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|Parsing Juan Williams|
Oct. 22nd, 2010 at 12:53 am
As long as we’re parsing around here…
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think that the statement Williams made here is bigoted. To be more precise, he didn’t say that people in Muslim garb are trying to commit acts of terrorism on planes. That would be a bigoted (and factually incorrect as the terrorists dress to blend in) statement. What he said is that when he sees people that are clearly broadcasting their faith through clothing he has an involuntary reaction to that. It causes him to worry. It reveals his own inner bigotry. If anything he is condemning himself in his statement for and irrational but understandable fear.
As someone who flew a lot around the time of 9/11 I will admit that I’ve looked on my fellow passengers with suspicion many times. How could you not? Interestingly enough my traveling companion on many of those post 9/11 trips was Egyptian. I assure you that I didn’t worry about him one bit, because I knew him. Yet he felt that he was constantly being eyed with suspicion, and I had to agree that he was. But even knowing this I worried about people on planes. I worried about the idiots who seemed unable to comply with the rules to stay seated on the last 30 minutes of any flight into DC. I worried about the people spending way too long in the bathroom. What are they doing in there anyhow? I admit that I worried about people that were clearly Muslim that I did not know. I can also admit that these are all irrational fears, but perfectly understandable in the context of 9/11. I would guess that a lot of people share such irrational fears. Not products of a conscious bigotry but something deeper and harder to weed out.
Juan Williams gave voice to these fears. He could have done it much more artfully, but if you read him carefully he is simply revealing himself to be human and being overly polite to the host of the show by claiming to agree with him and then proceeding to take a more nuanced approach. I think we need to be able to admit that people have these fears rather than ignoring that they exist.
Did he deserve to be fired over this? I actually think that he got fired because of what O’Reilly said rather that what Williams said. O’Reilly is careful to cite the NPR affiliation in order to bolster Williams’ claims. My guess is that NPR is sick of Williams using NPR to build up a reputation as a journalist and then using Fox News to engage in punditry, playing on his other job to give his words weight. I would also guess that NPR has had several discussions with Williams on this topic over the years and that this is simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not a big deal in and of itself, but it happens to be the thing that cost him his job.
Personally I won’t miss him, but it is worthwhile to understand what it is he said and why it was that he was fired rather than engaging in predictable (and disingenuous) screeds about so-called “censorship”.
Note: Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take on things, very different from my own, yet still rational.