Wednesday, December 21, 2011

American Muslim Reality TV Challenges Stereotypes

Do all Muslim women wear hijab and all Muslim men sport beards? Are all members of the Muslim faith terrorists bent on attacking the West? Are they all Martians? Are all Muslim women meek and subservient, and their menfolk tyrants? The first ever reality TV about Muslims in America on TLC channel answers these and other questions by breaking down many common stereotypes.

All-American Muslim follows the daily lives of five Lebanese-American Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan--the Amens, the Aoudes, the Bazzy-Aliahmads, the Jaafars, and the Zabans. Ms. Rima Fakih, a Lebanese Shia Muslim resident of Dearborn, won the national beauty pageant last year to become the first ever Muslim Miss USA.

The show premiered on TLC with record 1.7 million viewers in November, earning critical acclaim from The New York Times, USA Today NPR, Time Magazine, The Atlantic and many other publications, according to Washington Post. The first episode, “How to Marry a Muslim,” helped TLC achieve its highest ever Sunday prime-time ratings in more than a year among women from 18 to 34.

Here are some interesting tidbits from the TV series:

1. The student body at Dearborn's Fordson High School featured in the show is overwhelmingly Muslim--as many as 95% of the students are Muslim. The school football team is coached by Fouad Zaban, a Muslim. Muslim members of the football team fast during Ramadan, even on days they have games. At away games, they are sometimes subjected to epithets like f-ing Arabs, terrorists, camel jockeys, etc.

2. In the first episode of the season called "How to Marry a Muslim", Shadia Amen wants to marry a non-Muslim named Jeff, a Catholic. Her choice is something her father and her brother struggle with. But it doesn't stop her from marrying the man of her choice.

3. Nina Bazzy Aliahmad is a miniskirt-wearing leggy blond Muslim businesswoman who shocks her friends and family by announcing that she plans to open a night club during the first episode. Nina is a strong woman determined to get her way.

4. Samira Amen-Fawaz is struggling with infertility turns to religion and decides to start wearing the hijab again hoping that it will help her overcome her problem. Careful choice of fancy hijabs by her appears to be a fashion statement, and surprising to some that hijab and tight clothing are not considered incompatible.

5. Mike Jaafar is Deputy Chief Sheriff of Wayne County where Dearborn is located.

The reaction from the notorious Islamophobes and xenophobes in America has been predictably strong and negative.

Florida Family Association (FFA), a conservative Christian group, denounced the show as “propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.”

Other Muslim bashers in America were quick to add their hateful voices. Pam Geller, notorious anti-Muslim bigot, who has been involved in the anti-Islam protest against "Ground Zero" mosque project chimed in: “Every company is to free to choose where they put their ad dollars. 64 companies have now pulled their ads. And rightly so. It’s is not that the show about Muslims. It is that the show was predicated on a lie and the relentless propaganda of Islamic supremacists.”

The unfortunate effect of the Islamophobes' rhetoric is that Lowe's Home Improvement stores chain caved in and pulled its commercials from the show. Lowe's move was criticized by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, actress Mia Farrow and California state Sen. Ted Lieu, and Simmons offered to buy all remaining spots on the show from TLC. There are fresh reports that the show is now sold out with new advertisers stepping in to fill the holes left by Lowe's and

In a Washington Post blog, John Esposito lambasted the anti-Muslim bigotry in strong terms. He wrote that "the furor over All-American Muslim underscores yet again the extent to which Islamophobia exists despite the adamant claims of its enablers and practitioners that it does not. The fact that one cannot have a single show on a Muslim family without Muslim bashers insisting that portraying a normal family is somehow insidious because the show does not show the “dark side” of Islam demonstrates the extent to which they engage in the creation of a collective guilt, brush-stroking a religion and a majority of its followers with the actions a fraction of 1 percent of Muslims."

