re: AAM, Lowe’s, NDAA

16 December 2011

A lot has been going on recently, particularly the All-American Muslim–Lowe’s ordeal and Congress passing the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the indefinite detention of people suspected to be working for Al Qaeda (which is just as easy to “prove” as it was that various mainstream organizations have ties to Hamas.)

However, the issues mentioned are being taken by the Muslim community as being completely isolated from one another. So in effect, most people’s remarks fall along the lines of: “Why are we protesting Lowe’s, why not protest the NDAA?”

In order to discuss everything in full-detail. We need to take a few steps back.

Discourse Surrounding All-American Muslim

When AAM (All-American Muslim) first came out, there were ranging opinions within the Muslim community: some in support of the effort and others not too pleased with outcome. The difference is: most people were in extremes.

I personally liked the idea of the show, but not how it was implemented for various reasons, including the fact that the “Muslim” identity was being pushed on one character and there was a monolithic representation of “Muslim.” There are many Muslims who felt the same way, but their opinions are simply pushed to the side despite supporters of the show also having “reservations” that they wished not to air. What needed to happen was a real discourse surrounding why there was such a discrepancy in opinion and not using the “you’re either with us or against us” motto. (re: “The question is – who will win over the dialogue in the end? And which side will each of us be on?”).

It is ironic that the same people fully throwing their weight behind the show are the ones quick to point out the diversity in practice of the characters while simultaneously unwilling to show that the diversity in opinion about this show also portrays the diversity of Muslims. After all, Islam is based on multi-faceted opinions within traditional schools of thought. Within the Sunni sect, there are four different schools of thought that have varying opinions (sometimes completely contradictory) that are all deemed to be correct. The same can be said about law derivations within the Shi’a sect, where there are various divisions based on different interpretations. Having different opinions is not harmful as long as you don’t demonize the other side.

The main issue concerning this discourse is that everyone is too busy trying to understand how AAM relates to non-Muslims. Why isn’t there anyone willing to discuss how AAM relates to Muslims? Not Muslims who are constantly writing about this show and who feel very comfortable with their Muslim identities, but the Muslims who are trying to figure out where they fit in on the vast fabric of Islam and who may not really feel comfortable with either their Muslim identity. This is a major point of discussion that no one is willing to have.

Regardless of where the discourse started or is heading, however, there was a point of reconciliation between the two groups when the home-goods retail giant, Lowe’s, decided to pull their ads from AAM. People seemed to be equally frustrated until it comes time to take action. Then, lo and behold, most people pretend like they never even heard of the issue to begin with.

Discourse Surrounding Lowe’s & AAM

Now, the tables have really turned to where people are insisting that “Muslims helped legitimize Lowe’s decision to pull ads from All-American Muslim. Frankly: no one cares about what Muslims think when it comes to politics let alone a show on a TV network.

It is really hard to believe that Lowe’s caved to the opinions espoused by a single man. But it’s not so hard to believe when you realize that this one man has the legitimacy that is created around a system that has promoted bigotry for the past decade: Islamophobia.

As Samuel G. Freedman notes in On Religion: A One-Man War on American-Muslims

It would be upsetting enough if a well-financed, well-organized mass campaign had misrepresented a television show, insulted an entire religious community and intimidated a national corporation. What makes the attack on “All-American Muslim” more disturbing — and very revealing — is that it was prosecuted by just one person, a person unaffiliated with any established organization on the Christian right, a person who effectively tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Why is this discussion important? 

When Muslims are too busy concerned over what the society at large thinks about us, we forget to focus on ourselves.

But now, we can fully see the ramifications of not focusing on ourselves: we do not have a united front when it comes to larger issues. The only reason Islamophobia continues to be a strong threat and easily influences large corporations like Lowe’s, and domestic and foreign policy is because the Muslim communities in the U.S. do not have a voice. We were simply too busy trying to appease everyone else.

Of course the two do not have to be exclusive: Muslim communities can try to focus on themselves while also trying to show the public that we are not at war with the rest of the world as Islamophobes would have them believe. The problem is that most Muslim communities do not have the resources to do both. And instead of trying to tackle large issues, it would be more helpful for them to focus their resources on their own respective communities. The powerhouses that can be developed by focusing on ourselves will allow us to cultivate a political voice that is of importance to elections just as other minority communities, such as Hispanics and Latinos or African-Americans, have garnered attention from politicians.

In the same vein, when issues like this Lowe’s ordeal come up, it is important to tackle them head-on because this will have an effect on our communities. We need to address Lowe’s so that all other corporations know that the Muslim population is capable of taking action.

What does this have to do with the NDAA? 

Lowe’s pulling ads may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but it is a large retailer succumbing to anti-Islamic attitudes espoused by a single man. A few days later, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which is obviously focused on the Muslim population and could be used to entrap many prominent activists.

However, when there are Muslims who are indifferent about smaller actions showcasing bigotry, how can you make a case that what the government is doing is inherently wrong when they are being funded by people who hold the same values?

Right now, most Muslims are advocating trying to tackle a tree when they did not help uproot the weeds. And that is very frustrating. We can’t talk about the NDAA while ignoring “minor” issues that have cumulatively added up to the strength garnered by congressmen and senators advocating for the NDAA. Media matters.