4 min read
You won't hear me say this often, but Russell Simmons is right. The hip-hop mogul has joined a chorus of folks criticizing the home-improvement chain Lowe's for pulling its ads from a show called All-American Muslim. I have watched bits and pieces of the TLC reality show, which has been airing on Sunday nights for about a month, and I was puzzled about what could be so objectionable about the show that the Florida Family Association was demanding major corporations drop their support of it.

I didn't see a lot of calls for jihad against America or suggestions that Muslims who leave the faith should be punished or even much sense that the Muslims on the show were particularly religious, let alone radical. It turns out that is exactly the problem. The Florida Family Association, a group that says its "thousands of supporters" share the "goal of improving America's moral environment," has launched a campaign against All-American Muslim because, it says, "The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish."

Maybe the Florida Family Association is not familiar with TLC, the network that brings you What Not to Wear and Little People, Big World (a show about a family of midgets). This is not Primetime or 20/20, folks. TLC specializes in reality shows, not undercover investigations of the dirty underbelly of radical groups in America.

Reality shows (again, for those who aren't familiar) are often fairly mundane. You can watch an hour-long show in which people do exciting things like make breakfast or talk on the phone or argue with their teenagers. There may be one "event" -- someone has a baby, someone gets married, someone plays a big football game -- but mostly these shows are exercises in voyeurism. Viewers want to watch the day-to-day lives of people who are like them or people who are unlike them. They want to see their homes and their cars and their clothes and listen in on their conversations. All-American Muslim does this adequately enough.

So what's the problem? The Florida Family Association quotes an overwrought article from Robert Spencer in the magazine Human Events describing his problem with the show:

And so we meet one zaftig girl who loves to have fun and go to clubs, and who is in the process of getting married. Another young woman, provocatively dressed by Muslim standards, is trying to open up a club of her own. A young hijab-wearing wife shares the joy of her pregnancy with her loving husband. They’re balancing the demands of faith and family with life’s daily pressures, just like most Americans. So why – the show implies – are non-Muslim Americans so mean to them?

Yet it is noteworthy that both the woman who is getting married and the one who is trying to open a club acknowledge that they are not all that religious. And that is the problem at the heart of All-American Muslim. The Muslims it depicts are for the most part undoubtedly harmless, completely uninterested in jihad and Islamic supremacism.

So really All-American Muslim is pretty much representative of American Muslims. They are by and large much less radicalized, of course, than their European, let alone their Middle East, counterparts. In fact, a number of Muslim leaders have expressed concern to me that the Muslim population is becoming secularized, with only a fraction of Muslims attending mosque even once a year in many communities. Interfaith marriage rates among Muslims are about average for Americans. And the show's five families seem to range widely in their religious observances.

So no, All-American Muslim is not trying to hide things about Muslims. I was actually surprised to see that in the first episode the family tells the Catholic guy who wants to marry their daughter that he must convert first. If the show were just trying to present all Muslims as lovers of liberal diversity, then surely this incident would not have made the cut.

One supposes that a comparison could be made here between All-American Muslim and another TLC show called Sister Wives, which is about a family of polygamous fundamentalist Mormons. This show does harp on the idea that this family is oppressed for no real reason except the closed-mindedness of Americans. And it suggests that polygamy is perfectly normal and healthy and everyone is happy. In fact, this is not really the way most polygamous Mormons live. They are typically poor, with a father who does not make enough money to provide for all of his wives and children. They are often living on welfare. Many of them live in compounds, safe from the eyes of law enforcement. Many of the girls don't attend school and are married off at young ages. Abuse of all sorts is rampant.

So to the extent that Sister Wives presents the lives of polygamous Mormons as representative and healthy and, you know, just like every other middle class American family, it is lying. But All-American Muslim is not. This country has millions of middle-class, assimilated, secularized, moderate Muslim families, who should be able to have their day in the reality show spotlight (if that's what they really want), without someone demanding that they discuss jihad.

One suspects that Lowes has been caught off guard here. The higher-ups smelled controversy and just wanted to run away. But this is not exactly rocket science, folks. The Florida Family Association  has raised some pretty absurd objections. If Lowes or any other company wants to make a statement about a television program in the name of "improving America's moral environment," they might start with another TLC special -- Toddlers and Tiaras.

1 thought on “Controversial TLC show is entertainment, not documentary”

  1. Susan Hoen Nowak says:

    When I first saw the commercials for this show,All- American Muslim I thought that TLC was trying to indoctrinate us into the Muslim way of life and thinking …that was my first thought.. but now would it be different if they highlighted Catholic families or Jewish families in the same way? If they treated people of all faiths the same I wouldn’t have a problem with that..A big YES to Toddlers and Tiaras.. horrible show..child abuse if u ask me.and Sisters Wives..can you imagine a woman taking more than one husband…I think not..Oh and I believe Little People prefer dwarf to midget..TLC is called The Learning Channel for just that reason…Sincerely yours,Susan H.Nowak

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