Americans should know to boycott bigotry

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Muslims really thought they were doing the world a favor by pulling Europe and its mostly illiterate Christians out of the Dark Ages.

Just because they foisted algebra, trigonometry, optics, astronomical charts, the classics of Greek antiquity, Arabic numerals, advanced surgical techniques, the illusion of perspective in art, the lute and artichokes on the world, at a time when the Christian kings of Europe were smothering free inquiry, doesn't mean they're entitled to any credit a thousand years later.

So we in the West, particularly those of us in America, remain ignorant of Islamic contributions to Western life. We suffer from a profound sense of cultural amnesia when it comes to remembering our millennia-long debt to our Muslim brethren. But as the song goes: "What has Averroes done for us lately?"

Americans are so used to thinking of Muslims as the exotic "other" that many fail to realize they're an inextricable part of who we are and have been since the nation's earliest days. Unfortunately, too many non-Muslims see them as Manchurian candidates crouching in the shadows with explosive vests, waiting for the signal to wage terror on America's malls en masse.

If you ask the average American citizen or churchgoer about Islam's role as an incubator of Western ideas and values, expect stares of incomprehension. Demagogues in politics and the pulpit have become experts at ginning up hatred and suspicion of Muslims for their own cynical purposes.

If only stupidity and cultural ignorance were restricted to the margins of society, it wouldn't be half as embarrassing. But Islamophobia, like its twin brother anti-Semitism, has a way of injecting itself into the cultural discourse. Contempt for Muslims remains an acceptable prejudice for millions who continue to equate the religion with terrorism.

Recently, TLC began running an innocuous reality show called "All-American Muslim." The series documents the lives of five Muslim families in a Detroit suburb that boasts the highest concentration of Arabs and Muslims in America. The 99 percent of Americans who don't share the Muslim faith are invited to explore the possibility that these very misunderstood Americans in Dearborn, Mich., don't have horns or drink the blood of infant Christians and Jews.

It didn't take long for a conservative group calling itself the Florida Family Association to complain in an email. Dusting off one of its old form letters complaining about gays, the FFA insisted that the TLC series was "propaganda that riskily [sic] hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."

Of course, there's nothing on the show to indicate a subversive religious agenda, other than its blatant attempt to portray Muslims as humans with complex ideas about religion, nationalism, love, sex, death, taxes, consumerism and what it means to be an American.

Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, one of the nation's largest retailers, couldn't be bothered sorting through such nuances. After the FFA encouraged its members to complain to the show's biggest sponsors, the retail giant responded to the few emails it got by pulling its ads and issuing the wimpiest justification of corporate cowardice ever:

"Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views," the Lowe's statement said. "As a result, we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance."

Ted Lieu, a state senator from Southern California, called Lowe's capitulation to intolerance "naked religious bigotry" that is "un-American." He is considering calling for a boycott of the retailer.

Lowe's isn't worried about a boycott from America's Muslims who number less than 2 million, but a sympathy boycott by fair-minded Americans of all faiths and political persuasions would be an apocalyptic nightmare for the company. Still, crawling out of this depressing sequel to the Dark Ages won't be easy.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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