“All-American Muslim” Reality Show and the Lowe’s Controversy

All-American Muslim” is an eight-part reality show on The Learning Channel (TLC) which premiered on November 13, 2011, and ends on January 8th, 2012.  (If you don’t have cable or have missed the airings, the first episode is currently available here on YouTube.)

To say that the show is controversial is an understatement. Lowe’s, the home improvement chain, recently pulled its ads from the show partly in response to Islamophobes like David Caton of the Florida Family Association. The FFA sent emails to all the show’s sponsors threatening to call all “concerned Americans” to boycott their products if they didn’t withdraw their support.

First of all, ads don’t necessarily mean that the companies who are advertising necessarily agree with a show’s premise or content. If that were the case, how did another TLC show, “Sister Wives” (a show about polygamy) get any advertisers? (And why isn’t the FFA protesting that show??)

Second of all, what kind of idiot views a commercial as an endorsement of anything but the product it’s advertising? Let’s be realistic: companies advertise on shows that they think will have a decent viewership. They don’t care why people are watching the shows; they just want the viewers to buy their products. (Remember, this is commercial television that we’re talking about here.)

Lowe’s could have stood its ground and still maintained its objectivity if it had just issued a statement saying that they advertised on the show in the first place in order to reach its audience. They could have said that those who find the show objectionable should write the show’s creators or the networks that present it. In their statement on their Facebook page, they say that they pulled their ads because the show had become a lightning rod for different societal and political views. (Read the statement here.) So? Big deal!

What they didn’t consider is that the controversy may well create a larger audience for “All-American Muslim.” If they were really smart, they’d reconsider their position and start advertising on the show again.

The FFA and other like-minded bigots believe that the show is a “stealth” project to somehow “trick” the American public into thinking that Muslims are not terrorists. Their little brains can’t handle the concept of diversity even within specific groups of people. All they see are stereotypes, as if only Christians (at least the white and conservative ones) safeguard American values. And anyone who knuckles under to their scare tactics is as small-minded as they are.

For more about this controversy, see here and here.

 

Where Are the Bigots When a Muslim Does Something Good?

When Rima Fakih won the Miss USA pageant last year, the media jumped all over the story. OMG! She’s a Muslim! The Muslim community must be horrified!

Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs delighted in the notion that Fakih’s  “accomplishment” was “an affront to islam” and a “pox on their house.” She practically nominated Fakih for sainthood for embodying “everything sharia and the Islamic world deplore — free women.”

Burn those burkas, baby, and come on in. The water is just fine. I wonder if the ink is dry on the fatwa …

But when the story broke this week about Saheela Ibraheem, the 15-year-old New Jersey girl who was just accepted to 13 universities, including M.I.T. and six of the seven Ivy League schools she applied to, who got a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT (and a 2340 overall score), who plays three sports, an instrument and sings in her school’s choir, among other achievements, not one news outlet mentioned the fact that this exemplary young woman also happens to be a Muslim. (Full disclosure: most of the articles did mention that she is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.)

Is there something twisted about this, or is it a sign that the world is beginning to look past someone’s religion to the person beneath the hijab?

I think it’s twisted. If you’re going to be quick to point out Muslims who are behaving “badly” (for Muslims), shouldn’t you be just as quick to point out Muslims who are a credit to their religion? I sincerely doubt that Saheela wanted to hide the fact that she’s Muslim because she clearly wears the hijab in all the pictures I’ve seen of her (including when she’s participating in sports). But she doesn’t mention it either, probably because to her it’s no big deal.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that one’s religion or race should be mentioned when his or her accomplishments are being touted. What I am saying is, where are the bigots like Pamela Geller when a Muslim does something good? They would have us believe that there is no such thing as a Muslim who is a model citizen. After all, everyone knows that all Muslims are terrorists.  If they acknowledged that someone like Saheela Ibraheem is a Muslim, they would have some explaining to do.

According to Islamophobes, Muslims want to bring down Western civilization and take over the world. Saheela Ibraheem just wants to be a research scientist and study the brain.

See an article and video  about Saheela Ibraheem here.

Movie Review: “Mooz-lum”

I saw the movie “Mooz-lum” last night at the AMC Lennox Theater in Columbus, Ohio.

In case you’re wondering, the title alludes to the tendency that many people have to mispronounce “Muslim.” A couple of centuries ago, a common term among Westerners for Muslims was “Mohammedans” (with various spellings), but this is considered archaic today. (An even earlier term, Mahometan, was in use as early as 1529.) When I was growing up (during the ’60s), Moslem was the more common spelling. Before I converted, I pronounced Muslim and Islam incorrectly and I probably still do from time to time. (It’s hard to break old habits.)

From what I’ve been able to tell, the correct pronunciation of Muslim is “Moos-lum (no ‘z’ sound) and Islam is pronounced “Iss-lam (like the English word ‘lamb’). Please correct me if I’m wrong (which I probably am).  The title was chosen to symbolize the fact that Islam is an often-misunderstood religion.

Now on to the movie:

Pulled between his strict Muslim upbringing by his father and the normal social life he’s never had, Tariq Mahdi enters college in a state of confusion. New relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims alike challenge his already shaken ideals, and the estrangement with his mother and sister troubles him. With the help of new friends, family and mentors, he begins to find himself and open up to an Islam he hasn’t been exposed to. But when the attacks of 9/11 happen without warning, he is forced to face his past and make the biggest decisions of his life.

That’s the official synopsis. But I would say that it’s about far more than that.

The main thing that struck me was how authentically the family was portrayed. These people are not caricatures; even the overly strict father is shown as fully human, with both good points and bad. He’s patriarchal and stubborn, but he truly loves his family. There is dissension between the mother and father about how their eldest child, their only son, should be raised. What might be an eye-opener to some viewers is how independent the mother is. She’s not oppressed in any sense of the word. (Even though she wears the headscarf/hijab!)

