Imagine for a moment that TLC produced a show called "All American Jew" featuring several Jewish families in largely Jewish area of the country. The aim of the show is to break down stereotypes and cultural barriers by allowing viewers to witness how these families conduct and live their lives. The central premise and format of the show is standard fare: highlight an often misunderstood or unfamiliar group of Americans and show each week as the camera's follow how similar they are to any other group of Americans.
Prior to the premier of "All American Jew" there is commentary sometimes heated on both sides of the Jewish aisle as bloggers and writers debate the merits of the show and how well the show promotes "authentic" Jewish families, religion, and culture. After a couple of weeks of being on the air, once the initial hype and novelty seems to wear off, extremist religious and anti-Jewish groups begin attacking the show on their websites and begin campaigns against the sponsors of "All American Jew".
How would we expect the sponsoring companies of "All American Jew" to react to the threats and warnings against them? What would Americans in general think if one of the major sponsors of "All American Jew" decided to pull their ads from the show in response to the extremist and anti-Jewish groups protest?
I believe the universal response would be outrage and contempt. Ordinary Americans, religious leaders, advocacy groups, celebrities, politicians, and even the President would chime in and make known their feelings against the company and the groups that influenced the company's decision. Boycotts, letter writing campaigns, and calls for a public apology by Civil Rights and anti defamation groups would be the order of the day. The entire nation would mobilize under the banner of apology or bankruptcy.
Our just and moral indignation against these groups and the company who snubbed "All American Jew" would be fueled by our shared desire to avoid the horrors of the past. We would refuse to let another breakdown of human dignity and civility propel us into a repeat of the past injustices where small acts of discrimination that went unchallenged, slowly blossomed into open acts of oppression, and later much worse. We would not suffer the persecution of a religious minority again.
The voices of intolerance would have no shelter or platform in America to spread their views in the mainstream. We would fight the good fight and win.
Sadly, we are witnessing no such mobilizations today. TLC did not produce a show titled "All American Jew", there is no open reproach and extremist element seeking to undermine an otherwise wholesome, family friendly, reality television with a Jewish twist. The show from which I used the Jewish community and their past as a central analogy to highlight a serious issue is titled "All American Muslim" and it is my personal belief that since the show features Muslims instead of communities like Jewish ones, we have allowed our values to be slightly skewed, our honor misplaced, and our courage lacking in our silence.
The controversy surrounding Lowe's and their decision to pull ads from TLC's "All American Muslim" program is another nail in the coffin for liberty and justice in America if you happen to be Muslim. By allowing a moral blight against our highest American values and traditions to fester with the turning of a blind eye and an eerie silence, is appalling and shameful. All Americans should feel as if we lost a piece of who we are as a people when Lowe's made their decision.
It's as if America as a whole is asleep at the wheel. An attack of this magnitude against one religious minority is an attack against all religious and other minority groups. The fact that anti-Muslim groups and personalities have the platform and power to force major American corporations to do their bidding without contest, represents a chilling new chapter in the fight for civility amongst diverse American populations. It's one thing to disagree with another's religious beliefs; it's entirely something else when entire campaigns are built around the discrimination of a single religious minority.
This incident represents another notch in a spike in anti-Muslim propaganda over the last several years. Bigoted commentary in the press, on cable news programming, and even from our politicians leveled against American Muslims is all too common and increasingly more hostile. Anti-Muslim sentiment and propaganda books are big ticket items and pseudo Muslim "experts" and "former terrorists" make thousands of dollars to give speeches at American universities, military service academies, churches, and other speaking engagements around the nation. Questionable anti-Muslim training is given at local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, and no one seems to protest.
American Muslims feel increasingly threatened and afraid due to the increased unchallenged rhetoric against us. We witness in horror how protests against our attempts to build community centers and religious institutions are becoming the norm. We cringe when we watch legislation and hearings held against our religion. We shake our heads in disgust as politicians compete trying to outdo each other in debate with openly hostile displays and rhetoric holding Muslims in contempt.
We wonder how far we are from having to sew yellow crescents on our clothing.
All hope is not lost. There are plenty of Americans of good conscience and moral aptitude who are willing to stand up against this rising tide of anti-American, anti-Muslim rhetoric. However, many of those voices engaged in the struggle for civility are drowned out by the shouts of the intolerant and as a result instead of a chorus of we often left hearing a series of solos.
We must be united in the defense of our American values.
America has to make a choice today. This latest blatant attack against American Muslims must not go unanswered. We must decide who best represents the best of what America has to offer. Will it be those of us who believe in the diversity, shared sacrifice, values, commonality, and worth of all Americans or will it be those purveyors of intolerance who wave the flag in an attempt to cover their open contempt for what that standard truly represents?
Robert Salaam is the editor of www.theamericanmuslim.net