Juan Williams was a National Public Radio (NPR) senior political analyst until a few days ago. Juan said publicly, " 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. " He was sharing his raw feelings with the O'Reilly Show audience on the FOX channel.
Mr. Juan's comments offended me. As a taxpayer, a hard working Muslim American citizen, and a family man, I believe that my wife of twenty-four years, my two grown-up daughters, and I have the right to wear whatever garb we choose. If Mr. Williams is afraid of the way we look, he should either stop flying or see a psychotherapist. NPR fired Juan over his comments, and t he conservative world went wild!
Personally, I have mixed feelings over NPR's decision, because on one hand, l can perfectly understand the first amendment argument against Mr. Williams firing. On the other hand, I completely fail to comprehend the fact that the same angry civilized law abiding crowd accepted identical decisions by other media outlets over similar insensitive comments against different minority groups.
Over the last few months, CNN fired Rick Sanchez, an anchor, and Octavia Nasser, the Senior Middle East Affairs Editor; News Service forced Helen Thomas, a lifetime achievement recipient, and a White House correspondent, to retire after a distinguished career of seventy years; and the syndicated radio show hosted and named after Dr. Laura Schlesinger went off the air.
The announcements to end the employment, force retirement, or stop broadcasting were explained as the result of insensitive comments by the individuals in question towards a minority group. The overwhelming response in all cases encouraged and complemented the swift decision to penalize the guilty parties and defend the minorities' rights against public abuse.
The contradictory response to Mr. Williams' firing forces me to question the interpretation of the constitution as the real motive behind the angry reaction to NPR decision.
Muslim and Arab bashing has been largely a safe political bet, and the examples are endless from Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss calling for the arrest of every Muslim that crosses the state line, to Newt Gingrich comparing Muslims to Nazis, to calling President Obama a Muslim as an insult, and everything in between.
I accept the fact that a few radicals calling themselves Muslims exist. I believe that their extremist version of religion is dangerous for humanity, regardless of east and west; after all, numbers of Muslims killed by radicals exceed number of non-Muslims by order of magnitude. I also believe that as a Muslim I owe no apology and accept no responsibility for their actions.
The question then becomes two folds. Who should have the responsibility to address Mr. Williams' fears assuming they are real? Secondly, where should we draw the line between free speech and incitement or hate speech?
I strongly believe that well read, sophisticated political and media personalities perfectly understand that the few hundreds or even thousands of violent extremists can't represent a religion of over 1.5 billion believers. In other words, I don't believe Mr. Williams.
Conversely, I understand that negative stereotype through comments or speeches by leaders such as Williams, O' Reilly, Gingrich, Chambliss, and many others can instill or confirm fears, in the general population, of a woman wearing a headscarf or a man with facial hair.
The anger over Mr. Williams' firing is genuine, because for a long time insulting Muslim Americans was a rite of passage for politicians and media personalities looking for quick fame or an easy vote; NPR's decision turned this premise upside-down and proved for the first time that there is a price to pay for taking advantage of any minority group.
I hope that NPR's decision will bring in much needed accountability and decency to the public square: that hurtful bigotry towards any of our citizens will not be tolerated. Only then, will we allow ourselves to see neighbors, friends, colleagues, and service men and women as such, and not as the other.