CBS anchor Katie Couric startled some listeners when she suggested a Muslim "Cosby Show," but the idea has merit. It's hard for us to be afraid of the people we see on TV sitcoms every week.
Such are the recent news items that led Couric in a recent year-in-review discussion to suggest a TV sitcom response to the "seething hatred" against Muslims.
"Maybe we need a Muslim version of 'The Cosby Show,' " she said. "I know that sounds crazy. But 'The Cosby Show' did so much to change attitudes about African-Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of things they don't understand."
She's right. A black TV family like Bill Cosby's Huxtables -- or a Hispanic-American family like, say, George Lopez's show -- might not seem like such a big deal anymore, now that a real-life black family occupies the White House. But back in the 1980s, they were the decade's biggest TV hit in ways that even changed the way a lot of us black Americans viewed ourselves and our perceptions of opportunity in America's mainstream.
Some critics still complain that "The Cosby Show" was too good, that its well-off family headed by a doctor and a lawyer was too far removed from the lives that most black people lived. But more important in my view was the larger message: The American Dream is not for whites only.
But could that heartwarming success work today, when many of us actually find ourselves debating the value of civility? No way, say some cynics. "Earth to Katie," wrote columnist Andrea Peyser in the New York Post: "African-Americans, Eskimos, or imbecilic white ladies didn't fly planes into the World Trade Center. Try again, genius."
OK, let's clear the air on that one: A group of Muslim SOBs did kill Americans on 9/1 1. They have allies who are out to kill more of us. They are our enemy. But that does not make all Muslim-Americans our enemies. Our diversity needs to be an asset to our national security, not a nuisance.
Unfortunately, Couric's comment expresses something my own cynical side has noticed ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: Muslims have become the new "Negroes," the new occupants of the bottom-rung scary-minority status long occupied by us African-Americans.
That's what occurs to me when I hear geniuses like one conservative talk-show host who wanted to block a proposed "ground zero mosque," which isn't a mosque or located at ground zero. "To protect our religious freedoms," he said, tone-deaf to the contradiction in that doublethink.
"Islamophobia breaks my heart," said Iranian-American author-essayist Porochista Khakpour, who fled with her family from Iran's revolution in 1980 when she was 3 years old.
She used to bristle at requests to write essays with "an Iranian-American take" on pop culture. But no more. "Now I'll do anything to break through the stereotypes," she said.
When I mentioned the idea of a Muslim "Cosby Show," she was excited by the idea, but dismayed that it hasn't already happened here. Canadians have had "Little Mosque on the Prairie," a successful sitcom about a Muslim family and their interactions with non-Muslims, since January 2007. Similar efforts here have yet to leave the launchpad.
That's too bad. It certainly would be asking too much to expect a Muslim family sitcom to do nearly as well for comedy -- or our national comity -- as "The Cosby Show" did, but I'd like to see somebody try it.