The Common Good

Jim Wallis on "All-American Muslim": "These critics are nothing more than hate groups."

I am not a Reality TV guy. Hardly ever watch any, and the very little I've seen has been intellectually boring, morally banal, and  consistently shallow, with some highly sexualized scenes deliberately created to offend traditional morality and go for ratings.

So I wasn't paying any attention when a the TLC channel's reality show All-American Muslim came out late last year. It is based around the lives of some ordinary American families who live in the Dearborn, Mich., area — a neighboring community to my home town of Detroit, which in recent years, has developed a large Muslim community.

I didn't even hear about the show until it came under attack from some of the Muslim hate groups, including an outfit called the Florida Family Association. They pressured advertisers to withdraw their sponsorship from the show and Lowes did just that, sparking another great controversy about Muslims in America.

As far as I can tell, the critics' problem is that the show depicts Muslim family life in America as boringly normal, instead of a training ground for terrorists. The Muslims in the show display the existential angst and preoccupations of typical American families. Theirs just happens to be an American life lived out within a Muslim and Arab cultural milieu. (Also, some of the All-American Muslim women wear hijab —  headcoverings traditionally worn by many religious Muslim women — instead of the micro-minis and plunging necklines often found on other popular "reality" shows.)

Many of All-American Muslim's critics seem to be upset that the Muslim folks featured on the show are not spending their time making bombs, planning attacks on their neighbors, or just screaming their hatred of America. The show, they fear, could give Americans the wrong impression: Muslim families are much like other American families, not secret terrorist dens plotting to infiltrate America with Sharia Law or attack us from within.

The critics are actually angry because no jihads are discussed around these Muslim family dinner tables and demonstrates to the rest of us that our Muslim neighbors are a lot like us.

The families in the show don't conform to distorted Muslim stereotypes that its critics had apparently hoped to see on All-American Muslim.

Well, too bad for them.

Stereotypes are necessary for hatred. And this show might even help to kill some of the more insidious stereotypes about Muslim-Americans and Muslims in general.

That's why All-American Muslim is perceived as a danger — a threat — by the FAA and other critics.

From its beginning, the United States has distinguished itself from the world by promoting religious liberty. Sometimes we have lived up to that ideal and other times we have not. The attacks on All-American Muslim are a sad example of the failure of some Americans to be good Americans.

American values mean respecting and protecting the rights of others whether you worship or believe as they do or not.

Worse yet are the people who have attacked All-American Muslim (and Islam writ large) in the name of Christianity. This is simply bad faith and an even worse witness for the Christ they claim to represent.

You don't show the strength of your own faith by attacking another's. You show the strength of your faith by simply living it out.

Christians are the majority in this country and that means we have an additional responsibility to ensure that the rights of religious minorities are protected. Christians should be on the front lines of protecting the religious liberties of other faith traditions, not the ones picking the fights with them.

These critics are nothing more than hate groups who promote the stereotypes that fuel their hatred. They embarrass many of us who are Christians. Groups such as the Florida Family Association should be completely discredited, disregarded, and dismissed by any serious Christians and others with true American values.

Hate groups are just that. They shouldn't really be allowed to co-opt any of our good names, like "family" or "religious" or "Christian." Let's just name them the Florida Hate Association, ignore them, or tell them to behave themselves.

And then tell Loews or other sponsors to stop being silly and that its really okay to advertise on all the All-American Muslim. The show's 9/11 episode had some good interfaith discussion, but largely the series is every bit the typical, normal — and yes, boring — reality TV show devoid of any bomb-throwing excitement.

Too bad for the critics.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. Jim is on sabbatical until April 2012. This post was written before his sabbatical began Jan. 1. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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