Americans would benefit from a Muslim version of the Huxtables

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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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Jews Plan Israel Boycott

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Leon Symons

The JC has revealed plans developed by Jews For Justice For Palestinians (JFJFP) to cause maximum damage to Israel by extending boycotts.

At the anti-Israel organisation’s recent annual meeting, activists discussed a survey of its members which showed clear support for a comprehensive boycott. More than 400 JFJFP activists responded to the survey.

The meeting considered three options, based on the survey results: “1. That we maintain our present position; 2. That we will consider, on a case-by-case basis, smart boycotts against the occupation; 3. That we will consider, on a case-by-case basis, smart boycotts but not restricted to the occupation.”

The meeting voted for the third option, which would enable JFJFP to initiate or support boycotts of all Israeli goods and services.

In a letter sent to members on Monday, after the meeting, the executive recommends option two, which would widen the group’s activities beyond its current focus on the settlements to taking in everything connected to what it terms the “occupation”.

This would mean boycotting companies, goods and services that could be shown to be connected directly to the Occupied Territories. That would include targeting those who refuse to say whether or not they worked in the Occupied Territories.

In explaining the detail of this option, the JFJFP executive s ay: “By targeting Israel’s policy of colonisation, this also avoids the accusation — important for an organisation like JFJFP — of being anti-Israel.”

Recommending option two, the executive say it is, among other things, best “for minimising the inevitable misrepresentation of our position in such a way as to make work directed at those who belong to Jewish communal organisations much harder than it is at present”.

The survey shows that the executive is worried about the impact of adopting a wider boycott strategy on the group’s reputation among Jews. Question two asks: “Do you think adopting a broader boycott position would make JFJFP more, or less, attractive to Jews in Britain who take issue with Israeli policy but have not chosen to express that concern by becoming a JFJFP signatory?”

Two-hundred and forty seven out of the 417 respondents said they thought JFJFP would be much less attractive. Another 96 stayed neutral.

JFJFP currently supports a ban on the importation of all settlement produce and claims it was “a very significant contributor to the process whereby the UK government strongly objected to the mislabelling of goods produced in the occupied Palestinian territories”.

It also supports the boycott of companies such as Caterpillar, which it says is “involved in home demolitions and the destruction of, for example, olive groves in order to build the barrier”.

It backs the boycott of companies involved in supporting settlements and demands “an end to the sale of arms to Israel and any purchase of arms or security equipment from Israel”.

The meeting also included a series of workshops exploring how anti-Israel activists should respond to various situations, using recent events as the basis for discussion.

These included the Zionist Federation’s hire of the Bloomsbury Theatre, the Edinburgh Film Festival’s acceptance of Israeli sponsorship and the announcement of a Leonard Cohen concert in Israel.

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