What Loweâ€™s pull-out of All-American Muslim really means
A child dressed as the Pretty Woman prostitute on Toddlers & Tiaras becomes a puff story with under 200,000 YouTube hits. Normal Muslims on TV cause a national frenzy. The Lowe’s story is clearly much bigger than Lowe’s.
Lowe’s home improvement chain, and now Kayak as well, have been making headlines since pulling their advertising from the TLC show All-American Muslim, but those decrying the pull-outs are missing the point.
Corporations, as a rule, do not make decisions based on principles. Had Lowe’s simply been Islamophobic, as articles seem to insinuate, they would not have advertised with the show in the first place.
Lowe’s and Kayak did not kowtow to a fringe extremist group. They did a simple calculation: Are we likely to increase our customer base by advertising on a show about ordinary Muslim Americans, or are we going to lose customers who do not even watch the show because the Muslims portrayed are too ordinary? Are there more Muslims and progressives, or bigots and racists? In Lowe’s calculation, the greater risk was in losing the bigots.
Which is not an unreasonable assumption.
When politicians, networks, and journalists are comfortable airing their fears about Islam and presenting them as fact, then bigotry is normalized, rationalized, and acceptable.
The purported reason behind FFA’s calls for boycotts really is because the Muslims portrayed are too normal, too patriotic, too much like other Americans. Their argument is that “true” Muslims want to instill sharia universally, support terrorism, and fight jihad.
But they are not the only ones fear-mongering. Herman Cain was comfortable repeating he would not hire a Muslim to his cabinet; that he believes most are extremists; that Islam is a religion unlike any other because it includes a set of “laws”. Elected congressmen and senators have routinely made extremely offensive statements that would be unacceptable towards nearly any other group (websites proudly listing the comments abound online). Fox News welcomes preachers who call Islam “wicked” and “evil”. Canada’s very Prime Minister has said that “Islamicism” is the country’s biggest threat.
It would be great if corporations did the principled thing. But in capitalist societies, it is not their role. It is, perhaps, the role of journalists, publishers, and maybe even politicians. At the very least, we should expect them to keep their racism private and get their facts straight.
Is what they say at least true, even if politically incorrect? Are there really no parallels to sharia in other religions?
Why do some (few, obviously) Christians bomb abortion clinics? Why do practicing Catholics famously have many children, and Jews circumcise? Any religion, as opposed to a philosophy, almost by definition has its own codes of conduct, dos and don'ts.
Sharia, or Islamic law, is not a book, constitution, or universally understood code; far from it. The word means something like “path” and is simply the regulations scholars have gathered based on their interpretations of the Qur’an and the Prophet. Most of it is mundane, regulating fair trade, delineating prayer, forbidding alcohol, etc. Some appears archaic to Western eyes. And Eastern eyes – few of the 57 Muslim-majority countries actually follow some of the stricter penal codes allowed by classical sharia. But so too do the scriptures of most early religions– certainly Judaism and Christianity. It is the Old Testament, for example, that calls for stoning in cases of adultery, witchcraft, rebellion, and pretending to be a virgin upon marriage.
Furthermore, I have not seen formal polls but I would wager a Mitt Romney bet that few American Muslims hope to see this become law of (any) land. The greater irony is that the same crowds that fear “creeping sharia” practically gave Rick Perry a standing ovation when he proudly exclaimed Texas as the state with the most capital punishment executions.
The term “jihad” is also used to legitimate fear. At its core, jihad simply means to struggle – against your own demons, against oppression, etc. Yes, it may also refer to “holy war” but is almost universally understood to only be justified as self-defense against occupiers and aggressors. The US has shown far lengthier justifications for warfare. There is no doubt that there are Muslim terrorists who have violated much of the sharia in what they have viewed as jihad against injustice, but there is also statistically no doubt that more domestic terrorism has been perpetrated by Christians, Jews, left-wingers and right-wingers with distorted perceptions of their own guiding principles.
Until elected officials and news sources get beyond their own superiority and prejudices, I certainly don’t expect corporations to. Let's just remember to place blame where it is due.
[I had blogged about the show when it first came out here: http://open.salon.com/blog/deena_douara/2011/11/23/does_all-american_muslim_show_the_right_muslims_1]