I realize I’m a little late in commenting on this Juan Williams-NPR fiasco, but I wanted to get the full picture. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, I have decided to side with Mr. Williams on the issue. Mr. Williams is a commentator & news analyst. In other words, he is paid by news organizations to give his opinion & lend his worldview to the news stories of the moment, which is precisely what he did on the O’Reilly Factor. In response to the O’Reilly-The View ladies issue, he stated that his initial reaction to seeing Muslims in traditional clothing on airplanes is fear. My guess is that for most non-Muslim Americans, their gut reaction, before it is filtered through the politically correct screen that we are expected to use, is also fear. The events that occurred on 9/11 injured our nation deeply in many ways, but especially psychologically (the way that it was INTENDED to harm us). Up to that point, most Americans probably had no knowledge about Islam, either good or bad, because most Americans are not Muslim. So for many people, 9/11 was their first encounter with this religion. Was it an inaccurate picture? In most cases, yes. But if your first experience with basketball is getting hit in the face with one, you’re probably not going to be trying out for the team anytime soon.
The interesting point in all this is that Mr. Williams was really taken entirely out of context. The quote that got him into trouble was part of a larger discussion that he and Mr. O’Reilly were having about American perceptions of & reactions to Muslims in the United States. The part of the interview that NPR seemed to ignore in their decision to fire Mr. Williams included him stating that most Muslims are good, law-abiding people & that the vast majority are NOT terrorists. That was the point he was trying to make – 9/11 severely damaged the reputation of Muslims in the eyes of many Americans and that it is important for us as a nation to work together to overcome that fear & to defeat radical Islam-fueled terrorism. He didn’t say all Muslims are bad or that they’re all terrorists or that they all eat kittens for breakfast. He just said he gets a little nervous when he gets on a plane & sees people in traditional Muslims garb because of the events of 9/11. For that statement, he was fired.
I don’t know if I believe the George Soros theory espoused by Mr. O’Reilly. He stated that since Mr. Soros is a huge financial supporter of the public radio station, they do his bidding by keeping to a strict liberal agenda & firing dissenters. I’m sure some of that probably goes on, at least the liberal agenda part, but I think that NPR probably just got nervous. They were worried that Mr. Williams might have offended the politically correct sensibilities of the station’s core listener group: middle-and-upper-class liberal white folks. So, instead of risking running off 95% of their base, they decided to fire the troublemaker. NPR really shot themselves in the foot with this decision. Not only is Mr. Williams getting a ton of publicity (most of it good, from what I’ve seen), but NPR is also getting a lot of publicity – the negative kind. Many people have said that NPR should no longer receive taxpayer funding because of its treatment of Mr. Williams and its opposition to free speech. So, instead of having their prodigal son publicly disgraced, he has renewed his contract with Fox for more money, received a great deal of positive publicity, and will probably get a book deal out of the situation. NPR however, is facing a public relations nightmare & may end up losing its public funding which will ultimately cause them to go bankrupt.
I guess I want to wrap up this post with two points: First, I would like to agree with the point Mr. Williams was trying to make – we as a nation, regardless of race, religion, color, etc. need to engage in a productive & meaningful discussion about terrorism & radical Islam. More moderate Muslims need to stand up and publicly condemn the actions of people who commit terror in the name of their religion – they may privately condemn these actions, but until they state publicly their opposition they are going to be (unfairly) lumped together with terrorists, or at least terrorist sympathizers. On the other side of that same coin, non-Muslim Americans need to make an effort to distinguish between standard-issue American Muslims and Islamic terrorists and to treat their (non-terrorist) Muslim neighbors with kindness and respect. Second, we as a nation need to stop worrying so much about being politically correct. Yes, sometimes people are going to say offensive things. Sometimes people are going to be offended by statements that are really not offensive. We cannot condemn everyone who expresses an opinion as a racist or a bigot. Are there racists & bigoted people in the United States? Absolutely. Unfortunately, they have the right to espouse their ridiculous ideas just like everyone else (please see the First Amendment to the Constitution). In our efforts to silence those loons, we end up stifling legitimate statements & hindering real conversation on important issues. If we can strike a balance in our national discussion between political correctness and the reality of Islamic terrorism, I think we could really get somewhere on our understanding of Islam, terrorism, and our connections to other human beings, regardless of religion.