Many conservative Muslims have also criticized the show. In a recent call-in show on NPR Radio, some argued that women without hijabs and those wearing revealing clothes do not represent them, while others complained that the show only represents Lebanese-American Muslims who are a small slice of a large, ethnically and racially diverse Muslim population in America.

Talking about the critics of the show on NPR radio, California-based American-Muslim playwright Wajahat Ali said that "it's almost a thankless role for anyone to depict Muslims in the mainstream right now. You can't please people within the communities themselves who, I think, want an unrealistic portrayal of - what I call the avatar of perfection. Or, they need to see their representation, right? So they say like, listen, if that Muslim-American character does not represent me, it ceases being authentic and valid. And I think the - what we have to do instead is say, listen, that is just one story, or some stories, of people who claim to be American Muslim, and I have to respect that space and let them be."

Let's hope that All-American Muslims first season is a great success which leads into its second and third seasons to portray the great diversity of race, ethnicity and thought among Muslims in America. This national exposure on prime-time tv will help demolish all kinds of negative stereotypes promoted by the Islamophobes as part of their hateful agenda against Muslim-Americans.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

NPR Talk-of-the-Nation on All-American Muslim

King's Hypocrisy

Saudi Prince Funding Hate in America

FBI Entrapping Young Muslims

Duke University Study on Muslim Americans

How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation

Early Anthrax Probe of Pakistani-Americans

Violence Against Indians in Australia

First Haji in US Congress

Inside the Mind of Times Square Bomber

Home-grown Terror Plots Seen as FBI Entrapment

Milgram's Experiments on Obedience to Authority


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting commentary in Boston Globe on "family values":

WHICH RACY reality TV show is the most dangerous to traditional American family values? A) “Teen Moms,’’ which follows teenagers as they raise babies out of wedlock or give them up for adoption; B) The “Bad Girl’s Club,’’ which chronicles self-described “bad girls’’ in a Las Vegas mansion; C) “Temptation Island,’’ which features couples struggling to remain faithful as attractive strangers proposition them in exotic locales; or D) “All-American Muslim,’’ which follows Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich., through the travails of everyday life.

The answer is D, according to the little-known evangelical group called the Florida Family Association which aimed an e-mail invective against the Muslim reality show to force advertisers to pull their ads. The reason? Quite simply, because the show portrays Muslims too positively.

The group’s founder is David Caton, a 55-year-old former accountant who has organized protests of Playboy magazine sales and teen television shows that tell kids it’s OK to be gay. Caton complains that the Muslim show, which premiered last month on TLC, “is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.’’ He complains that the show fails to mention jihad or honor killings and only profiles “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.’’

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts of a NY Times story "Radical U.S. Muslims Little Threat, Study Says":

A feared wave of homegrown terrorism by radicalized Muslim Americans has not materialized, with plots and arrests dropping sharply over the two years since an unusual peak in 2009, according to a new study by a North Carolina research group.

The study, to be released on Wednesday, found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and a spike of 47 in 2009.

Charles Kurzman, the author of the report for the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, called terrorism by Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Of about 14,000 murders in the United States last year, not a single one resulted from Islamic extremism, said Mr. Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina.

The report also found that no single ethnic group predominated among Muslims charged in terrorism cases last year — six were of Arab ancestry, five were white, three were African-American and two were Iranian, Mr. Kurzman said. That pattern of ethnic diversity has held for those arrested since Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

Forty percent of those charged in 2011 were converts to Islam, Mr. Kurzman found, slightly higher than the 35 percent of those charged since the 2001 attacks. His new report is based on the continuation of research he conducted for a book he published last year, “The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists.”

The decline in cases since 2009 has come as a relief to law enforcement and counterterrorism officials. In that year, the authorities were surprised by a series of terrorist plots or attacks, including the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam, Maj. Nidal Hasan.
But the number of cases declined, returning to the rough average of about 20 Muslim Americans accused of extremist violence per year that has prevailed since the 2001 attacks, with 193 people in that category over the decade. By Mr. Kurzman’s count, 462 other Muslim Americans have been charged since 2001 for nonviolent crimes in support of terrorism, including financing and making false statements.

