Lowe’s Errs in Muslim Ad Uproar
By Laura Berman for The Detroit News
Lowe’s used to be the home supply store for macho do-it-yourselfers who want to pick up a chain saw or a sledge hammer along with a box of garbage bags.
Now it’s steeping in a political mess, the result of acceding to the demands of a “pro-family” group — a warm-and-fuzzy sounding way to describe a group that specializes in email campaigns targeted against TV shows that treat minorities as human beings.
In this case, the target was “All-American Muslim,” The Learning Channel’s new reality show that depicts five Muslim families in Dearborn as they entertain, bicker, laugh and get married. The show’s premise — that Muslims are Americans, too — verges on the silly in its obviousness, or so most would think. But the Florida Family Association branded the show, which premiered a month ago, as “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”
The group launched its email campaign in November, then triumphed when Lowe’s — among dozens of other sponsors — disappeared from the show in subsequent episodes.
Its big beef was the lack of negative portrayals of Muslims on the show: Insufficient underwear bombers and radical clerics. The FFA wants ordinary, tooth-brushing, family-friendly Muslims “balanced” with scary, America-hating radical Muslims, apparently as a way to keep suspicion and prejudice alive.
This strikes me as un-Christian to the max. But Lowe’s bought in or, more likely, tried to gracefully bow out of the political arena by removing itself from the show’s list of sponsors.
Lowe’s next error: releasing paragraphs of corporate mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-apologies that fueled the growing uproar. Now there’s a festive holiday season cultural eruption centered on Dearborn. Dearborn’s Muslim community leaders are denouncing Lowe’s, while the Florida Family Association brags online about its successful campaign to eliminate advertisers for “All-American Muslim.”
In the FFA’s version of All-American, only “God fearing” Christians are real Americans, released from requirements to be portrayed, at least some of the time, as crucial components of the axis of evil.
This xenophobic, self-justifying bigotry is, in fact, just as American as our more widely copied ideas about equality for all and a universal right to pursue happiness. But it’s hard to believe what a persistent undercurrent conspiracy theories are in American culture.
The Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter described 50 years ago what he called “the paranoid style” in American politics, giving as an example a 1964 campaign by the John Birch society to boycott Xerox for advertising on a television show about the United Nations.
Just as American Muslims are now subjected to bigotry and suspicion, Masons and Catholics were singled out by 19th century Americans bent on protecting their country through conspiracy theories, and Japanese Americans were forced into 20th century concentration camps.
“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Hofstadter wrote, describing a state of mind that flourishes in America today.
The problem isn’t only anger but, also, how fear so easily drowns out even a chain-saw-wielding corporation’s All-American supply of courage.