Juan Williams reflects America’s greatest threat

October 23, 2010

This week, news analyst and political commenter Juan Williams was fired from NPR after an appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show in which he expressed his personal fears concerning Muslims and terrorism:

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

NPR issued a short statement, explaining that Williams’ remarks compromised his neutrality as a news analyst:

(Juan Williams’) remarks on The O’Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.

Aside, I think it’s obvious that NPR didn’t fire Williams for simply expressing his opinion. They fired him for expressing a politically incorrect opinion, one that is (most likely) inconsistent with the general point of view held at NPR. If Williams had said something to the opposite effect, say, if he opined that Muslims are being unfairly stereotyped, I doubt that NPR would have fired him, even though the comment — tho more NPR-friendly and politically correct — would still be no less an expression of a non-fact-based opinion.

Some bloggers characterize Williams’ remarks as “anti-Muslim bigotry”. I don’t think they amount to bigotry, but they do reflect an improper but widely-held emotionally-based sentiment that equates “Islam” to “extremism” and “Muslim garb” to “terrorist”. This type of fear-based victim-based stereotyping may not be bigotry itself, but it is the loam from which bigotry grows. It has a dangerously corrosive effect on society, as it subverts the effort to educate people about multi-cultural sensitivity, steering America away from greater inter-faith harmony and good will.

At the other end of the spectrum, some bloggers believe we owe Williams a debt of gratitude for highlighting how political correctness distracts us from the serious discussion of real threats:

(Williams’ firing) also serves as a reminder that America’s P.C. police are preventing a serious discussion about Islam, Islamism, jihadism and terrorism, and how the U.S. will defend itself.

We owe Williams and O’Reilly a debt of gratitude for starting a discussion that is long overdue.

Political correctness has helped us lose nine years in grasping as a nation how to defeat the latest tyrannical ideology to challenge American freedom and security. Let’s not waste another nine.

Ironically, imo, the latest tyrannical ideology to challenge American freedom and security is not Islamic extremism, but rather our own fear-based reaction to it. Many Americans truly believe in their hearts and minds that their stereotypical prejudice of Muslims and Islam is justified by the fact that, as Bill O’Reilly put it, “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”

Overcoming this widely-held and tragically unfair perspective is America’s greatest challenge. Failing to do so, is most certainly the greatest threat to American freedom – in its truest and most tolerant sense.

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