Monday, November 14, 2011

Between the Detroit Arab- American Study and TLC’s All American Muslims

TLC's All- American Muslim

Study based on the DAAS survey



Sunday was the debut of the much- awaited TLC show All American Muslims. Five Arab American Muslim families from the Detroit area were chosen for a reality show. Much has been written on the show and most of it is positive. This is good. There is national and international interest in Arab Americans and Muslim Americans- an interest that can be traced to the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent mix of curiosity, paranoia, suspicion and enmity displayed toward Arab and Muslim Americans, in part due to the fact that the community “looked” like the enemy. The show was supposed to stimulate conversations and challenge the negative stereotypes about the Muslim American community.
No spelling bee queen, no Snooki
Blessed are those who do not expect too much for they shall not be disappointed. It’s good to keep this saying in mind when thinking of anything in life, this show included. This is reality TV. Some of the comments that I have seen online made by Arab and Muslim Americans are humorous- and to some extent troubling. One mother said that she wants to raise her children as good Muslims and she thought that exposing her kids to the show would help her do the job! Seriously? I wonder how many Italian Americans are encouraging their kids to embrace their Italian roots by watching Jersey Shore’s Chilean Snooki?
Ordinary Lives
The media hype over the show made some think it is a documentary or some scientific and rigorous representation of American “good Muslims”- those who are fully compliant with all the demands of the faith. I understand why some would have that impression. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. It’s TLC, the Teaching and learning Channel, but it’s not the Harvard Channel, Public TV or CNN for that matter. It’s a show about some interesting and likable members of the community. One key lesson one takes from the show is that the community is ordinary and includes a diverse group of people with varying degrees of religiosity and compliance with cultural norms and expectations. In that sense the show is an accurate representation of Muslim Americans. But if one is worried about their daughter’s future just because Nina Bazzi wants to open a club or Shadia Amen marries from outside the community I suggest that these parents need a reality check, not reality TV. If you are expecting a reality show to teach your children how to be Arab Americans or Muslim Americans then I suggest that Shadia Amen and Nina Bazzi are the least of your worries. Seek counseling.
A Part of Reality
Some say reality TV has “nothing” to do with reality. Not true. Reality TV is part of reality- but not “reality”. It is entertainment. The TLC show is not a documentary on Arab Americans or Muslim Americans. This is not a scientific study of Muslim Americans. The five families are not a representative sample of Muslim Americans or Arab Americans. The majority of Arab Americans are Christian and the majority of Muslim Americans are South Asian and African Americans. Some have loudly protested the fact that the show does not represent the Muslim community accurately. Some thought that some individuals have scandalized the community with their comments or dress. This is an interesting and mildly comical response from a Muslim community that has been seen nationally in the dim light of a Muslim man who tried to blow up an airline with hundreds of innocent human beings in it over Detroit and became known as the “underwear bomber.” Ten years after 9/11 and after all the mainstream media stories and scholarly studies we find that when many Americans think of Muslims they think of the “underwear bomber” and the 9/11 hijackers. Given this reality, Nina Bazzi’s reality TV comments are welcome entertainment- even fresh and enlightening.
The Detroit Arab American Study
Those interested in Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and the Detroit Arab and Muslim American community can access a number of scholarly studies on the community. How many are aware of or remember the Detroit Arab American Study (DAAS)? How many Americans, or Muslim and Arab Americans, have read the scholarly studies on our community? It would be great if there was a documentary on DAAS where its findings are presented and explained. The book Citizenship and Crisis –Arab Detroit After 9/11 by the Detroit Arab American Study Team presents findings based on DAAS. It’s a rigorous empirical study. Those interested in the community could go and read the book and the other studies that used the same dataset. In Chapter one Wayne baker and Andrew Shyrock write: “This book intervenes in the post-9/11 process of normalization, slowing it down to enable careful analysis and clear understanding. Through a careful analysis of systematic data collected on these communities and on the general population in the same region, we hope to make two contributions. First, we aim to insert accurate, objective information into the vigorous and often misinformed public discourse about Arab Americans. Our topics include basic demographic patterns, the 9/11 backlash, attitudes about civil liberties, social identities, religion and religious practices, values, social capital, political beliefs, and attitudes about US foreign policy.” And describing the Detroit Arab American community they write: “If Arab Detroit appears culturally distinctive to members of the larger American society, it seems even more peculiar in comparison to the Arab world. The broad range of lifestyles, national backgrounds, and levels of assimilation found among Detroit’s Arab and Arabic speaking population make it a difficult community to represent, both intellectually and politically.”
A Welcome Contribution
Reality TV has its clear and serious limitations in dealing with serious topics. But the other ways of dealing with serious topics also have their limitations. News articles and scholarly studies also have their limitations. A survey is a snapshot of reality that might not necessarily apply before or after. News stories also have their limitations. Go read mainstream articles and see whom they interview and quote when they write about the community and you will come up with a handful of names. Is that an accurate representation of the community? All American Muslims is a welcome contribution to the body of knowledge on Arab and Muslim Americans. The clear shortcomings on accuracy and representation are trumped by the positive message and the wide reach.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

