Amid mounting criticism, home improvement giant Lowe’s Cos. Inc. is sticking by a decision to pull its ads from the TV reality show “All-American Muslim,” caving to pressure from the Florida Family Association, a conservative evangelical group that boasts it has persuaded more than 60 companies to cancel their ads too.
The weekly show on TLC depicts the lives of five Muslim families living in Dearborn, Mich. Show spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg says it has slightly over a million viewers per episode.
By depicting Muslims as ordinary Americans, the program “riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values,” the Florida Family Association (FFA) website says. The site was hacked into and shut down by Anonymous today.
FFA, a virulently anti-gay group, was founded 24 years ago. It’s led by David Caton, who claims there are 35,000 members. In an interview with the Associated Press today, Caton compared Muslims to snakes, saying the show misleads Americans in the same way as any show that reports snakes are good family pets without describing the venomous ones.
There has been a recent spike in hate crimes against Muslims, who make up an estimated 0.6% of the U.S. population.
FFA ‘s online campaign urging people to E-mail their protests to sponsors of “All-American Muslim” has been successful with dozens of major companies, the website boasted before it was hacked. Among firms that have pulled ads are Amazon and McDonald's, according to the website.
But Lowe’s is the only company that has confirmed it canceled due to the FFA campaign. Lowe’s posted a non-apology on its Facebook page: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program.”
The Lowe’s action prompted actress Mia Farrow and entrepreneur/hip-hop guru Russell Simmons to call for a boycott of the massive home improvement store, based in Mooresville, N.C. On Twitter, actor Kal Penn asked readers to sign a petition at signon.org supporting “All-American Muslim.” It has gathered more than 13,000 signatures so far.
And the FFA-instigated ad cancellations also sparked anger from political leaders. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota released a statement blasting Lowe’s for opting “to uphold the beliefs of a fringe hate group and not the creed of the First Amendment… . This is disappointing since the success of ‘All-American Muslim’ shows how ready the country is to learn about Muslims as Americans. This probably makes hate mongers uncomfortable—as they should be.”
California State Sen. Ted Lieu posted a copy of a letter he wrote to Lowe’s on his website. He called the action “bigoted, shameful and un-American,” and asked the company to apologize to Muslim Americans. If the company doesn’t apologize this week, Lieu may endorse a boycott or take action in the California legislature, “at the very least urging them to apologize and reconsider . . . We’re researching right now what other steps we can take legislatively,” Ray Sotero, Lieu’s communications director, told Hatewatch.
And leaders of a coalition of Arab American nonprofits said today they will no longer accept donations from Lowe’s because “the Lowe’s position does not align with our values,” according to Nadia Tonova, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities. She announced the change on WDET’s The Craig Fahle radio show in Detroit. The group represents 22 grassroots nonprofits that have accepted donations from Lowe’s to support community volunteer projects. Tonova said Lowe’s decision perpetuates Islamophobia, a problem that’s “very much alive and well in the United States.”
The action against “All-American Muslim” was far from the first FFA foray into pressure in the service of bigotry. The group ignited a campaign for companies to drop their sponsorship of Teen Nick’s “DeGrassi: The Next Generation” because it has a transgender character. FFA also has protested “Gay Days” at Disneyland and spurred a deluge of E-mails protesting a course on “queer theory” at the University of South Florida. The FFA’s version of morality has led to protests against sex-video ads in the AARP magazine and billboards that appeared too sexy.
Lowe’s buying into the latest FFA pressure campaign will backfire, predicts Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “It’s going to improve the ratings of the show,” he told Hatewatch. “Now it’s not just an issue of Muslims. With these celebrities and political leaders speaking up, it’s an issue of fairness—bigots against the rest of us.”
The main problem is that groups such as the FFA “only look at Islam and Muslims through the lens of extremists. Because this show doesn’t have extremists, but just normal, mainstream Muslims, they think it’s not true,” he said.
The irony, Al-Marayati told Hatewatch, is that “the FFA is pushing the Al-Qaeda narrative from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum. They’re guilty of the same thing as Muslim extremists in the Middle-East, insisting we’re in need of a cultural war. Only they think that American Christians who happen to be evangelicals are the only good people in the world. “