The 2011 cases include just one actual series of attacks, which caused no injuries, involving rifle shots fired late at night at military buildings in Northern Virginia. A former Marine Corps reservist, Yonathan Melaku, pleaded guilty in the case last month in an agreement that calls for a 25-year prison sentence.

Other plots unearthed by law enforcement last year and listed in Mr. Kurzman’s report included a suspected Iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, a scheme to attack a Shiite mosque in Michigan and another to blow up synagogues, churches and the Empire State Building.

“Fortunately, very few of these people are competent and very few get to the stage of preparing an attack without coming to the attention of the authorities,” Mr. Kurzman said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of Pankaj Mishra's review of Civilisation: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson:

‘Civilisation’s going to pieces,’ Tom Buchanan, the Yale-educated millionaire, abruptly informs Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. ‘I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard? … The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged.’ ‘Tom’s getting very profound,’ his wife Daisy remarks. Buchanan carries on: ‘This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.’ ‘We’ve got to beat them down,’ Daisy whispers with a wink at Nick. But there’s no stopping Buchanan. ‘And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilisation – oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?’-------------

Scott Fitzgerald based Goddard, at least partly, on Theodore Lothrop Stoddard, the author of the bestseller The Rising Tide of Color against White World Supremacy (1920). Stoddard’s fame was a sign of his times, of the overheated racial climate of the early 20th century, in which the Yellow Peril seemed real, the Ku Klux Klan had re-emerged, and Theodore Roosevelt worried loudly about ‘race-suicide’. In 1917, justifying his reluctance to involve the United States in the European war, Woodrow Wilson told his secretary of state that ‘white civilisation and its domination over the world rested largely on our ability to keep this country intact.’

Hysteria about ‘white civilisation’ gripped America after Europe’s self-mutilation in the First World War had encouraged political assertiveness among subjugated peoples from Egypt to China. Unlike other popular racists, who parsed the differences between Nordic and Latin peoples, Stoddard proposed a straightforward division of the world into white and coloured races. He also invested early in Islamophobia, arguing in The New World of Islam (1921) that Muslims posed a sinister threat to a hopelessly fractious and confused West. Like many respectable eugenicists of his time, Stoddard later found much to like about the Nazis, which marked him out for instant superannuation following the exposure of Nazi crimes in 1945.
It is hard, even with Google, to keep up with Ferguson’s many claims and counter-claims. But his announcements of the dawning of the ‘Chinese Century’ and his more recent revised prophecy that India will outpace China, can be found as quickly as the boisterous heralding of the American imperium that he now disavows. As for his views on the innate superiority, indeed indispensability, of Western civilisation, these can be easily ascertained from his published writings and statements. Here is an extract from an interview early this year in the Guardian justifying the conquest of Native Americans:

The Apache and the Navajo had all sorts of admirable traits. In the absence of literacy we don’t know what they were because they didn’t write them down. We do know they killed a hell of a lot of bison. But had they been left to their own devices, I don’t think we’d have anything remotely resembling the civilisation we’ve had in North America.

It says something about the political culture of our age that Ferguson has got away with this disgraced worldview for as long as he has. Certainly, it now needs to be scrutinised in places other than the letters page of the LRB.

Riaz Haq said...

Indian Muslims make up 14.6% of India's population, almost 50% higher than the 10% of Indian-American Muslim population. In addition, every Indian minority other than Muslims is over-represented in America.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a excerpt of a Aljazeera story on the acceptance of anti-Muslim bigotry in America:

There's an interesting and rather illuminating thought experiment you can perform when listening to media figures and politicians discuss Muslims. Take the recent interview on Fox News of the author Reza Aslan, where the host interrogated him at length about his religious background, at one point accusing him of having "gone on several programmes while never disclosing [he is] a Muslim".

