FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Reality of “All-American Muslim”

For those constantly fretting about the inability of Muslims to integrate or assimilate into western culture, fret no more!

American Muslims finally have their own reality TV show – the Learning Channel’s “All-American Muslim” – focusing on the lives of five American Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, who are predominantly Lebanese and Shiite. The show’s premiere gave TLC huge ratings and made the show No 2 in its time period. Mainstream critics have embraced the show citing it as “intimate and informative” and a “deeply intriguing, uncharacteristically thoughtful reality series”.

Reality TV is the current zeitgeist of popular culture. Unlike the euro, it is the predominant cultural currency, whose value is skyrocketing. America is on a first-name basis with their cultural ambassadors: Snookie, Kate Plus 8, Paris, Ozzie and Kim. Could Shadia, the show’s tattooed, country music-loving Lebanese American Muslim, with an Irish Catholic boyfriend, belong in the pantheon?

“[All American Muslim] is just a natural fit for us …We’re always all about telling compelling stories about real families,” says TLC’s Alan Orstein, VP of production and development. But some have already taken deep offense to this “reality” show, which claims to portray the “real” lives of Muslims.

Within days of the show’s premiere, the fear-mongering Islamphobia network complained the show is actually propaganda that promotes a “submission to Islam through the hijab” and “tries to make a religion which believes in world domination and the inferiority of women, seem normal”. The author of this article, posted on David Horowitz’s inflammatory Front Page Magazine, also goes on to compare Muslims to Nazis: “Muslims are like us [Americans]; that’s the problem. The Nazis were like us too. So were the Communists.”

Apparently, TLC is a stealth-jihadist outfit with grand schemes to brainwash American women into burning their swimsuits and tank tops and replacing them with modest, traditional Islamic clothing as a gradual means towards converting them to Islam. I’ll be waiting for their next reality TV show: “UV Radiation Fighters.”

Pamela Geller, founder of the shrill Atlas Shrugs blog and co-founder with blogger Robert Spencer of Stop Islamization of America, is convinced the show “is an attempt to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad”. Who would have thought a reality TV show could have so much brainwashing potential? Instead of mounting violent campaigns, all our enemies needed to secure victory was to produce “The Real Housewives of al-Qaida.”

If Geller, Spencer and Horowitz were producing their version of American Muslim reality, the episodes would focus on the families’ radical stealth jihadist plots. Through eight episodes, they would attempt to turn McDonald’s golden arches into minarets, transform California to Caliph-ornia, place a burqa over the Statute of Liberty, creep sharia into the Denny’s breakfast menu, and spike the elementary school eggnog with sumac and lentils.

A “real Muslim” according to many is this anti-American, extremist, violent stereotype – an image often plastered over news headlines. This myth is unsurprising, perhaps, considering 60% of Americans say they don’t know a Muslim. Furthermore, the No 1 source of information about Muslims for American is the media, and often, the images are negative. Yet, according to all the studies and evidence, the reality of American Muslims is that they are moderate, loyal to America, optimistic about America’s future, in tune with American values, well-educated, and are the nation’s most diverse religious community.

That being said, nearly half of American Muslims say they have faced discrimination. The FBI just announced anti-Muslim hate crimes have risen 50%. And a Republican presidential candidate with an alleged proclivity towards sexual harassment and unintentionally hilarious campaign videos has claimed a majority of Muslim Americans are extremists.

The portrayal of Muslims living their daily lives is not only a welcome relief from the usual tawdry caricatures of Muslims as terrorists, extremists and taxi cab drivers, but it also helps defuse the deep-seated fears and bias that unfairly lumps 1.5 billion members of a faith in with the perverse criminal actions of a few.

However, even American Muslims have voiced their criticisms with the show. The Twitterverse exploded (figuratively) with comments reflecting the diversity of the American Muslim opinions. Some said the show misleads with the title “All-American Muslim”, since it solely focuses on one niche religious, ethnic community (Lebanese Shiite in Dearborn, Michigan) and leaves out the majority of American Muslim communities, such as African Americans, South Asians, Sunnis and those from the low-income middle class.

Others, apparently, want their TV Muslims to be avatars of religious and moral perfection and complained about some of the characters’ portrayal of Islam. (Shadia is a tattooed, partying rebel dating a white, Irish Catholic man who converts to Islam in order to marry her. Nina is a busty, dyed-blonde, opinionated business woman, with a penchant for tight dresses and ambitions to open her own club.)

Which only goes to show that representing Muslims and Islam in the mainstream is an utterly thankless job. The term “Muslim” is itself so politically and culturally loaded that it is impossible to escape controversy, no matter how trivial or manufactured. Since Muslims are a marginalized community with very few positive mainstream representations, audiences unfairly project onto these five families all their own insecurities, assumptions, fears, political ideologies, religious opinions, personal stories and other gratuitous baggage. So, if the characters do not 100% reflect the reality of certain audience members, then they cease to be authentic or valid.

The five families on “All-American Muslim” should not be asked to represent all Muslims, Arabs or Americans. Does Jersey Shore represent all Italians? If so, you can hear Frank Sinatra crooning in his grave. Similarly, Kim Kardashian does not represent all narcissistic, wannabe socialites with a fetish for athletes. (That may be an insult to fetishes.)

The best way to view “All-American Muslim” is simply a show about five families doing their best to be themselves. They’re just people, who happen to identify as Muslim, Arab and American. Their story isn’t the wild-eyed, paranoid fantasy that is colored by the hate-filled minds of the Islamophobia network. It isn’t the terrorist stereotype familiar to most American audiences thanks to mainstream Hollywood depictions and sensationalized news headlines. And it won’t be the story of this nation’s 3-4 million American Muslims (population estimates vary from 1.3 to 7 million), who will hopefully find more avenues to tell their unique narratives through mainstream outlets.

In the meantime, we should exhale and simply let this reality TV show succeed or fail on the merits of its ability to entertain, instead of obsessing about how “realistic” its depiction of Islam and Muslims is. If the ratings decline, TLC can always create a new talent show featuring the cast members of “The Real Housewives” and “All-American Muslim”, judged by Kim Kardashian and Ozzy Osbourne, whose winner gets an opportunity to join all the previous winners from “Dancing with the Stars” in a new “Survivor” series about who lives beyond the 15th minute of fame.

That’s a reality show whose authenticity cannot be denied.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, journalist and attorney, whose play, The Domestic Crusaders, was published by McSweeney’s in December, 2010. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. 
He blogs at Goatmilk.

 

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
Brian Horejsi
Bears’ Lives Undervalued
Thomas Knapp
Lung Disease Outbreak: First Casualties of the War on Vaping?
Susie Day
Dear Guys Who Got Arrested for Throwing Water on NYPD Cops
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail