Sunday, June 01, 2008

Views of Muslims in America

This week Dunkin' Donuts decided to remove an ad with Rachel Ray because "a fringed black-and-white scarf that she wore in the ad "offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism." Michelle Malkin, a right-winged conservative Republican wrote in a blog that it was very similar to a kaffiyeh, which is linked to terrorism. From her blog, she writes, "The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

Now, I am sure she has traveled to Saudi, Egypt and other Arab countries and saw that this is a common scarf worn by all citizens not just Arafat and Muslim terrorists. I went to Cairo in March, and I saw a few people wearing it as their every day clothing. We saw various shops selling it as a tourist item, and my family bought a couple of them for friends. It is crazy to think that Dunkin Donuts would do this on purpose. However, what I really see is that the ultra-right and left commentators are making an impact on advertising.

This week on one of my PR listserv, it was a lively discussion of the event and how crazy it has become. I saw a Good Morning America piece discussing the add had cherry blossoms so it could be implied that you can only drink the coffee during the spring. Of course they were joking, but how far can we take it. I wasn't shocked by her statements because it comes out of being ignorant of the use of the kaffiyehs. It is a stretch to believe that scarf, which doesn't look anything like a kaffiyeh, is linked to terrorism. With my background in advertising, I know that they wanted to get rid of the ad in case other people would link it, but I think they overreacted. They need to look at who wrote the column and think about the following she has and the impact it has on the business. There is a triangle theory in advertising that companies look at before implementing a spokesperson. They want to pick a person that people have a high level of respect so they can relate that person to the product and to the company.

If there is one part of that triangle that has a bad image or could have a bad reflection on the product, then a company will decide to remove the spokesperson. The ad has Rachel Ray, who is loved by millions, promoting coffee, but the ad was pulled because of the scarf. This act is shocking because now more people have seen this ad because of the publicity, and they may have more people thinking negatively about the ad because of her column. How many million Americans read her column? Not many. This ad symbolizes how people fear the hint of having anything in the ad that relates to supporting terrorism. It's a far stretch that a scarf does exactly this. Are we going to continue to let someone like Malkin dictate how companies advertise? If they received thousands of calls on the ad, then I can fully support their decision.

About a month ago, ABC had a show that looked at racism of Muslims in America, and it was great. It had someone act Muslim and enter a gas station and an actor refused to serve her. There were customers who entered the gas station that supported the guy's decision not to serve, and ABC interviewed them afterwards to ask why. They also showed people who supported the woman's right be served, and some people didn't say a thing. It is truly sad to see this happen, but I know it does.

After 9/11 I have a few friends who wear Hijab, and they were treated differently and people made rude remarks toward them. It was sad to see that they were treated differently because a few crazy people made that decision and used religion as an excuse. They weren't true Muslims, and many people who understand and know about Islam realized that. However, seven years later, we are still seeing people being racist towards Muslims. Racism will never end, but we can at least work on educating people on the effects it has on people.


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