Tattoo parlors and All-American Muslims

Many Americans ask, “Why aren’t Muslims speaking up about condemning terrorism?” I feel that this episode addresses this question through the various discussions that take place amongst the cast members. The main question that the episode rests on is how much more do they have to do to show that as third-generation Michiganders they really are All –American?

Amidst intense publicity with the boycott of Lowes’s stores in response to pulling ads from TLC’s program, All American Muslim treads on, with interfaith and celebrity support, telling the stories of five Muslim Arab-American families in Dearborn, Michigan.

The upcoming episode on the 9/11 commemoration events sets a space for the whole cast to step back and reflect on the decade since the tragedy. For Officer Mike Jaafar, this time means making sure that the city is safe and secure for the upcoming events. A meeting with his partner and another Sheriff’s deputy turns into a session of dialogue between Jaafar and his fellow officers.

The real heart of this commemoration episode occurs in the discussion segment, where the cast members vent their frustrations about having to defend themselves. Nader’s angry burst calls for the community to stop playing the victim:

“You guys all have a problem with the wrong group of people. I think the problem should be… is with those extremists and we should do something about that for us not to have to sit here and always defend ourselves…”

At the Amen residence, after mother Lila Amen reprimands her two children for not attending the commemoration events at the family gathering, daughter Shadia expresses what she really feels about attitudes towards 9/11: “I decided not to go to the 9/11 memorial because I just feel that trying to prove to somebody that I’m patriotic enough…I don’t want to keep putting myself into that position…”

However, Shadia isn’t entirely dismissive of the whole thing, and neither is her brother Bilal. In fact, Shadia and Bilal decide to go reflect in the very place that is the topic of discussion: Ground Zero, New York City. Shadia’s choice uniform: an “I am not a terrorist” t-shirt. It makes you wonder why she chose this after her previous statement in the family meeting (see above paragraph).

Shadia and Bilal’s visit takes them to an unlikely stop in their “commemoration tour:” a visit to a famous tattoo artist, Ami James, who also identifies with a group that makes Shadia and Bilal a little uncomfortable. Nervous at first to get his tattoo, Bilal literally becomes the space for honest conversation about the state of religious conflict across the globe.

Much as Shadia and Bilal’s tattoos leave a permanent mark on their bodies, the story of 9/11 has left an imprint and is a reality that all Muslims have to face. I can see how the tattoo parlor visit symbolizes something more for Shadia and Bilal.

This new year’s episode provides a glimpse of a seemingly endless “tightrope walk” that Muslims in America have to master in a climate of hostility and ignorance. While it shows important intra-community and inter-community dialogues that have been taking place in the decade since 9/11, I don’t see it taking a full departure from the 9/11 narrative being a starting point for the Muslim story in America. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to showcase the diversity of American Muslims, such as the African American, South Asian, and East Asian communities. This would show how the Michigan Muslim community is part of a mosaic of Muslim families across the nation.

The next episode of “All-American Muslim” will be airing on Sunday, January 1, 2012 on TLC at 10/9 Central.

(Photo Credit: TLC)

Shazia Kamal is an Associate Editor of AltMuslimah.

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