Muslims really thought they were doing the world a favor by pulling Europe and its mostly illiterate Christians out of the Dark Ages. But just because they foisted algebra, trigonometry, optics, astronomical charts, the classics, Arabic numerals, advanced surgical techniques, perspective in art, the lute, and artichokes on the world - while the Christian kings of Europe were smothering free inquiry - we're not about to give them any credit a thousand years later.
Particularly in America, we remain ignorant of Islamic contributions to Western life. We suffer from a profound cultural amnesia when it comes to remembering our millennia-long debt to our Muslim brethren. But as the song goes, what has Averroes done for us lately?
Americans are so used to thinking of Muslims as an exotic "other" that many fail to realize they're an inextricable part of who we are and have been since the nation's earliest days. Unfortunately, too many non-Muslims see them as Manchurian candidates crouching in the shadows with explosive vests, waiting for the signal to wage terror on America's malls. If you ask the average American citizen about Islam's role as an incubator of Western ideas, expect stares of incomprehension.
If this ignorance were restricted to the margins of society, it wouldn't be half as embarrassing. But Islamophobia, like its twin brother, anti-Semitism, has a way of injecting itself into the cultural discourse. Contempt for Muslims remains an acceptable prejudice for millions who continue to equate the religion with terrorism.
Recently, TLC began running an innocuous reality show called All-American Muslim. It documents the lives of five Muslim families in a Detroit suburb that boasts the highest concentration of Arabs and Muslims in America. The 99 percent of Americans who don't share their faith are invited to explore the possibility that these very misunderstood Americans don't have horns or drink the blood of infant Christians and Jews.
It didn't take long for a conservative group calling itself the Florida Family Association to complain that the TLC series is "propaganda that riskily [sic] hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."
Of course, there's nothing on the show to indicate a subversive religious agenda, other than its blatant attempt to portray Muslims as humans.
Lowe's Home Improvement couldn't be bothered with such nuances. It pulled its ads from the show and issued the wimpiest justification of corporate cowardice ever: "Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views."
Ted Lieu, a state senator in California, called Lowe's capitulation to intolerance "un-American" and is considering calling for a boycott of the retailer. Lowe's isn't worried about a boycott from America's Muslims, who number fewer than two million, but a sympathy boycott by fair-minded Americans of all faiths and political persuasions would be a nightmare for the company.
Crawling out of this depressing sequel to the Dark Ages won't be easy.