This Sunday is the last installment of “All-American Muslim,” the reality television series on TLC that was the target of fringe, anti-Muslim hate rhetoric. The show introduced five Muslim-American families to the reality TV audience, two groups who would not, in all likelihood, have otherwise met. As it turns out, these five families are not shills for radical extremists. They are not hiding sinister plots, surreptitiously trying to turn American law into Sharia law, lulling America into a false sense of security by showing a few “good Muslims.”
These families are the real Muslims. They are folks from Dearborn, Michigan, where the show takes place, who struggle to raise their families to the best of their abilities. Some wear headscarves; others wear tattoos. They suffered through 9/11 alongside us, and they decry those who hijack Islam in the name of terrorism. They, it turns out, are just like us, and that is the reality that the fringe groups who called for advertisers to boycott the program, cannot tolerate.
One of the important lessons learned here is not actually about bigotry. Most of us know bigotry is wrong and many of us don’t hesitate to speak out against it. But while we’re busy lambasting the vocal minority who do the wrong thing, we often forget to thank those who stand up and do the right thing. So thank you TLC, and thank you to the sponsors of the show who did NOT pull their advertising. While some did pull ads, scores of other companies with huge commercial interests — from Campbell’s to McDonald’s — hung in there despite pressure to do otherwise.
We also want to say thank you to media entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who put his money where his mouth is and made up for lost revenue when companies like Lowe’s and Kayak.com did capitulate to pressure from the anti-Muslim fringe groups and pulled their ads from the show.
We want to say thank you to those five American Muslim families who put their faces and families in full public view. We suspect that they never anticipated being the center of a firestorm that’s been covered in every major U.S. newspaper and many others around the world. They’ve been accused of perpetrating a fraud on the American people just because they were being themselves — American citizens struggling along in daily life, who happen to not be Catholic, Protestant or Jewish.
Last, in an ironic twist, perhaps we owe a thank you to the fringe few who manufactured this storm. Far more people met these five American-Muslim families than would have, had this controversy not occurred. Due to their effort to kill the show, some 80 diverse groups and countless individuals from every faith have come together to speak out against Islamophobia.
Bigotry has no place in American society. Generations of Catholics, Jews, Japanese, women, African Americans and many more have faced it down. They made their way through it to become accepted members of American society. We wish the same for our Muslim brothers and sisters. But just this past weekend, Molotov cocktails exploded outside a Queens, NY mosque and a Muslim-run corner store. Member of Congress Peter King has more hearings scheduled for February. Even the presidential race to the White House will likely include bigoted messaging. It remains important that we continue to speak out for that all-American value: religious freedom.
We believe someday prejudice against Muslims in America will seem absurd and even shameful. But until then, it is far wiser to speak out now, in support of those who do the right thing and resist efforts to read Islam and Muslims out of the American fabric, rather than to hang our heads in shame later.
So we think a lesson learned here is a pretty valuable one, too often neglected: we all need to remember the power and influence of “thank you.” We need to thank individuals who are brave enough to face hatred, and do it with dignity; thank businesses who risk controversy to do the right thing and the media companies that are willing to take a chance in a world that demands commercial success above content. None of us should ever underestimate the impact we make for good and no one should go un-thanked for taking action in defense of our American values.
Rabbi Jack Bemporad is at the Center for Interreligious Understanding, New Jersey; The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski is Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City; Professor Marshall Breger is at Catholic University of America, Washington, DC and is the former Reagan White House liaison to the Jewish community; and Suhail A. Khan is at Buxton Initiative, Washington, D.C.
“All-American Muslim” is airing its season finale this Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on TLC. Please check your local listings.