Earlier today, local pastors in the Charlotte, NC area delivered over 200,000 petition signatures to Lowe’s (headquartered in Mooresville, NC, outside Charlotte), calling on the company to reverse its decision to pull their advertisements from “All American Muslim,” a new reality show on TLC showcasing American Muslims in Michigan. Faithful America’s petition signatures were presented alongside similar petitions from CREDO Action, Change.org, Groundswell, Sum of Us, and People for the American Way.
The decision was made by Lowe’s because the show became a “lightning rod of controversy.” According to the Lowe’s representative who spoke today to the media after the petition delivery, the Lowe’s team decided to pull the ads independent of pressure from the Florida Family Association (an anti-Muslim fringe Religious Right group which led a public effort against Lowe’s’ advertisements on the show) and rather based their decision on “negative chatter… on social networks” before they even received an FFA email.
I can’t begin to fathom why Lowe’s thought that “clarifying” the source of the right-wing bigotry the company caved to (random right-wing Twitter or Facebook users versus an organizational effort from the Florida Family Association) would assuage the concerns of these 200,000+ people. More than nonsensical, this explanation is actually insulting to hundreds of thousands of people who are outraged by Lowe’s’ decision.
What’s more, reports from today’s meeting indicate that prior to the controversy, Lowe’s had conversations about how buying a block of advertisements on TLC but excluding the All-American Muslim show would violate their anti-discrimination policy. They failed to explain how subsequently pulling their ads fails to do the same.
Rev. Dennis Teall-Fleming, a Faithful America member and pastor of Open Hearts Gathering in Gastonia, NC, who led the petition delivery, pushed Lowe’s on this explanation, asking whether they would’ve done the same thing if the “controversy” were anti-Semitic complaints about the depiction of a Jewish family or racist objections to a show about African-Americans.
Lowe’s deflected the question, continuing to insist that their decision was unconnected to specific right-wing pressure and instead linked to “general controversy,” a completely unsatisfactory response.
Again, unless Lowe’s wants to produce any evidence to the contrary, there was only one “controversy” here and it was manufactured by a handful of anti-Muslim extremists and their followers. Lowe’s’ decision legitimizes these people’s fringe conspiracy theories and fuel suspicions and discrimination against American Muslims. This is more serious than a simple business decision — it has implications for millions of American Muslims and our nation’s record of interfaith acceptance and cooperation.
Faithful America’s members and the other hundreds of thousands of concerned Americans will be watching — they won’t let Lowe’s off the hook until the company makes clear its commitment to pluralism and tolerance by reinstating their advertising on “All American Muslim.”
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As word spreads about the decision of hardware retailer Lowe’s and other companies to cave to pressure from an obscure right-wing group and stop advertising on TLC’s All-American Muslim show, people around the country are reacting with shock, disappointment, and frustration.
In particular, the faith community, which has been monitoring growing anti-Islam sentiment across the nation, is speaking out against Lowe’s cowardly decision. Yesterday, Faithful America launched a petition calling on the company to reject bigotry and resume advertising on the program, which has already garnered over 7,800 signatures and counting.
The petition reads:
There’s no “debate” about anti-Muslim bigotry; it’s unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of the faith community. Don’t cave to religious hatred — resume advertising on All-American Muslim.
View it and add your signature here.
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The cast of All-American Muslim
When All-American Muslim — TLC’s reality show following Muslim families as they go about their daily lives in Dearborn, Michigan — launched, we celebrated the show as an important example of how to put into practice research about combating stereotypes.
Namely, the research found that the “introduction of positive images of ‘out-groups’ does indeed lower levels of fear of the other” and helps “re-hardwire” the brain away from negative stereotypes.
All-American Muslim, which shows Muslim families experiencing the same types of challenges and successes as all families, has been doing just that — helping to present a new narrative about American Muslims that can counter the harmful one propagated by anti-Islam extremists over the last few years.
Unsurprisingly, these extremists are decrying the show for only featuring peaceful, non-terrorist characters because it exposes their fringe conspiracy theories for what they really are. One group, the Florida Family Association, has even gone so far as to pressure the show’s advertisers to pull their support.
In a sign of just how weak-kneed corporations can be in response to even a hint of right-wing backlash, the FFA (which appears to be just one activist with a few thousand email addresses) claims to have succeeded in provoking over 60 companies to pull their ads — most prominently the hardware giant Lowe’s.
Now finding deserved backlash against that decision, Lowe’s released a statement attempting to explain that they only pulled the ads after the show became “a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives.”
