This is a guest post from author Arsalan Iftikhar.
Network news anchor Katie Couric once declared that “bigotry expressed against Muslims in this country was one of the most disturbing stories to surface” in the last few years. At the time, Couric was referring to the proposed Park51 Islamic Center in lower Manhattan (sinisterly referred to as the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ by right-wing opponents), which generated national media attention around the country. “Maybe we need a Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show,’” Couric continued to say. “I know that sounds crazy, but ‘The Cosby Show’ did so much to change attitudes about African Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of what they do not understand.”
Anti-Muslim sentiment in this country has continued to rise since Couric’s comments. A 2010 Washington Post-ABC News public opinion poll found that “roughly half the country (49 percent) holds an unfavorable view of Islam, compared with 37 percent who have a favorable view.” That is a 10% rise from a similar poll taken in October 2002, just a little more than a year removed from the attacks of 9/11. Just this September, a CBS News Poll found that one-in-three think American Muslims are more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans.
So when TLC’s new reality series “All-American Muslim” recently premiered to over 1.7 million viewers this month, many cultural observers saw it as a positive paradigm shift in our post-9/11 America. Highlighting the diverse lives of several Arab-American families in Dearborn, Michigan (a city with the highest concentration of Arab Muslims in the US), the reality series exposes and humanizes the lives of one small cross-section of the Muslim community to an American public that is largely unfamiliar with Islam. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the majority of TLC viewers have likely never met a single Muslim in their entire life.