In Defense of the Ficano Administration and Azzam Elder

Wayne county and a number of its officials are the news these days. A few media outlets are fixated on what they see as cozy political arrangements and are intent on bringing down the administration of Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano.

Defamatory and Unfounded Allegations
This is simply the media at its worst. The allegations of the county having improper relationship with political donors are defamatory and unfounded. One media outlet broke the news last year about the linkage between political donors and/or contractors and a fund that pays for overseas trips of county officials designed to bring business to the county. The media outlet brought this issue in an attempt to expose “government corruption.” The allegations are unfounded.
Now the media is following up this unholy crusade with this anti- Ficano campaign by attacking the administration for the severance pay of Turkia Awada, a woman known for competence and integrity. The media has jumped onto this issue as proof of alleged corruption and so-called cronyism.

These allegations and accusations are baseless and ill intentioned and are harmful to the interests of the county and its citizens. Is it possible that a bad decision was made? Yes it is possible. However, the media is creating the impression that there is some criminal behavior somewhere when there is not a shred of evidence of such. The allegations of criminality are outrageous in the very simple fact that they are unfounded and putting the competent administrators in a negative light is a disservice to the county and its citizens and unfair to these public servants.

Local Political Arrangements

The bottom line is that the media is attacking local political arrangements and asking the federal government to engage in a fishing expedition to create crimes out of thin air- to engage in creative prosecution of Wayne County government. We know that the federal government has an arsenal of vague laws that it can creatively use to indict a ham sandwich if it so wants. A call for such an expedition is outrageous and a waste of taxpayer money.

The Rise of Azzam Elder: The Success Story of Competence, Integrity and Hard Work

They are intent on destroying politicians who are known for competence and integrity. What explains the media’s running around following deputy county executive Azzam Elder and filming him talking in his car to a colleague? Or meeting another colleague? Are these crimes? What is the big deal about building a nice house for him and his family? Is it un-American? His wife is a judge and he is a high- ranking official. He spent the majority of his career living in a humble family-owned flat – eventually moving into his own home. He worked as a prosecutor for the county while his wife stayed at home. As an assistant county prosecutor he distinguished himself for his competence and integrity. One attorney who faced him in a criminal trial once told me that Azzam "kicked" his "ass all over the place.” With his competence, abilities and integrity he rose up the ladder to become the highest ranking Arab and/or Muslim American in the State of Michigan government today. To go after him, filming him, trying to make him look guilty is outrageous and disgusting. The man does not deserve that.

For this, these media outlets fixated on Wayne county deserve neither respect nor thanks. They are simply creating diversions for the Ficano administration when they need all the focus in the world on the real problems of Wayne County. We hope that the Arab- American community sees through this and supports the Ficano administration and its number two man, Azzam Elder, whose integrity and competence is beyond doubt.