To put it nicely, that’s a load of baloney. Imagine if a white supremacist group had run the same campaign targeting advertisers of The Cosby Show, complaining that it dangerously misled the public because it didn’t feature any black drug dealers or gang members. Would any company in its right mind think it acceptable to cave to racist pressure while defending its “strong commitment to diversity and inclusion”? Of course not.
As Alyssa Rosenberg points out:
This isn’t a defense of deeply-held values. This is a dodge of having any deeply-held or defensible values at all. I would really love to know which of these perspectives advocated by All-American Muslim are so radioactive and controversial that a company can’t be associated with them.
In some ways, there’s real opportunity in this moment. First, the controversy will likely inspire more people to watch the show and judge for themselves. But more importantly, it’s time we have a real conversation in this country about what’s been happening with anti-Muslim rhetoric over the last few years.
So far, the extremists have managed to launder their radicalism through “mainstream” spokespeople (see King, Peter), legislation that dog-whistles to their base while hiding the conspiracy theories behind it (state bans on “foreign law”), and public “controversies” that advance their frames and assumptions (the “Ground Zero Mosque”).
Starting with images of the vivid truth about Muslim-American families is the perfect place for voices of respect and sanity to start fighting back. The Florida Family Association is right about one thing, you’re either with them or against them. It’s time for American corporate, political and social leaders to make their choice.
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Spencer Ackerman weighs in on the exchange between Secretary Stockton and Rep. Lungren about conservative insistence on “naming the threat” of violent Islamist extremism.
Acknowledging that this framing can sound “on the surface” like a good way to distinguish between terrorists and peaceful Muslims, he points out more nuanced flaws:
“Violent Islamist extremism” means the U.S. is at war — war – with Hamas, with Hezbollah, arguably with Iran. Little unites these organizations and entities with al-Qaida in any programmatic way. They just all claim to be motivated by Islam; all take a fevered and conspiratorial understanding of Islam (though conspiratorial in different ways); and all use violence as a tool to achieve their goals. Fighting al-Qaida is already a big, big enterprise, since anyone the government says is “affiliated” with al-Qaida, worldwide, is in its crosshairs, and no one knows how to define “affiliated” in any rigorous way.
Larding other Islamist extremist groups on top of that is, I argue, a bad idea. It ensures the U.S. loses focus on its core enemy. It will mean lots of blood and lots of money for a long time. And even if you were, miraculously, to rid the world of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other groups I’m neglecting at the moment, it wouldn’t get you a hair closer to the core goal of eradicating al-Qaida. So thanks but no thanks.
Second, “Violent Islamist Extremism” only means something in English. In Arabic, Urdu, Pashto, Farsi, etc., it means, “The U.S. will attack every Islamic group it can think of, so we’re all under threat.” In other words, the key demographic in play — the world’s Muslims, whom every smart counterterrorist recognizes are the difference-maker determining whether al-Qaida gets a new lease on life — hears “Violent Islamist Extremism” as “Islam.” That is very bad for strategy.
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Of the three witnesses that testified on the first panel of Rep. King’s hearing yesterday, the Assistant Secretary of Defense and U.S. Army Senior Adviser for Counterintelligence Operations may have been the higher profile names, the third witness, Lieutenant Colonel Reid L. Sawyer–Director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, was just as important.
The Combating Terrorism Center was most recently in the news as the “clean-up crew” for the FBI after Spencer Ackerman’s reporting exposed the sloppy, anti-Islam bias in the Bureau’s training materials. As Ackerman notes, the CTC has “earned high praise from counterterrorism experts as a haven for rigorous, practical scholarship on terrorism and Islamic extremism.”
In other words, it’s the direct opposites of the self-styled anti-Islam “experts” whose broad stereotypes and wild conspiracy theories currently seem to count as “scholarship” for conservative politicians.
At the hearing, Lt. Coloner Sawyer explained why rooting out these kind of voices from policy and training materials is so important:
There are two critical parts to this. The first is that we do not want to inhibit our ability to educate our forces whether it’s within the inter-agency intelligence community or the military on these critical threats. How do we get our solidiers or our intelligence or law enforcement officials to understand these threats in which they can react to them in a proactive manner and to understand them in depth to be able to focus on the changing trajectory of our time.
To achieve uniformity in this what we need to do is really to instill that there’s a competency in the people that are producing the training materials–that they’re academically rigorous, that they’re based on sound research in which they’re producing and that they are fact-based and devoid of political agenda or personal opinion in those. And if we accomplish that I think that the training materials become much more responsible in the general sense across the general enterprise and, in fact, the reviews have shown this to be the case.
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