August 4, 2011
The American TV network TLC recently announced that it is making a reality series following the lives of Muslims living in America. The program—called "All American Muslim"—will follow five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, hoping to expose the "misconceptions and conflicts" they face "outside and within" their own community…In a statement TLC's general manager Amy Winter said:…"Through these families and their diverse experiences, we will explore how they blend their values and traditions with everyday life in America." She added the program would provide: "Insight into their culture with care and compassion."
In other words, at a time when the need for objective knowledge concerning Islam is at a premium, many Americans are to be subliminally indoctrinated on what Islam is really about—not through Muslim theology or history, nor yet politics and current events—but rather by a "reality" show of a handful of American Muslims.
One of TLC's goals in airing this program is to show us "diversity" in Islam: According to the network's statement: "The families featured in the series share the same religion, but lead very distinct lives that oftentimes challenge the Muslim stereotype."
For example, there is a girl that "sports piercings and tattoos"—as if the fact that a tattoo-wearing American female who identifies herself as a Muslim is supposed to tell us anything about Islam. Other characters are not so colorful, but are formulated simply to gain sympathy for Muslims: their claim to fame is that they are "trying to find the balance between their traditional Muslim roots and American culture," or working "tirelessly to educate … about the Muslim religion in an effort to reduce discrimination and ignorance."
In short, through five families who supposedly represent a religion of over one billion, the show is dedicated to depicting Muslims as "just like us." Indeed, one might argue that these five families are not even representative of their own Muslim neighbors in Dearborn, chosen by the producers for having "one of America's largest Muslim populations and has the largest mosque in North America."
In fact, Dearborn is also a hotbed of Muslim extremism, where the FBI had a shoot-out in the streets with jihadists; where a former resident was indicted in a Hezbollah terror plot targeting Israel; where one American politician says Sharia law holds sway; and where a Christian preacher was threatened by shouts of "Allahu Akbar!"
Will these sorts of "diverse experiences" find their way into the reality show?
What is more ironic is that TLC's motives appear superfluous and unnecessary: the same report does not conclude by saying that, because anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in America it needs to be combated by such shows, but quite the opposite: "The announcement comes as positive attitudes in America towards Muslims appear to be on the rise. Earlier this year CNN found that 46 percent of Americans have a positive view of American Muslims, while 26 percent have an [sic] negative view. In 2002, the number of Americans with a positive view of Muslims stood at 39 percent."
One may argue that this is just a show, and that people should know better than to base their opinions of Islam on it. While this is true, it is also true that the ideas and images that the media presents to us tend to condition people's perceptions and opinions— a consequence especially critical at a time of war.
If one truly wished to understand the differences between the Muslim and Western mindsets, one need only look to their respective medias. Far from trying to depict the "other"—the infidel—as "just one of us," the Arab media is devoted to making the West look as if it is on a "crusade" to destroy Islam, and that the Jews are "pigs and monkeys" who are behind any number of animal-related conspiracies. Meanwhile, here is America's media, floating in an idealistic, Utopian bubble, conditioning minds accordingly.
Raymond Ibrahim, a widely published author on Islam, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.