The actor who plays the main character as a teenager, Evan Ross, is the youngest child of the singer/actress Diana Ross. I didn’t know that when I was watching the movie, but it probably at least somewhat explains his talent. The father, played by Roger Guenveur Smith,  the mother, played by Nia Long, and the daughter, played by Kimberley Drummond  were all excellent, as was Professor Jamal, played by Dorian Missick. The only performance that was truly disappointing was Danny Glover’s. He acted as if he didn’t want to be there. (For more details about the cast, go to International Movie Database [IMDb].)

The opening of the film is beautiful. Shot in sepia with color tinting (I don’t know if there’s a technical term for that) to the accompaniment of Qur’anic recitation or prayer, it is simply haunting. The film moves back and forth between Tariq’s pre-teen years and the present, a ploy I didn’t catch onto at first. The weakest part of the film was the acting of the younger Tariq; although he did a decent job, he didn’t seem as natural as the other members of his family.

The “bad guys” in the movie aren’t all black or white (and I mean that figuratively as well as literally). They’re a little of both. Yes, 9/11 happens during the course of the film, which is somewhat of a cliché, but it serves a dramatic purpose. Some of the anti-Muslim actions seem contrived and overdone and some seem realistic and understandable. All in all, I think the movie did a good job of presenting the good and the bad, and the motivations behind both.

I would love to see more movies this well-rounded about Muslims and Islam. Maybe “Mooz-lum” is a start in that direction.

“Mooz-lum” won “Best Narrative Feature” at Urbanworld 2010 and was an official selection at both the Chicago International Film Festival and the Cairo International Film Festival this year.

Bill Maher: Misinformed Islamophobe

I know that Bill Maher can be crude and insensitive, but I admire the way he blends his brand of humor with skillful panel management on his new show “Real Time With Bill Maher.” He’s very good at giving each panel member his or her time to make a point and treats each guest with respect and civility. What I cannot stand about him, though, is his Islamophobia. It’s not just that he’s against religion in general; he is. But he makes no secret of the fact that he utterly hates Muslims and Islam.

What makes his Islamophobia even worse is that he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about. Either that or he doesn’t care if he’s getting it wrong. On his last show (2/18/11) he was trying to make the point that all Muslim men mistreat women, but he kept referring to Arabs as the men he was talking about. If he’d done his homework, he’d know that only about 20% of all Muslims are Arabs.

I’m sure that if I pressed him on this point, he’d answer that all Muslim men want and try to control and even abuse women because their religion teaches them to. In his eyes, Islam is the real culprit. I think he’d also admit that all religions seek to control and abuse women to some extent but that Islam is the absolute worst.

What does he use to prove his point? In this last show he brought up the February 2009 incident where a Muslim man beheaded his wife six days after she filed for divorce. (The man was just found guilty of second-degree manslaughter.)  That’s not playing fair. There’s no evidence to suggest that the man used his religion to justify his actions. (His defense was that he was a battered spouse and that he acted in self-defense.) This was not an “honor killing,” which many people insist is a hallmark of Islam. It was the act of a sick person. I can’t count how many cases of domestic violence I’ve read about over the years where the man killed his wife or girlfriend because she left him, or was threatening to. In fact, there was a case just recently of a Swiss man who allegedly killed his twin girls and then himself because he was distraught over his separation from his wife. No one suggested that he did it because of his faith. But if he had been a Muslim, you can bet that his religion would have been blamed for his actions, especially by the likes of Bill Maher.

Bill Maher contended that Arab nations won’t ever be ready for democracy as long as they treat their women so abysmally. One of his guests, Tavis Smiley, countered by saying that if we were to judge nations by how they treat their women, the U.S. doesn’t exactly win any prizes. Maher was outraged that Smiley would even suggest that American women have it as bad as Muslim/Arab women. (If he hadn’t prefaced his comments by saying how dangerous Muslims are, you’d think he was just targeting Arabs.)

Smiley responded that any mistreatment of women is inexcusable, even the kind that is not obvious. Yes, we let women drive cars in America. No, we don’t punish women (or men) for infidelity (except perhaps in some divorce courts).  But as Smiley said, “The patriarchal system is live and well in America.” We might find some of the restrictions on women in other countries and cultures as incomprehensible, but that doesn’t mean that Americans are blameless in this area.

We have Christian women who never leave the house without their husbands’ permission. No one talks about them. We have women who are expected to have as many children as possible (see my post, “The QuiverFull Movement: Family Non-Planning“). We have plenty of domestic violence (including murder) and rape and incest. We have women being underpaid and rarely promoted. And no one can deny that we sexualize our females (even little girls) for the gratification of males.

I’ve met many Muslim women who have healthy, mutually respectful marriages and they’re not just the ones who were born in America. I know Muslim women (from Libya) who work, who are doctors and dentists and optometrists and scientists. They are funny and outspoken and politically aware. They have not settled for second best. And they definitely are not in fear for their lives.

It’s not all bad that Maher is so vocal about his Islamophobia. In tweets the day after the Feb. 18th show, many people commented on his  “hate-filled rant” and his bigotry about Muslims. Maybe if people see how unreasonable, even ridiculous, he is about Muslims, it will make them question their own preconceptions and prejudices about Islam. One can only hope.

Muslims Carrying Signs

At the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear this past Saturday in Washington, D.C., many Muslims took the opportunity to make statements about being a Muslim in America. One I particularly liked is below:

For those of you who don’t get the reference, read this article as well as Williams’ subsequent article defending his comments.

You can see more of the signs at here at altmuslim.com.