Salem: Advertising, intolerance and the All-American Muslim

Rob Salem

As if it wasnt already tough enough just being an All-American Muslim, some of their less enlightened fellow Americans are insisting those words do not even belong in the same sentence.

The controversial new documentary series (Sundays at 10 p.m. on TLC Canada), which profiles five diversely religious Muslim families from Dearborn, Mich., immediately drew fire from the ultra-conservative Florida Family Association, which managed to convince at least one advertiser, the national Lowes hardware chain, to pull its commercials from the show.

Reaction was just as swift from anti-hate activists. Gazillionare humanitarian rap mogul Russell Simmons quickly stepped up with an offer to buy the abandoned airtime.

Actor and former Obama White House PR adviser Kal Penn (@kalpenn) wryly Tweeted:

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.

Now heres where it gets really interesting. On Monday night, unidentified computer hackers breezed through what the FFA claims to be 15 levels of security to shut down the groups website ( http://www.FloridaFamily.org).

As of Tuesday afternoon, the garishly red, white and blue pages were back online, additionally claiming to have pressured 65 advertisers, including another hardware chain, Home Depot, and SweetN Low sugar substitute, to stop advertising on All-American Muslim.

They also take credit for now get this forcing Macys department stores to pull their ads from our own, beloved, Emmy Award-winning Degrassi (a huge hit in the U.S. on Teen Nick) as a program that promotes the transgender lifestyle and other inappropriate behaviour to children.

Apparently, Florida gets a radically different version of Degrassi than the rest of its avid international audience.

As it happens, Degrassi is not running original programming right now, laughs Degrassi co-executive producer Stephen Stohn. Were on hiatus till the fall. So nobodys pulling anything.

This is not the first time the FFA and its executive director, David Caton, have targeted the iconic Canadian kids show.

Hes been doing this over the past few years, launching these campaigns against Degrassi and a bunch of others, says Stohn. This is what he does. I mean, sponsors come and go. And if somebody just suspends advertising for a while, he comes in and takes credit.

I guess Lowes just got caught in the crossfire.

If so, then the North Carolina-based hardware chain has cravenly surrendered to the other side.

The company hastily issued a statement this week apologizing for having managed to make some people very unhappy.

Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views, the statement said.

As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.

The featured families of All-American Muslim knew going in there would be adverse reaction. And indeed, defusing demonization by quelling those fears was their reason for participating in the first place.

For people not familiar with the actual religion, it gives them a taste that Im not from Mars, says Mike Jaafar, a Dearborn deputy chief sheriff seen on the show.

My partner, who is near and dear to me and happens to be a loving Christian, said it best. People fear what they dont know. . . .

I have been serving in this country (all my life). I was born and raised in this wonderful country, and Im proud to be in it. This show is based on everyday Americans, which we are.

The FFA material puts its own spin on this point, declaring All-American Muslim to be propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims . . .

The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.

Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show.

This isnt about politics, insists Dearborn teacher Suehaila Amen. This is about emotion. And its sad if there are people that cant relate to the fact that we share experiences in life just as any other person would.

This is about joys and celebrating a wedding, celebrating a birth of a child, celebrating these momentous occasions in a persons life that I think any American can relate to.

Thats what, really, this is all about. This is about the heart. This is about families who come together, have a strong bond, love one another, friendships that are created or have been created, and how we move forward in our lives.

In the show, people will see that. Its not about addressing people who wish to perpetuate their ignorance or their hate. This is about showing real life experiences on television of people, like we said, who just happen to be of the Muslim faith but who are just as American as anyone else.

Rob Salem writes Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Email: rsalem@thestar.ca. Twitter: @robsalem

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