Special to South Florida Times
FORT LAUDERDALE — A Sunrise contractor has joined a national boycott of Lowe’s, saying the home improvement supply store bowed to bigotry by pulling advertising from a TLC reality television show about Muslims after a fundamentalist Christian group pressured it to do so.
“I am not only upset… but it’s shocking to hear someone would pull an add just because someone is Muslim,” said Mohamed Sulaman, an American Muslim who has been in the South Florida construction industry for 13 years. “I don’t know what the show is but, due to the fact they pulled the ad out just based on the Muslim thing, that is why I am taking a stand and not shopping at Lowe’s.”
Lowe’s pulled its advertising from TLC network’s All American Muslim Dec. 5 after an email campaign launched by the Florida-based fundamentalist Christian group Florida Family Association (FAA) targeted the show’s advertisers.
The show allows a peek into the lives of American Muslim families living in the Dearborn, Mich. areas heavily populated by American Muslims. It portrays them as normal, everyday Americans who practice an often misunderstood faith.
But the families are too all-American for the Tampa-based FFA which urged its members through its web site to email the show’s 60 advertisers to encourage them to pull their support. They said the show was “clearly designed to counter legitimate and present day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and sharia law” while asserting that it was "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”
Sulaman, 34, said he spends about $150,000 a year at Lowe’s but not anymore — and neither are his clients who supply specialty services such as carpeting or tile, he said. “What they (Lowe’s) are doing is wrong and they need to find out there are consequences to what they are doing,” he said.
Bassem Alhalabi, an engineering professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, said Lowe’s action has had an impact on his buying decisions, as well.
“Yes I stopped buying from Lowe’s because their action is not right,” Alhalabi said. “They should have not listened to the (FAA) — and when someone attacks Muslims like that, I could not just do nothing about it.”
Shabbir Motorwala, second vice chairman of the Asian Advisory Board of Miami, said his group is asking the Miami-Dade County Commission to stop doing business with Lowe’s.
“They are free to stop whoever they want to do business with but we are asking the commission to do that right thing. We would like to ask them to make a statement that hatred gets you nowhere,” Motorwala said.
National reaction has been emotional on both sides. California state Sen. Ted Lieu, a Democrat, has threatened legislative action.
National civil rights groups also have condemned Lowe’s decision, including American Arab and Muslims groups such as AMANA, which has called for a boycott. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is urging people to speak out about the issue.
Not just Muslims are reacting with outrage. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham H. Foxman, issued a statement Dec. 13 saying, “We are disappointed with Lowe’s decision to pull advertising from TLC’s All-American Muslim, since it appears that they took this action in response to an appeal that was rooted in anti-Muslim prejudice.”
“While there is reason to be concerned about some Americans motivated by radical interpretations of Islam, it is profoundly unfair and misguided to tarnish all Muslims in the United States with that brush,” Foxman said. “Most American Muslims are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens who cherish their life in America just as much as Christians, Jews, and followers of countless other faith traditions.”
Michael Yaki, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, wrote to Lowe’s asking the company to reconsider its position and celebrities such as Mia Farrow, Kal Penn and Russell Simmons also are speaking out against the store.
Simmons went a step further. Calling Lowe's decision to pull its advertising “Islamophobic” through his Twitter account, Simmons purchased all available advertising slots for the following week's episode of All American Muslim, according to news reports.
But Lowe’s CEO Robert Niblock has remained unmoved. He has said the company will stand by its decision to withdraw advertising from the show. That announcement came after ministers from the North Carolina interfaith community met with Lowe’s Inc. with petitions signed by 200,000 parishioners urging it to resume advertising on All American Muslim.
But sometimes boycotting a supply store on principle is too costly, said Ann McNeill, owner of McO Construction in Miami-Dade County. McNeill said most of her contracts are government and low-bid based.
“From a business perspective, we have to buy based on price because that is the only way we win bids — by having the lowest bids,” she said. “Personally? No I don’t have a personal reaction to what Lowe’s did … Lowe’s position is a matter for their board of directors as to what is better for their corporation. Their vision may not be what it should be but that is a corporate board decision.”
Board decision or not, Motorwala questions the wisdom of advertisers pulling support based on religion.
“My position is that I wonder how this kind of news is taken in the Muslim world,” he said. “In this global economy, this kind of information goes out that Lowe’s caves to the blackmailing and threat. How can they go out now and do business in a foreign country? Because Muslims are paying attention.”