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When reality intrudes on reality-TV

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Esther Cepeda
December 19, 2011
— I expected the blowup over sponsorship of “All-American Muslim,” a reality-TV show highlighting the lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich.

The day after the premiere, I wrote a column suggesting that those who believe Muslims are “out to get us” needed to tune in to get to know more about this growing community that, like all other immigrant groups, is adopting American norms.


Based on the emails that flooded in, I quickly realized the show would become controversial.


“Do yourself and your readers a big favor—make it your crusade to inform America of what is the true agenda of the Muslim Community in our country,” read one.


Others warned that “in the future Islam represents an existential threat to the United States as we know it.”


My favorite chided my ignorance: “With all due respect, you may be looking at ‘All American Muslim’ with Rose Colored Glasses because MOST Muslim’s adhere to a faith that’s extremely at odds with Christianity on which our Values are designed & structured.”


A fundamentalist Christian group called the Florida Family Association watched enough episodes to convince itself that the subjects are not “average” Muslims and that the show is “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”


Lowe’s, a major sponsor of the show, pulled its advertising. Talk about a hot, corporate, mess.


Lowe’s, which signed on to gain credibility among a growing American Muslim population estimated to have $170 billion in purchasing power, is now getting it from all sides. A war continues to rage on its Facebook page—first there was outrage because angry and racist comments were allowed to stay visible, and now there is new outrage because the company began filtering out disrespectful posts. And scores of people who had never connected the retailer with the new TV show got on the bandwagon against the company’s about-face toward the Muslim community.


From celebrities who have spoken out against Lowe’s suspension of its sponsorship—actor Kal Penn sent this delightful Tweet: “Our next movie: ‘Harold & Kumar Do Not Go To Lowes’”—to editorial boards of U.S. newspapers, marketing pundits and people with Muslim friends and family, lots of folks are disappointed at Lowe’s.


It’s truly incredible that the company didn’t spot this controversy coming a mile away and either decline to connect the Lowe’s name to the show in the first place, or be prepared to take the opportunity to be true to its stated “strong commitment to diversity and inclusion” and stand up to the inevitable vocal minority of people infected with a severe case of Islamophobia.


As for me, and other Americans who accept Muslims as peaceful and beneficial additions to our country’s diverse fabric, we’ll keep our rose-colored glasses on while waiting out this controversy.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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