A controversial reality TV show about Arab Americans tackles 9/11 in its penultimate episode this weekend, with its stars seething anger at Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda for upending their lives.
Since it premiered on the TLC cable channel, “All-American Muslim” ─ the first series of its kind on U.S. television ─ has lifted a veil on the lives of five middle-class families of Middle Eastern heritage in the Detroit area.
But it has been shunned by some big-name advertisers, notably the Lowe’s chain of home improvement superstores, amid pressure from a born-again Christian activist in Florida who claims it has ducked the issue of extremism.
When episode seven airs on Sunday, that will no longer be the case.
It finds glamorous party planner Nina Bazzy lashing out at Bin Laden, slain in a May 2 assault on his Pakistan lair by U.S. commandos: “He ruined it for us. He ruined it for our kids. He made us scared in our own homes.”
It sees Wayne County deputy sheriff Mike Jaafar almost in tears before joining colleagues in solemnly carrying “the beautiful American flag” for a moment of remembrance at a Detroit Tigers baseball game.
Nawal Aoude, a medical therapist who was still in high school on September 11, 2001, recalls how her mother was treated by neighbors that day: “They spat at her and kicked her off the porch.”
From the Amen family, siblings Bilal and Shadia Amen visit Ground Zero in New York, before going under the needle of tattoo artist Ami James, who in his past life as an Israeli soldier deployed in the Amen family's native Lebanon.
Strolling through Manhattan, Shadia Amen ─sporting a “not a terrorist” T-shirt ─ says of Osama bin Laden: “We don’t claim the guy, and he definitely doesn’t claim us. How the hell do we fall in the Catch-22?”
“You go over to Lebanon, you’re American,” her brother responds. “You come here, you’re Lebanese. Either way, you don’t fit in.”
“The participants of 9/11 have put the proud Muslims in this country behind,” said Jaafar, 37, a father of four whose own father immigrated, like many others, from Lebanon to Detroit in the 1960s to work in its auto plants.
“In my mind, Muslim Americans are more upset than average non-Muslim Americans about what happened that day,” he told AFP in a telephone interview Friday from his home.
“The religion was hit twice that day. If you were American, you were devastated by the action, but if you were Muslim American, you were (also) devastated by the fact that they (the attackers) were claiming to be Muslims.”
Since it first aired in November, “All-American Muslim” has enjoyed most favorable reviews from TV critics and pulled about one million viewers a week.
But it enraged David Caton, founder and possibly only member of the Florida Family Association, which promotes email campaigns against sponsors of TV shows it feels promote Islamic extremism, homosexuality or pornography.
Caton did not reply to an email from AFP for comment, but on his website he claimed 1.1 million emails had gone out to sponsors of “All-American Muslim” and that 87 advertisers had pulled out ─ although several others remain.
Just back from a holiday in southern Florida with his wife and children, the oldest of which was just a few months old on 9/11, Jaafar said he was “shocked” how many people he met who had seen “All-American Muslim” and liked it.
“The majority of folks who recognized us were really positive and very intrigued and actually went out of their way to thank us... (and) a lot of them were bummed out it didn’t air on Christmas,” he said.