NPR fires Juan Williams for anti-Muslim comments: intolerance, political correctness, or a stand against bigotry?

 

“Juan Williams, Martyr to Tolerance.” That’s the title of a provocative Ethics Alarms piece by Jack Marshall. Juan Williams was fired by NPR for saying this on to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News:

“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 the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Marshall excoriates NPR’s action as the intolerable “intolerance of the self-righteous heralds of toleration.”

I’m conflicted over this one. I don’t think Juan Williams should have been fired, but I find his statement very unfair, and somewhere between ignorant and bigoted.

Ignorant, because Muslims wear all kinds of garb, including the sporty American look that the 9/11 hijackers apparently tried to present. Bigoted, because it’s bigotry to assign stereotypical characteristics to individuals, whether to assume that Jews are money-grubbing, that Irish are drunks, that black men are sex-crazed, or that evangelical Christians are gay-bashers.

For Americans in 2010 it’s particularly hurtful to stereotype Muslims as terrorists, as many on the political right are now doing. A scary portion of the population is buying into the idea of Muslims as “other.” It’s horribly unfair to people who are as American—and as ordinary—as I, and it gives aid to Al Qaeda and other anti-American Muslim gangs who preach that America is at war with Islam.

As a depression-born Jew I grew up amidst vestigial anti-Semitism, based on stereotypical Jewish avarice, media control, and Christ-killing. The anti-Muslim talk and sentiments sound very much like the worst anti-Semitic talk of the 1930s and 1940s.

Better than firing Williams, NPR might have presented a sober analysis of the fear he expressed. That’s what Edward R. Murrow would have done.

[Note: The photo is from an Amnesty International ad. The man is not a criminal: the number he’s holding is Amnesty International’s phone number in Portugal.]

 

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