Monday, October 25, 2010

a plague on both your houses... and juan williams

[First the facts]
By now you've probably heard that Juan Williams was fired from his job at NPR, ostensibly for making certain comments about Muslims while appearing with Bill O'Reilly on Fox News in the wake of O'Reilly's own controversial appearance on The View. The main statement by Williams at the center of the storm is the following:

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.

Not that long after making these comments, Juan Williams lost his job at NPR and not long after that he was offered a new three-year two million dollar contract with Fox News.

[climbing on soapbox]

-What Juan Williams said was Islamophobic in the most literal sense (i.e.expressing an irrational fear of Muslims) and by his own admission reflects his own thoughts and feelings. He's going to have to work on his neurosis on his own time.

-To his credit, what he said actually wasn't that bad. He didn't try to use his Islamophobia to argue that Muslims should give up some of our First Amendment rights (e.g. move the Park 51 project) or argue that that Muslims as a group should receive differential treatment (e.g. profiling).

-I would even argue that if we are going to have an honest discussion about Islamophobia in America, then it is actually necessary for there to be *some* forums somewhere, some safe spaces where non-Muslims can candidly express their fears, misgivings, etc. about Muslims. (A televised broadcast by a "neutral" news analyst is NOT one of those forums.) The priority here is on expressing emotion not advocating for specific public policies. And of course, it is also necessary (and much more rare) for there to be safe spaces for Muslims to express how the post 9/11 climate makes us feel.

-What Juan Williams said is mild compared to the bigotry which the usual talking heads spew on Fox. In fact, what Bill O'Reilly said on The View or what Brian Killmeade said in his defense is orders of magnitude more offensive than what Juan Williams said. I really do believe in freedom of speech and an open marketplace of ideas so I don't actually want to see them censored, but anyone in the media is going to lose their job for making bigoted comments, there are a lot of folks who should get booted before Juan Williams.

-Juan Williams' real offense is that he allowed his reputation as a "reasonable" and liberal journalist (in part developed through his relationship with NPR) to provide cover and defense for the more extreme bigots at Fox.

-If the decision to fire Williams was only based on Williams' own comments, then NPR definitely overreacted. I'm more inclined to believe that since Fox News and NPR are competing news organizations, the executives at NPR probably weren't happy with Juan Williams' relationship with Fox for a while and were just looking for a convenient excuse to fire him.

-In hindsight, NPR definitely made a bad call. They are coming out of this looking like clumsy opponents of free speech and they have basically only strengthened Fox's position.

Huff Post: Juan Williams FIRED: NPR Sacks Analyst Over Fox News Muslim Comments
Garvey's Ghost: NPR and the Silencing of Outspoken Black Men
Michael Moore: Open Letter to Juan Williams
Juan Cole: Williams supported Imus Firing, Censoring of Rap Music
Juan Cole: End Federal Tax Subsidies to Fox!
Bin Gregory: Muslim Garb
Daily Show: NPR Staffing Decision 2010


bingregory said...

Imam Johari Abdul Malik's reaction, expressing your third point, I think.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Thanks for the link. I don't think I'd say its the same point but definitely similar in tone.