December 12th, 2011
10:29 PM ET
Editor's note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, global media commentator and author of the book "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims in the Post-Osama Era."
By Arsalan Iftikhar, Special to CNN
Imagine for a moment that a major American corporation decided to remove its commercials from a reality television show highlighting the everyday lives of Latinos, African-Americans, members of the LGBT community or Jewish Americans because of coordinated letter-writing campaigns from right-wing organizations.
If you think this kind of bigotry could not happen in modern-day America, you would be absolutely wrong.
The hardware and building supply chain Lowe’s has pulled its TV commercials from future episodes of TLC’s new reality show “All-American Muslim” after a letter-writing campaign by the Florida Family Association, a Christian group.
The Tampa-based organization has urged companies to pull ads because it alleges the show is “propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.”
This argument is lunacy and is a pretext for bigotry against Muslims, plain and simple. Using this sophomoric logic, the TLC reality show "Sister Wives" is a covert campaign to promote fundamentalist Mormon polygamy across America.
Nonetheless, in response to the growing controversy, Lowe's issued a terribly weak statement (and non-apology) on its Facebook page which states, in part:
“Lowe’s has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result, we did pull our advertising on this program.”
Wait a minute, Lowe’s. Exactly what "topic" are you talking about? Are we 7 million American Muslims merely a "topic" to discuss in today’s America? In 2011, do we live in a country in which an entire minority group can be dehumanized as a “topic?”
Plus, it is cowardly for Lowe’s not to even mention this "topic" (aka Muslims) by name in its public statements.
What if right-wing groups were mobilizing against a television show highlighting the everyday lives of Latinos, African-Americans, Jewish people or gay people? Would Lowe’s have buckled?
Of course not.
What makes this national controversy all the more troubling is that many of the more than 12,000 comments responding to Lowe’s Facebook statement endorse the chain store’s decision, and in jingoistic language that is a lot less oblique than Lowe’s. Here are some of the comments that were showcased by BuzzFeed:
- “Thank you Lowes, for pulling your advertising from “All American Muslims” show (there is no such thing as “All American Muslims”).”
- “[The women on the TLC show] were almost pretty, till they put rags on their heads.”
- “How dare these people come into our country and try to take over and push their religion onto us!”
- “Thank you for pulling your support for American Muslim, now I will come back and shop in your stores.”
I wonder whether these people would ever have the guts to say these same things about other religious and ethnic groups in America today.
Do these people know that the cast members for "All-American Muslim" include a federal agent and a deputy chief of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, both of whom are proud American Muslims?
Do they know that some of America’s foremost heroes and celebrities, from boxer Muhammad Ali to comedian Dave Chappelle, are proud Muslims?
Just as anti-black, anti-Semitic, homophobic or anti-Latino campaigns should have no place in our country, it is important for Americans of all races, religions and ethnicities to stand up against the bigoted campaign against "All-American Muslim."
Otherwise, TLC might as well change the name of its show to "All-American Bigotry."
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arsalan Iftikhar.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.