims in the US, there is little to shield them from the slings of bigotry coming from conservative radicals. Nevertheless, the act of televising such a program has ‘let the cat out of the bag,’ despite the disappointing reaction from companies like Lowes and groups like the Florida Family Association.

Though the American media played a hand in dehumanising Muslims in the wake of 9/11, shows like All-American Muslim attempt to repair some of the damage by breaking down these newly-created social divisions and stereotypes. As Shadia Amen Mcdermott, a woman featured on the show, said, “this is about standing up against bigotry and hatred in this country founded on peace, justice, and equality.

 

The writer holds a Juris Doctorate in the US and is a researcher on comparative law and international law issues.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.