'All-American Muslim': A Lost Opportunity

The cancellation of TLC network's All-American Muslim reality series shows that America still has a long way to go toward understanding the community post-Sept. 11, Leonard Pitts Jr. writes at the Sacramento Bee.

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All-American Muslim panel (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Leonard Pitts Jr. writes at the Sacramento Bee that the recent announcement about the cancellation of TLC network's All-American Muslim reality series shows that America still has a long way to go toward understanding the culture after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. The community needed cultural ambassadors like those represented in the show to help change American perceptions of Muslims.

A few words on what American Muslims need.

We were discussing this, an olive-skinned Muslim man and I, at a banquet last year, when he said a wistful, poignant thing that has stayed with me ever since. "We thought we were white," he said.

Not "white" in the sense of race, whatever that unscientific word means. Rather, white in the sense of assimilation and admission, white in the sense of people from Ireland, Armenia, Cuba, Hungary, southern Italy and other places who, upon arriving here, were regarded as threatening, non-white outsiders and required to earn their whiteness, their acceptance, over several generations. When the man said American Muslims thought they were white, he meant they thought they had successfully navigated the trail blazed by all those other people from all those other places.

Then came Sept. 11, 2001. All that progress -- and 3,000 human lives -- went up in smoke, and Islamophobia stormed America.

What American Muslims need, I told him, were cultural ambassadors, Muslim actors, singers and joke tellers who could change American consciousness through American televisions, multiplexes and iPods.

Which is why I was pleased last year when the TLC network premiered "All American Muslim," a reality show about five Islamic families. And it's why I was disappointed when it was cancelled last week, an apparent victim of low ratings.

Between the debut and the cancellation came the controversy, as the conservative Florida Family Association pushed advertisers to abandon a show it saw as too "Muslim tolerant," and too silent about sharia law. The group found it "troubling" that a Muslim cop was shown saying, "I really am American." "All American Muslim," said the FFA, was "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."

Read Leonard Pitts Jr.'s entire column in the Sacramento Bee.

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