- Sunera Thobani. Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), p. 246-247. (via 08-23-47)
One of the main criticisms of TLC’s All American Muslim was that the show’s characters were representative of only a small part of the American Muslim community. If you felt that way, then a great antidote is Me, the Muslim Next Door, a web documentary produced for Radio Canada International. Filmed in Montreal and Toronto in both English and French, Me the Muslim Next Door is over two hours of audio, video, and still photography, broken up into 4-6 minute segments, with each of the show’s participants having several segments. These segments took place in the participants’ personal landscapes – at home, on the street, with their families.
Me, the Muslim Next Door is cast like a cross between the United Nations and a Benetton ad. I love it. We have:
One of my recurring problems with Muslims in the media is that we are often portrayed answering the same questions in the same ways. Every show has something about polygamy or hijab or “fitting in.” We either go on tape with platitudes (“oh but you can only be polygamous if you afford it, isn’t it great that widows can be taken care of”), with statements designed to shock the middle classes (“jihad is ok for the kuffar!”), or with instant fatwas about how our religion says things in black and white (“Islam says music is BAD”).
These topics show up in Me the Muslim Next Door, but the “personal landscape” format of the videos allows a fresh, personal light without bringing down the level of the discourse.
Mehdi and Laila, a mixed Sunni-Shia couple, explain that for them, the most important part of Islam is at the level of the shahada. If you say the shahada, you’re ok, and sectarian or other differences don’t matter. That spoke to me. Jamila, part of a large family, explains why she stays close to her parents – because they made sacrifices for her when she was a child, so she will make sacrifices for them as an adult. Suad and Karim had a marriage semi-arranged by their MSA, “but” played the piano at their wedding. And Dania’s 23rd birthday party was alcohol-free. She mentions alcohol – that she has never had it, but doesn’t see what it could bring to an already good time. These are people and situations I can relate to and the type of Muslims I want people to see when they ask me about my religion. The show’s participants leave out “Islam says this” and instead talk about these topics in the terms of personal choices they have made in their private lives.
As a francophone Louisianian who lived and studied in Canada, I absolutely LOVED seeing normal Muslim people I could relate to in their living rooms talking about their families, hopes, jobs and dreams. I found my place more in this show than I did in All-American Muslim. The difference is that the goal of Me, the Muslim Next Door isn’t sensational. It nails the fine line between “educating the mass market” and giving Muslim viewers characters who are different enough to be interesting yet similar enough for all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, to find common ground.
Ever notice how there’s no mention of the psychological damage done to communities of color by colonialism, imperialism, or slavery? No mention of any syndromes that might be created by an ongoing message of genetic & social inferiority constantly beings spoonfed to kids? Gee, I wonder why there’s no discussion of the long term harm that could be done to a community as a result of systemic dehumanization & oppression.
I was just thinking this the other day. Between the media/ educationally inflicted messages of our inferiority there has to be some psychological ramifications. I know sociology has words like “internalized stereotype threat” and “internalized racism” (although that is only discussed when a black person literally hates other black people when there is far more to that).
I find it interesting that people have theorized about the psychological ramifications of rich people who don’t get attention from their parents, or people in unfulfilling white collar jobs, but NOTHING about the dehumanizing effect of the combination of poverty & blackness. Or just blackness.
They’re afraid of what effects the inescapable truth they are destined to uncover will have on the world. Better to keep the masses ignorant than have them aware that their lives are not okay.
Here are some links to get some discussions started:
this list is accessible articles, a quick scholarly search yields thousands of complicated studies for brainiacs who are interested
Helpful links! Thanks for the compilation!
I would say there’s discussion on it in academia- as shown- just not so much in the mainstream.
Anytime I hear about a TV how coming out that features Muslims, my initial reaction is almost always “Oh man, please don’t suck. Please don’t suck.”
Unfortunately with TLC’s new reality show, it does.
“All-American Muslim” is the network’s new series about a group of Muslim families living in the Arab-rich city of Dearborn, Michigan.
Brilliant! What better way to show the mainstream public an insight into how multicultural and intellectually diverse Islam’s followers are… with a show focusing on just Arabs (20 percent of the world’s Muslim population) who follow the Shia sect of Islam (about 10 percent of the world’s Muslim population).
The show, which premiered over the weekend, presents itself as a glimpse into the American Muslim community but ignores an overwhelming majority of the cultures that comprise it. South Asians like my parents, who came from India, make up one of the largest group of Muslim immigrants in the United States.
That doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that the show makes no reference to African-American Muslims, another huge American Muslim group. Many of the black slaves that built the foundation of this country with blood, sweat and tears were Muslim.
And Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Dave Chappelle and Lupe Fiasco are all American Muslims, too. Hell, Detroit is right next to Dearborn. All the producers had to do was turn around and they’d find one of the most active African-American Muslim communities in the country.
The first episode said Dearborn has the largest population of Arabs in the United States – a statistic I’ve heard echoed time and time again. But I just checked the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and learned that the Arab population in New York City is more than twice that of Dearborn. Seems like TLC can’t even stereotype correctly.
A bigger issue I have is with the show’s characters.
One woman is a boozing, tattoo-laden rebel child who wants to marry an Irish Catholic. Another is a scantily-clad and confrontational business shark who dreams about opening her own nightclub.
While I appreciate that the show is implying that Muslim women are more than just devout, headscarf-wearing housewives locked in the kitchen all day, why do the “liberal” characters represent an opposite extreme? Most Muslim women in this country don’t fit neatly into the ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal categories. They’re in the gray area.
The men on the show, meanwhile, are just plain boring. There’s a Muslim cop who insecurely reiterates his patriotism every 10 seconds. I’m surprised he doesn’t sleep in American flag pajamas and that his cell phone ringtone isn’t a Toby Keith song.
My favorite part of the show’s first episode is the spotlight it throws on the predominantly Muslim football team at Dearborn Fordson High School. “All-American Muslim” spends significant time on the team but leaves out that they’re 6-5 this season and scoreless in the first game losing by more than 40 points.
While its great that faith means so much to these players, it would be nice if scoring touchdowns meant just as much to them, too.
I recently co-created a project with called 30 Mosques in 30 Days, in which my friend Bassam Tariq and I drove over 25,000 miles to each of the 50 states to tell unfiltered stories about Muslim Americans. “All-American Muslim” doesn’t speak for them, nor does it speak for me.
These stories bear little resemblance to the narratives of my own or the ones I’ve stumbled across in my community.
You want to do an authentic story about an American Muslim? Do a story about a scrawny 20-something guy who awkwardly spends months mustering up the courage to tell a girl he likes her. Or girls that blabber about another girl they see talking to a guy for more than 11 seconds.
Best yet, passive aggressive parents that try to segue anything that comes out of your mouth into a lecture about why you should have been a doctor or why you’re going to die alone if you don’t get married by age 23.
That’s Muslim America. They’re stories of people no different than any one else in this country.
TLC has disappointed me. But maybe that’s not saying much, considering the network airs two shows exploiting the lives of little people and one called “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.”
So I guess I agree with this guy, minus the part about liking religion. Mainly the part I italicized. That part I can relate to, and I’m sure a large of the Muslim population can.