12.16.2011

stand against islamophobia: boycott lowe's... and more

By now you've probably heard about the "All-American Muslim" TV show vs. Lowe's Home Improvement vs. Florida Family Association craziness. I know "The Daily Show" has been tracking the story (of course the video is not available in Canada). But in case you haven't heard about this particular bit of insanity from TGNOTFOTETM, this excellent column in The New Yorker's online edition will fill you in.
The Jaafars and their children form one of five Dearborn families featured on “All-American Muslim,” a reality show, on TLC, created by some of the same team behind “Real Housewives of New York.” The show has become the target of an ugly campaign by a group called the Florida Family Association, which calls it “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.” That someone, somewhere, would yell at the television when presented with images of Arab-Americans getting married or ready for school or running a football practice is sad, but might not be surprising. What is more remarkable, and even alarming, is that the group’s campaign persuaded Lowe’s, the home-improvement chain, to pull its advertising from “All-American Muslim.”

The Florida Family Association says that Lowe’s is not the only sponsor it has driven away. That is hard to know, since ads are bought and sold all the time. Lowe’s, however, made no secret of its decision to walk away: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lighting rod for many of those views,” it said in a Facebook post. “As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”

That is, at a minimum, weak on Lowe’s part. Why would it be so responsive to a letter that contained lines like, “One of the most troubling scenes occurred at the introduction of the program when a Muslim police officer stated, I really am American. No ifs ands and buts about it.” Are those the sort of words that cause panics? The actual complaint that the Florida Family Association has is particular and peculiar: that “All-American Muslim” is dangerous because its subjects aren’t. The Florida Family Association isn’t pretending that these people—the Amens, the Aoudes, the Bazzy-Aliahmads, the Jaafars, and the Zabans—aren’t exactly who the program says they are. (It’s a fairly diverse group that includes, even within those families, women who wear the hijab and ones who don’t) When it says that the show is an effort to “inaccurately portray Muslims in America,” it is rejecting that reality in favor of stereotypes. In other words, the truth is false if it does not look the way one thought it would. It is seized by the fear of a bland Muslim. [I highly recommend reading the whole column.]
I've been pleased to see that a boycott of Lowe's is in full swing, with entertainment entrepreneur Russell Simmons buying the advertising that Lowe's gave up. That's excellent, but we need to do more. At a minimum, we can write to Lowe's and tell them we support the boycott, and why. What we need, though, is a large, public repudiation of this disgusting Islamophobia.

What is it like to live in a country your entire life, your family to live in that country for generations, and be singled out as The Other, have your basic values and loyalties questioned? Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians learned what it was like. European Jews learned. African-Americans were The Other for hundreds of years.

I keep asking myself, how can we show our Muslim neighbours that we abhor this kind of scapegoating and bigotry? What can we do that is more than lip service? I'm not asking this rhetorically: I'm really asking. If you have thoughts about this, share them in comments.

Meanwhile:

Lowe's contact form

Lowe's email

Robert A. Niblock, Chairman and CEO
Lowe's Companies, Inc.
1000 Lowes Boulevard
Mooresville, NC 28117-8520

4 comments:

johngoldfine said...

I hate that '-ophobia' suffix.

Why offer people who hate without reason the little excuse that perhaps they hate because they 'fear'--with the implicit corollary that, once fear is banished, no doubt they will see reason, sit down, and happily break bread with everyone?

People love their own cruelty--it's the foundation of their view of themselves as the Righteous Ones--and will never give it up on the basis of some rational argument.

Our hatred of Islam needs a better name; I propose the clumsy but more accurate: 'anti-Muslim bigot.'

DavidHeap said...

While not a fan in general of the -phobia suffix, I think in this case, there is a lot of truth in it: a lot of the fear is generated (and stoked) by ignorance. For example, my very nice (and generally progressive) neighbour did not even know we have a mosque in the neighbourhood (all of 5 blocks away) until she went there with us for a War Resisters benefit a couple of years ago.
The London Muslim Mosque (I have never figured out why they add the modifier "Muslim" but anyway) does great outreach work in the community, with "doors open" at last once a year, bazaars, etc. but still there are plenty of folks who refuse to learn facts and spew ignorant sh*t about them e.g. in our local London Free Press.
So, while it is certainly not a panacea, I am a big fan of sitting down and breaking break with folks at the mosque, as well as with the Muslim Students Association on the campus where I work.

I also share the Jon Stewart clips with my Muslim (and other) friends on Facebook (though they often get there before me). L-girl, as a public service, the Stewart video IS available in Canada(otherwise, how could I keep up with my teen-age son when Steph and I miss an episode?)

Oh yeah, "anti-Muslim bigot" works to, as does just plain "bigot".

Now, to write those Islamophobic bigots at Lowes.

DavidHeap said...

I should perhaps add that I agree with Johngoldfine (above) about the ineffectiveness of rational argument in the face of irrational views (but this does not mean we should give up on rational argument, of course). I think just spending time with The Other (breaking bread, or whatever) is at least as important as (perhaps more important than) "rational argument" in many cases.

Another illustration: a few years ago I took my sons and my dad on the Caravan against secret trials and security certificates, which went through some pretty small communities in eastern Ontario. In advance of upcoming Supreme Court decision on security certificates, the police had recently raided what became known as the "Mississauga 18" (the number later dropped) and anti-Muslim sentiment was being whipped up generally. In Trenton (a military town) things got rather ugly at one point, with townspeople jeering at us (things like "Lock up all the Mohameds, burn all the mosques" -- seriously, in my Canada??). I was at a loss for words (does not happen to me often) and beginning to feel a bit hot under the collar, when my then 15-year-old son Nico (who had been talking quite a lot to the incomparable Jim Loney on the Caravan) simply said to some of the bigots: "Do you actually know any Muslims? My friend Mohammed at my school is not like that." While it did not immediately change anyone's mind, his words did succeed in framing the exchange in more human terms. I am forever grateful to Nico (and to Jim) for this lesson.

Before then, I had not thought about London Ontario (where I had come with a bit of big-city attitude, from Toronto) as a cosmopolitan place, but in fact it is pretty diverse when it comes to our Mulsim community (and not just in comparison to places like Trenton).

laura k said...

Wow, Daily Show vids ARE in Canada! It must be SNL I'm thinking of that isn't. (Cue commenter with a working link to SNL vids...)

Thanks for this, John and David. There are so many words and usages I don't like, I wouldn't know where to begin. You'll note I tag all posts about any sort of bigotry under "bigotry," because for my money they're all the same. But I can accept that for whatever reason, one has been called anti-Semitism, one's been called Islamophobia, one's been called racism (even though the concept of race is completely antiquated and should have been retired long, long ago), and so on.

"Do you actually know any Muslims? My friend Mohammed at my school is not like that."

I'm pleased to say that this is exactly what I say when I sense a mind is open. I referred to this in a little ancedote in comments here recently: "I'm Jewish, and I'm not like that."

Like all words, it's only useful when the listener is listening. But if they're too defended or threatened or whatever to listen, maybe they'll think about it later. I do know people - many people - who used to be anti-gay and now are not, used to be anti-whatever... and learned, and let it go.