When I first caught the premier episode of All-American Muslim it was simply by accident. It was a classic case of just not bothering to find the remote.
And I'm glad I didn't bother.
The groundbreaking primetime eight-part reality series follows the everyday lives of five Muslim American families who eat, pray, love in Dearborn, Michigan. And the reason the TLC cameras honed in on Dearborn was strategic. The 2000 U.S. Census dictates that this city is home to the largest percentage of Arab Americans in the United States, at nearly 30 per cent. The largest segment outside of the Middle East.
Which makes sense to me. So on Sunday Nov. 13, Middle America and die-hard TLC followers were introduced to the Amens, the Aoudes, the Bazzy-Aliahmads, the Jaafars, and the Zabans. A far cry from the traditional templated family-flocks of the Jones, the Smiths, and the Parkers. And no, it's not someone with 15 kids (yes, I'm looking at you Ma and Pa Duggar) or a regular Joe juggling his multiple wives. This show is just about your average, taxpaying, hard-working families, who all happen to be Muslims.
No problem right? They speak English, work American jobs, and have challenges like every other American family. Faoud Zaynab is the head coach of the local high school football team. Mike Jaafar is the deputy chief at the sheriff's office. Nina Bazzy-Aliahmad wants to open up a lounge that serves (gasp!) alcohol. Shadia Amen, a tattooed and pierced rocker chick, is married to her newly-converted Irish husband.
Sure they are not a collection of desperate/rich/bored housewives from Atlanta/Beverly Hills/Florida. It's a refreshing injection of intelligentsia into a sensationalized/scripted world of reality television.
My Twitter feed immediately did the happy dance. Sure, it's a subtle and not-so-subtle PR spin, doing the whole "we are just like you" thing, but honestly, we'll take whatever we can get.
We get it. We love it. We can relate to it.
And then it happened. Sigh.
Five episodes in, the Florida Family Association (who??) threw a fanatical hissy fit. The conservative group heartily complained via their own enthusiastic email campaign that the TLC show was "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
Lowes caved. The North Carolina-based home restoration company apparently couldn't deal with the heat and decided to pull their ads from the show. This led to a barrage of #boycottLowes hash tags buoyed by tweets and retweets by celebs, activists, media stalwarts and everyday Muslim and non-Muslim folk alike. Kimora Lee Simmons and Mia Farrow tweeted or retweeted in protest, and Russell Simmons announced that he bought the remaining advertising spots for next week's episode, tweeting "you keep your money @lowes, we'll keep ours." Actor Kal Penn also joined in with a tweet: "Our next movie: 'Harold & Kumar Do Not Go To @Lowes.'"Please take a sec to sign & support an all-American show. http://tiny.cc/eqbfw RT"
Petitions have also been pushed through the Twitterverse. SignOn.org is already close to their 25,000 signatures goal, after a rapid collection 9,000 signatures in 24 hours. "Boycott Lowes" Facebook pages began popping up everywhere.
Meanwhile, the Florida Family Association is relishing in their success, recently posting the success of their email campaign on their site, listing 65 advertisers who pulled out of the Dec. 4 and 5 episodes specifically, with a readymade email prepared for anyone interested in sending out for their next campaign.
Lowes' absolutely mind-numbing collapse delivered such a backlash that it had the executives at Lowes quivering in their corner offices. Judging by their response, maybe not. On their somewhat extended statement on their Facebook Page they noted that they have made "some people very unhappy".
Some people? Really?
Adding insult to injury they would much rather "defer" the debate to the various parties involved. That's like setting a house on fire, then leaving the fire department to have a chat with the neighbours.
Lowes' arsenic attitude doesn't serve anyone's purpose. It just fuels the fire and further hatred not only towards Muslims, as in this case; most importantly it opens doors for bigotry against all faiths and communities. That's the key message here. It affects everyone.
To put its simply, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.
On that note, I'm off to Home Depot. Who wants to join me?
Follow Hina P. Ansari on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hinapansari