Anya Cordell:Muslims and Lowes Are Both Integral To Our Society
Who, if anyone, ‘won’ anything regarding the Lowes’ issue? Lowes, its stakeholders and employees, Muslims, hatemongers, the public? Unfortunately, those who profit and pleasure in all things anti-Muslim may be the most self-satisfied; something we all should find of grave concern, including Lowes. And as I write this title, I also imagine that many people with whom I feel aligned may think I’m failing to condemn Lowes for caving to anti-Muslim pressure, pulling advertising from “All American Muslim”. But I utterly deplore Lowes’ action; and I have a long, credentialed record of being a staunch ally against bias and Islamophobia, receiving the Spirit of Anne Frank Award for my passionate work in this arena.
Nor do I mean that Lowes and Muslims are ‘equal’ by any measure. Corporations emerge and disappear and perhaps Lowes is in its decline. It is integral in the sense of its current presence as an employer and a local resource in many of our communities. Muslims are integral members of our culture, throughout the world, in a profoundly deeper sense.
Claiming it wanted to sidestep controversy, Lowes leapt into it, and the media buzzed, petitions burgeoned, and a boycott is now underway. The original problem “All American Muslim” addressed, however, is that many Americans do not know real Muslims; and the buzz, the petitions, even the boycott–while demonstrating significant economic impact–do not remedy this.
Hurt and anger, and the desire of Muslims and allies for justice and fairness, not just from Lowes, are completely understandable. So many in our culture have been busy making their fortunes and careers in caricaturing all Muslims as intrinsically aligned to violently destructive zealots who have misappropriated the designations “Muslim” and “Islam” for their nefarious purposes; something that happens in most every other group as well.
Lowes became a focus for this injustice of being maligned on a daily basis, by virtue of being Muslim. Enough is enough. Yet, I believe a boycott does not fit what I know of Muslims; my gracious friends, neighbors and colleagues. And in towns where Lowes is the most convenient, or only, store for hardware and home supplies, I hate the thought of Muslims and allies feeling unable to be in any part of our communities, as integral to the fabric of our culture, of being on the outside, (even holding perfectly justified placards), or—as months go by—driving far past Lowes while really wanting to just run in for lightbulbs or a can of paint.
If the boycott is successful, will other corporations sponsor new programs about Muslim matters? If Lowes goes under, won’t Muslim employees, suppliers and shareholders lose, as well as others? Will anyone whose finances were tied to Lowes care more then about unjust characterizations of Muslims? It isn’t a matter of whether Lowes ‘deserves’ the boycott, it’s a matter of whether a boycott serves the deepest goal of actually transforming the hearts and minds of Lowes’ corporate leaders, and those watching from the sidelines.
I’ve seen some videos of protests at and in Lowes; in which the customers look disinterested or vaguely perplexed, not, apparently, evolving their perceptions. Protestors admonish Lowes employees for decisions they certainly played no role in shaping. Another video chronicles a customer returning $2600 worth of appliances; exiting the store with his refund, muttering his justified indignation.
But we want to evoke a sincere apology, not merely demand one which is lip service. Real healing comes not through admonishments, but through relationships, which overcome separation and misinformation.
In a comment on an alternative strategy to a boycott, which I proposed earlier in this issue, the moderator of one of several Facebook pages which called for a boycott, surprisingly wrote: “A wonderful idea. As a people we are kind in nature. Our treatment of our guests is quite amazing. This would be a great idea. I will pass it on.” The moderator was describing what I wish people knew about real Muslims, not caricatures or thugs who call themselves Muslim. Ultimately, those who malign Muslims will have to meet real Muslims to evolve from their prejudices. Our strategies should lead to building such relationships.
We who deplore Lowes’ action should return to shopping there, because we have more clout inside the store than outside. We should restart substantive public discourse on this issue, now of less general interest, except to us, Lowes, its employees, customers, and, of course, the hatemongers. We should explain to managers that we don’t want to return purchases, but may; putting decisions on hold while awaiting developments. Major customers should request high-level corporate meetings. If the 40,000+ signers of the first petition, and 200,000 who signed another, all submit notes about our concerns, as we buy even single light bulbs to symbolize enlightenment, or single plants to symbolize growth, or when considering any purchases…these would make their way up the corporate chain and resound in Lowes’ boardroom, where we would, in essence, be at the table–where relationships can be forged.
The voices who piled on via comment boards, supporting Lowes’ succumbing to hate-mongering, are happily tweeting about shopping in “Muslim-free” stores, which Lowes should take no pleasure in. Lowes’ Facebook page overflowed with such comments, highlighting this chilling time in which Islamophobia is the cool ‘fad’, making Lowes appear the bigots’ store of choice; certainly not the branding it desires. But Lowes has apparently frozen in place, not planning any apologies or change. If they are a deer in the headlights, perhaps we should lower the glare a bit, not to let them off easy, but to achieve our goal.
Additionally, in this wretched economy, a major employer is losing some, perhaps substantial, business, while competitors which have supported conservative causes many of those boycotting may likely also deplore seem the major beneficiaries. We need an overarching vision.
Islamophobia is a scourge, and a climate of economic stress is perfect for culturing dangerous scapegoating. What is most important is to construct a way through this stand-off to actual healing. As Lowes’ motto exhorts, what we really need to figure out how to accomplish—more than anything—is to “build something together”.
Anya Cordell is a Jewish speaker, writer, activist, recipient of the 2010 Spirit of Anne Frank Award and founder of The Campaign for Collateral Compassion to raise awareness of the post 9/11 backlash against Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others. She is also author of RACE: An OPEN & SHUT Case, which unravels traditional presumptions of what we call “race”, named among the “books to change your life” by N’Digo Magazine, and the author of the acclaimed piece, “Where the Anti-Muslim Path Leads.”