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Americans would benefit from a Muslim version of the Huxtables

December 15, 2011 by  


By Clarence Page

A conservative Christian group has launched a boycott against “All-American Muslim.” The TLC cable TV reality show about Muslim families in America fails to live down to the group’s narrow-minded stereotypes. Their gripe, in my view, makes about as much sense as boycotting “The Cosby Show” back in the day because it didn’t mention black street gangs.

The Christian group’s boycott made national headlines this week when the home-improvement giant Lowe’s pulled its ads from the program. If the North Carolina-based company was hoping to dodge controversy, it failed. The move touched off protests joined by music mogul Russell Simmons and actor Kal Penn, among other celebrities, and a second boycott campaign — against Lowe’s.

The company apologized to everyone who is offended, citing its “strong commitment to diversity and inclusion.” But it stuck by its decision, explaining the show became a “lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives — political, social and otherwise.”

Blame the Tampa-based Florida Family Association, which launched the boycott.

When I clicked on the association’s website, a notice from David Caton, the group’s executive director, said it was shut down because of “extremely mean-spirited” hacker attacks. “In a country that supposedly embraces free speech,” a posted statement said without a hint of irony, “those that oppose our position have no qualms about destroying our free speech.” Right. No more qualms than the association feels about silencing “All-American Muslim.”

Nevertheless, if the association’s protest actually helps to boost the show’s ratings as people tune in to judge for themselves, I think it will have performed a valuable public service.

The show premiered in November on TLC, which previously made news with “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” a reality show that I imagine the Tampa group found more to its liking. “All-American Muslim” follows the daily lives of five Lebanese families in Dearborn, Mich., a suburban Detroit city with one of the nation’s highest concentrations of Arabs. In a format mercifully free of self-congratulatory piety or eat-your-broccoli earnestness, its middle-class subjects offer entertaining yet also enlightening evidence that America’s multiethnic, multicultural melting pot still works, despite occasional bumps in the road.

Yet, the Tampa group and its allied fearmongers complain about what the show leaves out: The violence that Muslim fanatics have committed in the name of Islam.

“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks,” the Florida group asserts in a letter to TLC advertisers, “while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.” Is it not enough for the critics that images of such violence appear on TV news almost every day? Most of the violence occurs overseas and, by the way, kills mostly fellow Muslims. Yet, the Florida Family Association insists that we judge Muslim Americans by their worst actors overseas, not as families who live in much the same way other middle-class Americans do.

I am reminded of the black intellectual critics who complained in the 1980s that “The Cosby Show” was too sentimental and far-removed, with its upper-class professional African-American family, from the lives that most black people lived. Yet, Bill Cosby’s show broke TV audience records during a time when race relations were less relaxed than they are today. Viewers across racial lines quickly connected with its subtle subtext: The American dream is not for whites only.

That’s why I suggested a few months ago that, as Muslims seem to have replaced African-Americans at the bottom of America’s totem pole of ignorance-based stereotypes, all Americans would benefit from a Muslim version of Cosby’s Huxtable family.

Some of my readers scoffed, but Canadian TV has aired five seasons of the popular “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a comedy about a Muslim family and their interactions with non-Muslims, since January 2007. U.S. networks have produced pilots for similar sitcoms here but the occasionally funny moments in “All-American Muslims” are the closest that a Muslim family comedy has come to broadcast. We Americans are justly proud of our land of opportunity and fair play, but we’re behind Canada this time.

Maybe our networks still think Islamaphobia is still too raw in our minds for Americans to laugh about. Perhaps “All-American Muslims” can help to ease those tensions, even if some of its critics hope that it doesn’t.

Clarence Page is a member of the Tribune’s editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage

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