Opinion: TLC has all of the reality and none of the learning

Fiza Shah

Fiza Shah

Fiza Shah is a columnist for The Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

When I heard that TLC would be airing a new show about Muslims in America, you can imagine my delight and surprise. Finally I would be able to see someone like me on a channel other than CNN without the word “terrorist” as a title before every name. But after the first episode of “All-American Muslim,” my excitement turned to frustration, which eventually turned to anger.

Initially I was excited because I thought the show would work to dispel some misunderstandings about the Islamic faith and Muslims in general. But it seems to just be a challenge to see how many different ways you can say the same five words: I am not a terrorist.

For example, the 9/11-commemoration episode, which aired Jan. 1, started off with a very emotional sentiment from Mike Jaafar, a Muslim police deputy, about what 9/11 means to him.

“You think about your guys that work for you going into a building and not coming out,” Mike said, head bent and crying into his shirt.

However, the lead-in to this emotional moment was Mike’s friend and fellow police officer, Dennis Richardson who, also crying, stated, “Mike Jaafar, and his wife and small children are not terrorists.”

Had this been the only time this phrase was used, I would regard it as a beautiful sentiment that most certainly is an attempt to dispel rumors.

But this is the sole motive behind every action, scene and conversation — to portray these residents of Dearborn, Michigan, as “normal” Americans. Shadia even wore a shirt to Ground Zero with the words “Not A Terrorist” printed on the front.

As a Muslim, I appreciate the intention, but the act of trying to overtly show normalcy comes across as abnormal. It’s almost a Brady-Bunch depiction of the average family. Not only is the show failing to promote honest discussion, it is not even good television. Ultimately, “normal” people make terribly boring subjects for reality TV.

Even though there are awkward and overly-sweetened moments, parts of the show are actually very interesting. For example, Shadia and her brother Bilal went to New York City to visit Ground Zero and get a tattoo from “Miami Ink” star Ami James.

Bilal, knowing Ami used to be a sniper for the Israeli army, talked about his hesitation with showing the tattoo artist the large Lebanese flag inked on his back.

But, instead of confrontation, the tattoo actually led to an interesting discussion about the Israeli-Muslim relationship, during which Ami reflected, “It’s really unfortunate, if you think about it, that we have to leave our country to get along.”

Ami James is right. In order to understand each other better, we do need to leave our own countries.

My suggestion is not to emigrate from America, but rather withdraw ourselves from it for a few moments and think. Consider our prejudices, misunderstandings and ignorance not as Americans, but as human beings.

Maybe then we wouldn’t need such shows to illustrate “normalcy” or “patriotism” because we wouldn’t be trying to fit each other into our own cookie cutter version of good. Maybe that’s unrealistic, but if we’re determining reality by such shows as this, I’d rather stay unrealistic.