Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has been one of the most prominent voices protesting Lowe’s decision to withdraw ads from the All American Muslim reality TV show. Sally Quinn interviewed him Thursday.
Why did you get involved in this controversy?
Russell Simmons: It’s my job. It’s the best way to promote what I do. But I never expected to have this kind of discussion about rights: that some people would be denied the same kind of freedom as other people. It’s shocking in this day and age that a company can let this happen. Actually, I wanted to do a show like this. America needs to see that there are so many misconceptions about the Muslim community. To me (the controversy about) Ground Zero was pretty bad. They didn’t want an interfaith prayer center. We don’t believe the Muslim community should defend itself because of an attack on the American ideal.
What do you think the CEO of Lowe’s should do?
RS: The guy should step down. I think he owes [Muslims] an apology. [Lowe’s] made a big mistake. They let the cat out of the bag (based on) deep-seated beliefs. Now they have to decide whether their supporters and stockholders will accept him as CEO. I’d like to send rabbis and preachers to have a discussion with him about tolerance. It’s not okay for public companies to bend to hate. If everyone says, “let’s practice something immoral or un-American” you wouldn’t do it. I’m betting most people will shop [at Lowe’s] less. We had a poll on my web site, globalgrind.com. Two thousand people responded. Eighty six percent said the guy should step down.
How do you feel about the Christian Group, The American Family Association, that persuaded Lowe’s to cancel their advertising?
RS: There are Christian fanatics. I said something about Buddha recently at a meeting and somebody said, “Well, You’re not going where we’re going” (to heaven). A lot of people who believe in Jesus believe you’re not going to the same place. They say you better learn. With some of these Christian groups their argument is that the show is not about “typical Muslim families.” (Because they’re not portrayed as supporters of terrorism) This is insane. Americans should be more educated. Islam is the fastest growing religion in this country. We have the First Amendment. People can come to American and practice their religion without fear. That’s the point of our country.”
What is your religious faith?
RS: I’m a Buddhist. I practice yoga every day. I practice religious yoga. I meditate twice a day. I’m a vegan. My brother says I’m a Christian Yogi. I like Jesus, Moses, Abraham. I believe the prophets came at different times. We’re all part of one body Yoga is 5,000 years old. It’s a textbook for happiness. I believe people are all the same and we are connected ultimately. Tolerance is not love but if you cannot do love then practice tolerance.
Will you continue on with this fight?
RS: I have to. I have ads on tonight. (Thursday). Any spots that come up I’m going to buy. I work very closely with Rabbi Marc Schneier. He’s vice president of the World Jewish Congress. He’s also founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. I’m the chairman. He’s made the same statements I have. He’s much more eloquent than I am. But I’m more high profile.