Lowe’s Entangles Itself in Brouhaha over Muslim Reality Show

Avoiding controversy was the stated aim when Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, bowed to pressure from a Florida evangelical group and pulled its commercials from a TV reality show that makes Muslims look like ordinary Americans rather than terrorists.

Instead, the chain’s act boomeranged into a PR nightmare, attracting an avalanche of attacks in social and traditional media, outrage from political and religious leaders, and on-site protests.

Behind the campaign against Lowe’s sponsorship of “All-American Muslim” was the Florida Family Association (FFA), a conservative evangelical group. In an E-mail campaign, the group targeted dozens of companies that have advertised on the TLC network’s reality show, which chronicles the lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich. The FFA urged its followers to tell companies they shouldn’t sponsor the show because it depicts Muslim Americans as something other than jihadists.

The group bragged that dozens of companies had pulled their ads, but Lowe’s was the only one to confirm that the FFA campaign was the reason. (Another company, Kayak.com, apologized to “anyone who was offended” by its pullout of sponsorship. But its chief marketing officer said he thought TLC had misrepresented the show, so that advertisers didn’t know the controversy it would generate, adding that Kayak didn’t want to be part of the maelstrom.)

Responses to the decision by Lowe’s ranged from mockery to outrage. “The Daily Show” lampooned the chain for supposedly contributing to terrorism by selling everything anyone would need to put together a primitive bomb. Prominent politicians including Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison (the first Muslim elected to Congress), and California state Sen. Ted Lieu publicly scolded Lowe’s and asked it to reverse course. A cast of celebrities and religious figures also joined the fray, as did online organizers. A petition at SignOn.org urging advertisers to stick with the show gained 33,864 signatures in less than three days.

In Paterson, N.J., which has the second-largest per capita concentration of Muslims in the U.S. after Dearborn, protesters descended on Lowe’s. But Muslim leaders were largely conciliatory. “Lowe’s here in Paterson has been decent to Muslims,” Mohamed El-Filali of the Islamic Center of Passaic County told the Intelligence Report. But the company’s leaders “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 has campaigned against a Teen Nick show, “DeGrassi: The Next Generation,” because it has a transgender character. The FFA also pushed hard for a Florida state amendment that bars same-sex marriages and a ban on gay parents adopting children.

Meanwhile, Lowe’s direct competitor, Home Depot, acted quite differently with respect to a similar boycott attempt. This January, some two years after the American Family Association (AFA) launched a boycott of Home Depot because of its support for LGBT people, AFA leaders bizarrely claimed victory. But Home Depot disagreed, writing, “We have never changed our commitment to diversity and inclusion of all people, and we have no intention of doing so.”