Avoiding controversy was the stated aim when Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, bowed to pressure from a Florida evangelical group by pulling its ads from a TV reality show that makes Muslims look like ordinary Americans rather than terrorists.
But now the chain’s act of enabling bigots has boomeranged into a black-eye controversy, a PR nightmare: The company faces an accelerating deluge of attacks in social and traditional media, outrage from political and religious leaders, and on-site protests scheduled for at least one of its stores in a heavily Muslim community.
The Florida Family Association (FFA) targeted dozens of companies that have run commercials on the TLC network’s reality show, “All-American Muslim.” The show chronicles the lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich. Offering a template E-mail on its website, the FFA urged its followers to let the companies know they shouldn’t sponsor the show because it depicts Muslim Americans as something other than jihadists. Among the many companies that have stopped advertising since the FFA targeting are Bank of America, Dell, Gap, General Motors, Ikea, Kellogg, Sears and Toyota. But Lowe’s is the only one to confirm that the FFA campaign caused it to cancel.
Kayak.com apologized today to “anyone who was offended” by its pullout of sponsorship. But Chief Marketing Officer Robert Birge said he thought TLC misrepresented the show, so advertisers didn’t know the controversy it would generate, adding that Kayak didn’t want to be part of the maelstrom.
Lowe’s was lampooned Tuesday on “The Daily Show” for its own contributions to terrorism by selling everything anyone would need to put together a primitive bomb. “Senior Muslim correspondent” Aasif Mandvi told viewers to boycott the store. “If we’re serious about fighting terror, we have to cut off their supply chain — I mean, Lowe’s.”
Jon Stewart played a clip of FFA leader David Caton explaining that he opposed the show because it did not depict Muslims as terrorists. Given all the brouhaha, Stewart said he assumed “All-American Muslim” would showcase jihadi propaganda. Instead, it just portrays “Muslims living their lives like the rest of us fucking idiots.”
Meanwhile, a petition at SignOn.org urging advertisers to stick with the show has gained 33,864 signatures in less than three days. MoveOn.org told its website visitors to sign the petition, and today the group asked members to flood Lowe’s corporate headquarters with phone calls, demanding that the company apologize and reinstate its ads.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison (the first Muslim elected to Congress), and California state Sen. Ted Lieu are among the politicians who have publicly scolded Lowe’s and asked the company to reverse course. A growing list of celebrities and public figures also have joined the fray — actors Heather Graham, Reagan Gomez, Mia Farrow and Kal Penn, CNN anchor Erin Burnett, and entrepreneur and music mogul Russell Simmons.
This spreading outrage also has reached religious leaders. Groundswell, an Auburn Seminary-affiliated group that campaigns for religious freedom, is organizing U.S. leaders of every faith to speak out on the issue in the media and in their communities, Groundswell Director Valarie Kaur told Hatewatch. The group has contacted a network of 15,000 people across the U.S., including several hundred religious leaders, Kaur said. Groundswell also is gathering signatures for a petition directed at advertisers on “All-American Muslim” that were targeted by FFA, she told Hatewatch.
The first scheduled protest at a Lowe’s store is set for Friday in Paterson, N.J., Mohamed El-Filali, executive director of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, told Hatewatch. The rally is expected to draw a few hundred participants, including clergy and lay people of varied faiths, he said. Paterson has the second largest concentration, per capita, of Muslims in the U.S. (The largest is in the Dearborn area, site of the reality show.)
“Lowe’s here in Paterson has been decent to Muslims,” El-Filali said. “They hire us, and our center even has an account there. But this decision was made by headquarters, and we can’t all drive to North Carolina. The leaders of the company seem to be disconnected from the reality of the world and think that Muslims can be excluded from the fabric of America.”
The FFA, founded 24 years ago, is known mostly for its virulently anti-gay positions. The group has targeted advertisers on the hit show “Modern Family” because it includes a gay couple with an adopted child. It also has campaigned for withdrawal of sponsorship for the Teen Nick show “Degrassi” because it portrays gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers, and includes material about The Trevor Project, which offers counseling and suicide prevention programs for LGBT teens. The FFA also pushed hard for a Florida state amendment that bars same-sex marriages and a ban on gay parents adopting children.
Lowe’s and all the other companies that continue to cave to FFA pressure are part of a recent wave of anti-Muslim scapegoating, said El-Filali. “There’s so much Islamophobia now,” he said. “It has elements of Germany in 1933, misrepresenting issues and blaming a minority as a way of diverting attention from serious domestic problems.”
But there’s a positive side to all the uproar about “All-American Muslim” and the FFA, he adds. “It opens up a dialogue about mainstream Muslims in the U.S. It’s exposed the country to the fact that we’re part of this nation too.”