All-American Muslim: The Perils of Propaganda

The viewers flee, the lawsuits begin and the show nears it end.

All-American Muslim is on its last legs. Not only was the last episode of the show the lowest rated show in its time slot, losing again to Homeland, but it was also the lowest rated show of the night among the top 100 cable shows aimed at adults. While Homeland has improved its ratings, All-American Muslim has dropped so low that it's hovering above the abyss.

Just to bring out the vultures, Discovery Communications is being sued by Visionaire Media which accuses it of stealing its idea for an "American Muslim Show" without compensation. At this point Discovery Communications, which oversees the disaster areas that are TLC, The Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and several other learning channels that have turned into minor variations of each other serving up the same Reality content, might consider letting Visionaire have the credit for All-American Muslim which a month later looks more like blame.

The media which enthusiastically embraced All-American Muslim has nothing more to say about it. There are hardly any more stories on it and those few that show up make it clear that the writer did not watch the show beyond the premiere episode. The deadly secret of All-American Muslim is that not even the liberals in the media want to watch it.

That is the problem with propaganda, it isn't very interesting. Negative propaganda can be entertaining, positive propaganda is stifling. All-American Muslim promotes Islam with weak reality show theatrics that are inferior in drama and entertainment value to the competition. It is so determined to promote its agenda that it utterly fails to be interesting.

With All-American Muslim's fourth episode, Friday Night Bites, the show continues its obsession with making its women dress in the Imam approved fashion and with promoting the Islamic makeovers to general audiences. The birth of a child to one of the couples leads to a spotlighting of the Muslim call to prayer and the adventures of Fordson High School's religiously cleansed team continues with more Ramadan than ever.

It would be a stretch to call any of this interesting. Watching All-American Muslim is like watching an extended commercial in which smiling people use a product and talk up its virtues, discussing it at length, in order to convince you to start using it. It's no wonder that audiences are fleeing the show faster than infidels from the Middle East.

The target audience for All-American Muslim is someone who is extremely interested in Islam, but completely disinterested in any dimension or depth, who wants to see women modeling Hijabs and discussing how they deal with fasting, but isn't at all interested in how the religion reconciles its claim of being peaceful with the violent tendencies in its midst, or who doesn't care about the larger context of such things as guilting women into wearing Hijabs or forcing non-Muslims to work around the Ramadan schedules of Muslims.

These things are quite explosive subjects in Europe, and they are developing into serious issues in the United States, but All-American Muslim presents them enthusiastically and without any context. To anyone who is at all familiar with terrorism, watching the show is a little like tuning in to a classic cigarette commercial and feeling a little discomfort with the enthusiasm with which the narrator pitches the virtues of smoking a Camel. No matter how you feel about smoking, there is the sense that a serious issue is being ignored. That nagging feeling haunts All-American Muslim which takes audiences on a promotional tour of Muslim life without explaining some of the more problematic side-effects which include the systematic repression of women, the religious persecution of minorities and the criminalization of dissent.

The falling ratings show that by now even the most sympathetic liberal has grown tired of this approach. They may not be able to vocalize if for fear of being branded Islamophobes, but even the most agreeable and open-minded people in the world rarely like condescending lectures or advertising disguised as a television show-- and All-American Muslim is chock full of both.

But like all propaganda the interesting moments come when you read between the lines and realize the unspoken assumptions of the people making their pitch. The more the show promotes the Hijab and the Islamic way of dress for women, the more you sense the thoughtless single-mindedness of the series which pretends to question the standard of clothing, but never does, because it can't. It can temporarily accept liberalized standards, but it cannot part ways with the principle of the Hijab or the rest of the constellation of unspoken assumptions that shape Muslim life even inside a First World country.

Propaganda is revealing its own way because it tells you about the mindset of the people who produce, write and star in it. The more that they tell you how you should see the world; the more they are really telling you how they see the world and how they see you.

The implied premise of All-American Muslim is that Muslim life in America is different from what it would be in their native Lebanon, but it's not too clear that this is the case. Switch football for soccer (which after all is still called football outside the United States) and it's quite probable that you could do the same show in Beirut as in Dearborn. You could not do the show in Iran, where the Shiite clerics that you occasionally see on All-American Muslim have taken over and gotten their way.

The more those clerics get their way, the less freedom there is for debates on the Hijab or for that matter on football, considering that allowing women to attend soccer games in Iran is considered a concession. And that is the great unspoken variable in the equation of All-American Muslim. It is only the American context that allows for variation.

Back in Lebanon, religious coexistence has proven to be nearly impossible. Iran represses Sunnis. Bahrain represses Shiites. Iraq is torn between Sunnis and Shiites. If we were to imagine an America that was "All-Muslim" would it be a place where Shiite and Sunnis could even get along with one another, let alone with members of non-Muslim religious groups? A quick glance at the world gives us our answer.

It is a pity that the cast of All-American Muslim is too busy telling us what to think to grapple with such questions that are of great importance to their future and to our own.

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