A Muslim advocacy organization wants the producers of NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU)” to meet with Muslim community leaders, in response to a controversial episode that aired last week, which viewers criticized for promoting Islamophobia and perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said Monday that it wrote a letter to the show’s executive producer Dick Wolf to “urge you and your staff to meet with leaders of the Muslim community to learn why this episode makes the rising tide of bigotry even worse, and what you can to do mitigate the damage that has already been done.”
One of the episode’s storylines involved a character, city councilwoman Nahla Nasar, who appeared to be an exaggerated version of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Omar has been the subject of bad-faith attacks from opponents who have falsely equated her support for Palestine with anti-Semitism.
CAIR said that the episode advanced “a ridiculous plot line that mocks the real hatred being experienced by real American Muslims and other minority communities,” executive director Nihad Awad wrote in the letter.
Afaf Nasher, the director of CAIR’s New York chapter, urged the show’s producers to “avoid enflaming Islamophobia,” warning that the episode may “lend a hand to anti-Muslim bigots.”
The group said the episode, which aired last Thursday, also “portrayed Muslim men in a negative light and suggested that growing Islamophobia in America is a hoax.”
A spokeswoman for NBC did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter and the criticism of the episode.
Last Thursday, social media users criticized the episode, which mashed together Nasar’s storyline with plot points inspired by two other real-life figures who sparked controversy: “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett and high school student Nicholas Sandmann.
The long-running show has previously faced criticism for stereotyping its Muslim characters.
The controversy reflects a broader lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood. A study last year found that less than one percent of regular stars on primetime television and streaming shows are Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) actors.
When MENA actors are featured, they are often cast as terrorists, tyrants and other stereotypical roles that “perpetuate and exacerbate xenophobia and Islamophobia,” the study’s co-author, sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen, told HuffPost last year.