A television show about members of a Muslim community in Michigan is focusing what may be its second-to-last episode almost entirely on the conflicted feelings that its featured participants have about marking anniversaries of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The episode of TLC's "All-American Muslim" airs Sunday (10 p.m. EST). The series attracted attention earlier this month when a conservative Christian group called on advertisers to boycott the series, calling it "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
Two companies, the Lowe's home improvement chain and travel planning website Kayak.com, announced they were pulling ads. TLC hasn't said how many companies responded to the Florida Family Association's call to stop sponsoring the show. The controversy prompted a backlash of people protesting against Lowe's. Some new advertisers have signed on since then, TLC General Manager Amy Winter said Thursday.
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Filming for the reality TV series took place during commemorations for the 10th anniversary of the attacks. Both TLC and the show's characters, Muslims living in and around Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit at the heart of one of the largest Arab-American populations outside the Middle East, wanted to address the topic, Winter said.
"I'm very proud of it," she said. "What you'll see in there is a community with a range of emotions that they express over what was probably one of the most pivotal moments in our nation's history."
Mike Jaafar, a deputy sheriff who participated in a Sept. 11 memorial service at Tiger Stadium in Detroit, helped law enforcement prepare for any problems related to the anniversary. He choked up when recalling how police officers in New York City were killed as they tried to rescue people at the World Trade Center.
"You think about your guys who work for you, going into a building and not coming home," he said.
Nawal Auode was a high school sophomore on Sept. 11, 2001, when her mother called to say she was picking her up at school. Her mother found out about the attacks as she was passing out flyers to advertise a day care center and a man spit at her and ordered her off his porch.
"It was the first time I realized that people looked at me as less American," said Suehaila Amen. "As a person who was born and raised in this country, it was very difficult."
Auode said she dreads the anniversary of the attacks because of a sense that members of her community have to defend themselves for something they had nothing to do with.
That's at the root of the biggest conflict in Sunday's episode. One woman talks about how important it was to attend a Sept. 11 commemoration, but her adult-age children didn't want to go.
One man, Bilal Amen, traveled to New York City to visit the Sept. 11 memorial because, he said, "I want to see the place that changed my life."
Another woman, Nina Bazzy, spoke angrily about the Sept. 11 terrorists and said they weren't real Muslims because "a real Muslim would not do anything like that." She said Osama bin Laden made life difficult for many Muslims in the United States.
"He ruined it for us," Bazzy said. "He ruined it for our kids. He made us scared in our own homes."
"All-American Muslim" ends its eight-episode first season on Jan. 8. Its ratings are considered disappointing for TLC, and the attention caused by this month's controversy didn't improve them. Based on ratings alone, a second season would be considered unlikely. Working in its favor is TLC's pride in a series that spotlights communities that many viewers aren't familiar with.
TLC hasn't made a decision on the show's future and its executives will meet soon to consider it, Winter said.