This coming November, a new Muslim reality show will broadcast on TLC. All American Muslim will follow the lives of 5 families in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Muslim population in the United States. The show aims to give a glimpse of the Muslim American population and the challenges that they face, inside and outside of their community. Moreover, according to Amy Winter, TLC’s general manager, one of the goals of the program is to show the diversity of the Muslim community, which is not only true of the community in Dearborn but of the worldwide Muslim community.
This show comes at a time where the situation for Muslim Americans has been mixed. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, there is an increased awareness of this community and Islam more generally but on the other hand it has become much more acceptable to express negative sentiments about Muslims and Islam. A show like this can further the positive interest that has emerged post 9/11 and counteract the negative response.
The rise in Islamophobia–a hatred or fear of Muslims and/or Islam–is clear in a number of areas. Here are just four examples. Last year, for example, there were large protests against plans to build Cordoba House–an Islamic Cultural center several blocks from Ground Zero. These protests, however, were not restricted to New York, many mosques around the country suffered a backlash that included protests, interference with expansion plans, and in some cases vandalism.
The second example occurred earlier this year when Representative Peter King held hearings on the threat of radical Islam in America saying that Muslim American leaders had not done enough to prevent the spread of extremism in their communities. Many Muslim organizations expressed concern about the hearings saying that this singled out one group and would lead to more anti-Muslim sentiments.
The third example of this continued fear of Muslims and Islam is the proposed legislation to ban sharia in over 12 states. Most people do not understand what sharia is and simply limit it to a few punishments. These bans contribute to the fear surrounding the faith and its followers and create more challenges for Muslim Americans.
The final example is the increase in the Islamophobic blogosphere. According to Farha Khaled, there has been a rise in anti-Islam and anti-Muslims blogs since 9/11. Khaled further maintains that these blogs, with their negative content, have in some cases inspired others to violence. The most recent example is the attack carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway this past summer that resulted in over 70 deaths. Breivik, quoting from several anti-Muslim blogs, said that he carried out the attacks to protect Europe from multiculturalism and the Muslim threat.
It is in this context that All American Muslim debuts. This show has the potential to gives viewers some insight into how an average Muslim American family lives and the ways in which they negotiate the challenges of their faith and living in America. The show might be able to reach out to viewers who may not have met a Muslim and wonder who these people are. This is definitely an example of a positive step forward for the Muslim American community. I doubt that ten years ago a show like this would have been possible.
What do you think of the idea of a reality show on Muslims? Do you think it can promote more understanding of the Muslim American community? What other steps should be taken to promote more understanding of this community? What responsibility does the Muslim community have? Please share your comments below.