Or take New Atheist ideologue Sam Harris, who has said "We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim", as well as his counterpart Richard Dawkins who has become famous for asking incisive questions like "Who the hell do these Muslims think they are"?

This is all above-board language in today's popular discourse. But as a simple test try replacing the word "Muslim" with "Jew"; or "Muslim" with "Black" in each of these quotes and see how it sounds in your head. Most likely, it sounds significantly less comfortable, normal, and acceptable than it did just a moment ago.

Indeed, it's difficult to imagine how Harris, Dawkins, or the Fox News host who questioned Aslan about his faith could continue as public figures were they to make the same types comments about any minority group other than Muslims. They would've in all likelihood won broad, well-justified, condemnation and even been drummed out of the public sphere for their frank bigotry.

Perhaps they'd have been taken up as martyrs by the fringe-right where such xenophobic language about Jews and Blacks is still commonplace. Instead they've so far been permitted to continue spreading hatred against one of the few minority communities it is still acceptable to negatively generalise, degrade and menace.
Richard Dawkins recently ignited a minor furor by pointing out that "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge". His defenders rushed to point out that his statement was merely a fact and as such there was nothing bigoted about it whatsoever.

Dawkins declaration also happens to be true when you substitute the word "Hindus", "Blacks" or "Chinese" for Muslims here, but his admirers would have had a harder time defending the same statement made about any of these groups without being tarred as xenophobes.
Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor explained the fallacies behind this crude chauvinism:

Dawkins, as an educated man, should be well aware of the legacy of colonialism and of simple poverty…. When the Nobel Prize was founded in 1901, the vast majority of the world's Muslims lived in countries ruled by foreign powers, and for much of the 20th century Muslims did not have much access to great centres of learning like Cambridge. The ranks of Nobel Prize winners have traditionally been dominated by white, Western men - a reflection of both the economic might of the West in the past century, preferential access to education for that class of people as well as a wonderful intellectual tradition .

The same reasons why Muslims are underrepresented in the halls of Western scientific achievement are also applicable to essentially every other group in the world besides white males living in Western countries. If there's nothing bigoted about saying it about Muslims, Dawkins and his defenders should come out and make the same unqualified and context-free statements about other groups in society whom they see as not stacking up. The fact that they refuse to do so signals that this has little to do with courageously speaking the truth and more about picking out which minorities it is still safe to bash. .....

Anonymous said...

you don't need to be a "conservative muslim" to denounce this show. i understand wajahat ali is generally an optimistic and upbeat person. however, the majority of muslims in the u.s. at least know what their community looks like and the values and aspirations they hold. and that community would typically include a wide range of national origins. it is against all these that this show is a gross misrepresentation of them. what this show actually reflects is the misfortune that the united states is caught up amid two extremist groups of fascist-nationalists(americanists) and extremist "commie" liberalists. while the former thinks it is 'just wrong' to be a muslim (which includes advocating shariah law and having utmost commitment to muslim principles and philosophies) and the latter simply tries to hide undeniable muslim values in favor of practices of a few non-muslims from somewhat muslim backgrounds(or just formerly muslims). this show is anti-islamic and anti-humanity to the core; it corroborates the totalitarian society that the u.s. runs on where one cannot practice their (arguably more superior) traditional customs, including for example wearing non-revealing clothes, and protest u.s. atrocities abroad, while being "ordinary"

Riaz Haq said...

Those who embrace Islam tend to do so after years of contact with Muslims. (Ms Lewthwaite reportedly had a close relationship with Muslim neighbours during her youth.) Some, mostly women who make up around two-thirds of new believers in Britain, convert because they want to marry a Muslim. Others are fed up with what they see as the bawdiness of British society. Many speak of seeking a sense of community. Prisons have proven fertile ground for conversions for men. Some worry that those who convert in jail are exposed to more radical strains of Islam; others say that Islam's discipline and structure, along with the support they received from other Muslims, helped them to cope with life inside.

