The world’s second largest hardware chain, Lowe’s, proudly displays the slogan “Let’s Build Something Together” on its website. Founded in 1946, Lowe’s is ranked amongst the top 50 corporations in America. The company recently pulled its ads from an American reality television program, All-American Muslim, centred on the lives of five Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan – the largest Muslim community in the United States.
Lowe’s acted under pressure from rightist groups, most notable being the Florida Family Association (FFA). This group’s stated goal is to “defend, protect and promote traditional, biblical values.” In an email message sent to advertisers of the All-American Muslim show, the FFA said, “[This] is propaganda that riskily hides Islam’s true agenda which presents a clear danger to American liberties and traditional values.”
Hate groups have exploited isolated events, promoted negative stereotypes and directed their malicious propaganda against various American groups at different points in history. Islam is the newest addition to the list that includes African-Americans, Catholics, Jewish-Americans, Japanese Americans and German Americans.
Islamophobia is prevalent in the United States. Recent polls show that two in five Americans feel some prejudice towards Muslims. Muslim-Americans have been the victim of multiple hate crimes, have been subject to rigorous security checks and have been denied flights and forced off planes. Women wearing headscarves and men with beards have publicly been called “terrorists.” Protestors have shouted “go home” and “leave the USA” outside Muslim-American community centres, even though America is their home. Muslim-Americans have also been accused of being disloyal citizens. Even as Muslims across America voiced their relief on Osama’s death, the walls of Maine’s largest mosque were spray painted with the slogan “Osama Today, Islam Tomorrow” the night after he was killed.
A few conservative groups have long propagated hatred against the Islamic faith. As such, FFA’s attack on Islam is not new and definitely not surprising. It is the ease with which Lowe’s caved in to the open bigotry that is. This is probably the first time that a company of this size has willingly chosen to discriminate against the Muslim-American community. America was founded on the ideals of equality and religious freedom. It is these very values that Lowe’s has ignorantly attacked. It is very relevant therefore that Congressman Christopher Murphy from Connecticut took the issue to Congress.
He stated in his speech, “Yes we face threats from a fringe sect of radical anti-American Islamists. But there’s no debate that the millions of patriotic peace-loving Muslims who live in this country have no connection to that movement and do nothing except strengthen the fabric of our nation.”
He continued, “Now maybe you think that this is just a minor sideshow, and Congress shouldn’t be talking about it on this floor. I submit to you that you’re dead wrong. This is a major American company rubberstamping basic, foundational bigotry against a major American religious group. This nation was founded on the premise of religious freedom, and this body should never remain silent when a group of people is marginalised just because they worship a different God.”
David Caton, the Executive Director of FFA, lamented on national television that All-American Muslim shows “advanced Islamic Fundamentalism.” When asked what specific scenes he had objection to, he complained, “it is the absence of the radical side of the Imam’s proposition of Shariah Law that is most concerning.”
It is interesting to note the symbiotic relationship that exists between propaganda groups such as the FFA and radical elements working in the name of Islam. These hate groups thrive on the existence of radical elements who in turn largely refer to these same groups when recruiting and radicalising others. Any portrayal of Muslims as normal peace-loving citizens breaks the bubble and therefore poses an obvious existential threat to anti-Muslim hate groups. This is exactly why the FFA and other anti-Muslim groups are desperately working to prevent public education of common Americans on Islam and its true values – peace and justice. Islamophobes blame Muslims for not speaking up and being complicit in the crimes of a few radicals. When they speak up, they are shunned and forced off the television for “not being radicals.” How hypocritical and bigoted!
Congressman Christopher Murphy rightly said in Congress, “This kind of anti-Muslim sentiment not only endangers our nation’s soul, it endangers our national security. And so here’s my message for the folks at Lowe’s who made this decision, and frankly anyone out there of sound mind who is considering getting behind this growing anti-Muslim bigotry: You’re better than this!”
And here’s my own message for Lowe’s: “Sure, let’s build something together – anything but a prejudiced America, for God sake!”
There is a lot for Pakistan to learn from this episode. We need courageous and righteous politicians like Congressman Christopher Murphy who stand up for Pakistan’s founding values of religious freedom and equality for all and who openly express their disgust for hate groups that advocate for violence against Pakistan’s own minority groups. Pakistan has an abundance of FFAs. It needs a Murphy.
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