Calvin Freiburger

Maybe America Could Use a Muslim Sitcom After All?

Posted on January 28 2011 2:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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Remember Katie Couric’s insipid suggestion that Americans needed a Muslim version of The Cosby Show to help us get over our seething Islamophobia? It earned derision in the blogosphere for its condescending view of the country as a hive of bigotry and its refusal to give the Islamic world any share of the blame for Islamic image problems, but PopEater reports that the idea is picking up steam among Muslims in the television industry:

“We want to see a typical Arab-American family that is just like every other family in America,” said Arab-American comedian Dean Obeidallah, who has developed a pilot for Comedy Central. “Television has had the ability to demonize Muslims and Arabs, but we realize that it also has the ability to humanize us.”

Couric’s suggestion might not be as radical or as far off as her critics decried. In fact, Muslim-American writers say that broadcast and cable networks are starting to be more receptive to scripts prominently featuring both Arabs and practitioners of Islam. A decade-removed from the September 11th terrorist attacks, television may finally be ready to portray Muslim-Americans as more than terrorists and taxi cab drivers.

“Hollywood would definitely embrace a Muslim ‘Cosby Show’ with one caveat: It would have to be really good. It’s the one factor that has linked shows about minorities like the ‘Cosby Show’ or even ‘Will & Grace.’ Currently, I believe Americans are open to any minority as long as the show speaks to universal human truths and makes them laugh,” said Muslim-American Hollywood television and movie producer Tariq Jalil, the executive producer of the comedy ‘Marmaduke.’ [Emphasis added.]

That’s true—as we discussed on January 3, neither the words nor the deeds of the American people indicate hostility toward American Muslims—and it’s nice to hear Jalil acknowledge what Couric didn’t, but that also undermines the alleged need for more Muslim programming in the first place.

“For a Muslim-American child to see people who look like him or her, a normal family living in the U.S., will make them feel a genuine sense of acceptance. Talking to a child about the constitution and their rights will go right over their head, show them a 30-minute sitcom and they will understand tolerance, acceptance and even equality,” said Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York and mother of three.

Playwright Aizzah Fatima, who wrote and performs the one-woman show ‘Dirty Paki Lingerie’ in New York City, just hopes such a program would combat the general ignorance about Islam that Couric was referring to. “Just as the Cosby show debunked stereotypes about African-Americans, so could a similar show do for Muslim-Americans. We are just like everyone else. Some of us are religious, and others aren’t. We do not want to impose Islamic law or anything else on our neighbors of different faiths.”

It’s a free country; if somebody comes up with a quality series with a Muslim cast, more power to him. But merely presenting Muslims in a positive light won’t prove the show’s worth. The true test will lie in how it tackles the violent fanaticism that makes Islam so controversial. Will the jihad angle simply be ignored, or will our heroes be presented as perpetual victims, with ignorant caricatures of middle America serving as the butt of most of the series’ jokes?

Upon reflection, I can envision a valuable sitcom about a Muslim family after all, but The Cosby Show wouldn’t be the best template. Instead, allow me to humbly suggest an alternative: All in the Family.

Picture it: just as All in the Family lampooned prejudice through Archie Bunker’s sparring with his meathead son-in-law, a new show could center around a cantankerous old Muslim immigrant, his well-meaning yet traditional wife, and his Westernized college-age kids who think it’s time to ditch the burqa and don’t mind the Jews who just moved in across the street. Not only would it entertain and present a balanced, honest view of Islam, but the subject also serves as a rare instance where Hollywood’s beloved tradition-versus-tolerance theme is still socially relevant.

On second thought, scratch that. It would never work—Archie was a cab driver.

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