...converts who turn to terrorism, as Ms Lewthwaite is suspected of doing, are rare. Indeed, the vast, peaceable majority may help to bridge the gap between Muslims and others. In Western countries the growth in converts is part of Islam’s transition from an immigrant religion to a home-grown one.

Riaz Haq said...

CAIR reports that $119 million were spent on funding organized Islamophobia in America from 2008 to 2011. According to our extensive analysis, here are the top seven contributors to promoting Islamophobia in our country:
• Donors Capital Fund
• Richard Mellon Scaife foundations
• Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
• Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker foundations and charitable trust
• Russell Berrie Foundation
• Anchorage Charitable Fund and William Rosenwald Family Fund
• Fairbrook Foundation

Riaz Haq said...

In 1807, American readers were titillated by a potboiler entitled “History of the captivity and sufferings of Mrs. Maria Martin.” Its salacious story was summed up by its pithy subtitle: “Who was six years a slave in Algiers, two of which she was confined in a dark and dismal dungeon, loaded with irons for refusing to comply with the brutal request of a Turkish officer.”

We often forget that Americans have been thinking about Islam for centuries. In the republic’s early days, Muslims not only accounted for a large part of the enslaved labor force but also often appeared in stories as fearful figures in far-off places—dark hazards to American virtue. These old images help illuminate today’s American debates about Islam.

In the early republic, popular accounts of “Mohammedanism” were largely limited to tales of the capture and enslavement of Americans in Muslim lands. Narratives like Mrs. Maria Martin’s joined fears of North African pirates with titillating plots of kidnapping. They echoed the era’s best-selling accounts of colonists trapped by American Indians.

As the 19th century progressed, some abolitionists began to argue that Islam had things to teach Christianity. Slavery’s foes called slave owners in Muslim lands more fair than their U.S. counterparts.

In 1810, for instance, the New Hampshire Patriot ran a story called “Mohammedan Forbearance,” depicting a Muslim caliph as a model of faith and morality. Even after a slave spills a dish and scalds him, the caliph treats the slave well and later frees him, quoting the Quran to buttress his mercy. This example, the journal says, “might be usefully imitated by the professors of purer doctrines.”

Islam was deployed here as a setting for a morally instructive yarn that sought at once to enlighten and shame its audience. If a Muslim could heed his supposedly lesser religion’s call to free slaves and improve their lot, how could Christians—even if they disdained Islam—not do likewise?

The notion that slavery governed by Islam was more humane than slavery governed by the Gospel was no doubt a fantasy—but a durable one. Seven years later, the Connecticut Courant published a report called “Treatment of Negro Slaves in Morocco,” calling for Christians to learn moral virtues from Muslims. The abolitionists behind the report didn’t deny that many Muslims were slave owners and traders, but they argued that those who prayed to Allah often treated their captives better than did those who prayed to Christ. “The more intelligent [slaves] learn to read and write” and “acquire a partial knowledge of the Koran,” the Courant claimed of slaves in Islamic lands. Their “master exults in having converted an infidel”—and then, like the Patriot’s caliph, sets such slaves free.

Such kid-glove treatment of Islam in the press soon disappeared—due in part, perhaps, to widespread fears from an 1835 Muslim-led slave revolt in the Brazilian city of Bahia, which riveted Americans even outside the slave states. A Massachusetts report was typically breathless: “On the morning of the 25th of January the whole city of Bahia was thrown into a state of the greatest excitement in consequence of an insurrection of the slaves…It was by far the best planned and most extensive rising ever contemplated by those unfortunate beings.”

Later called the MalĂȘ rebellion—from the Yoruba word for Muslim—this slave uprising was a religious battle waged by Muslims against Christian slavery. Many of the dead were found wearing protective amulets made of leather pouches, containing slips of paper upon which were inscribed Quranic verses. It was Christian slaveholders’ worst nightmare—a potential holy war on every plantation....