I am known to watch anything on TV and veer towards the truly awful variety, the kind that is so bad it is good (example: “Revenge”). What I’m not very partial to is reality TV unless you count competitive shows like “The Apprentice”, “Project Runway” or “Top Chef” and in my defense I watch them for the wisdom they offer, like “Make it work people”. What amazes me about reality TV ─and how low I will stoop for the sake of entertainment ─ is how anything can be packaged and sold as reality TV in the United States. There are currently shows on teenage pregnancies, multiple pregnancies, strippers who are pregnant, polygamous families, tattoo artists, and of course there’s the royalty of reality TV, the Kardashians, who have multiple shows of their own.
This is why I did not blink an eye when TLC aired its newest offering “All American Muslim” a few months ago. We ran stories on it prior to its premier because it was the first of its kind but I dismissed it as a sugar coated apologia filled with “Muslims are people too” docu-drama. Yes, I judged without watching. I didn’t even bother when the show became steeped in controversy after a Florida based family organization called for its boycott because, to put it shortly, it did not portrayed Muslims as the blood thirsty savages they are ─ OK, those are my words but the sentiments are the same.
I only watched it this past weekend because, frankly, I hoped it would give me something to blog about. Because I have not been inspired to blog about anything as evidenced by my banana-blog post which is still up, and which still surprisingly gets its odd “I hate you Muna” comment every two days. (PS: I hate you back.)
I’d read a fair bit about the show during the boycott controversy and then later when we ran the piece about its 9/11 episode, reportedly its most powerful one, but I thought I’d still watch the whole series even though I was sure I’d still end up writing a “I wish the American Muslims would stop apologizing for who they are” blog post.
The show is surprisingly good fun and insightful not just for the un-initiated on Islam, which explains all the articles of the “wow Muslims coach football, get post-natal depression and like dogs” but also Muslims elsewhere who might be amazed at just how conservative Muslims in America are. One of the women on the show, Nawal Aoude, seems to struggle after accidentally and unconsciously shaking the hand of her male trainer at a gym. For some in Dubai or Jakarta, this may be a non-issue.
I did find an apologia aspect to it but it was anti-apologetic and it came from two cast members, the siblings Shadia and Bilal Amen, who do not attend a 9/11 memorial because they are tired of having to prove themselves, distinguish themselves from the others. In the same episode, the siblings go to New York City and Bilal wants to visit Ground Zero because he wants to see the place that changed his life. The brother and sister talk about being seen as American in Lebanon but Muslim in America. I thought it was poignant, honest, easy to relate to and a far cry from anything resembling anarchist, jihadist.
The only thing that remains with me about the series is the line “All American” Muslim and the fierce resistance by (at least) a group that cannot embrace Muslims as Americans, or cannot get over the “normalcy” of the cast members.
What makes Suheila Amen, a 32-year-old smart single woman who hopes to create a safer world and have a family of her own any less of an all American than those who are propped up as good model American citizens?
Instead young women look up, nay aspire to become like the fame hungry, 72-day marriage having, famous for no one really knows what, Kim Kardashian. What about her makes her easy to embrace as all American and Suheila easy to reject as not American?
Is it really Suheila’s hijab or that she lives with her parents, that she talks back to those who try to put her down, that she defends her freedoms as American values that makes her such a threat?
A part of me wants to throw in a few nasty jibes of my own, a list of recommendations to the five American Muslim families to “Americanize” themselves to fit into the reality TV mold.
But that’s too easy and goes against the spirit of the show.
Instead I am going to let TV numb my brain some more and ask that I be woken up when such madness is all over.
(The writer is Editor of Al Arabiya English and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)