Is Juan Williams Bigoted?

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A Goldblog reader writes:

"I'm surprised that an enemy of Pamela Geller like you would excuse Juan Williams' bigoted statements. He is simply fearmongering. It is of course bigoted to say that you worry when people dressed in Islamic garb come near you on airplanes. How would you like it if someone wrote that they feared it when rabbis dressed in Hasidic garb came near them?

The problem with this argument is that there are no known instances of Hasidim trying to blow up planes. (They do make flights to Israel unpleasant in other ways, but that's not the subject of this post.) There have been occasions, as we know, when Muslims, acting in their self-defined roles as righteous Muslims, have, in fact, tried, and succeeded, in blowing-up planes. As I pointed out in the previous post, Williams is wrong on the merits -- Muslims dressed in traditional garb don't pose a threat, for the obvious reason that if you're going to blow up a plane, you shouldn't raise suspicions by dressing in a way that provokes the worry of people like Juan Williams, who, I'm guessing, is like most Americans in that he worries from time to time about being the victim of Islamist terror. To his credit, Williams also criticized Bill O'Reilly for his statement implicitly linking all Muslims to terrorism.

I think what I'm reacting to so strongly here is the Inquisition-like state of journalism today, in which speech deemed offensive to Jews and Muslims in particular is considered immediate grounds for firing. Juan Williams's statements on Islam and terrorism could have provoked an interesting debate about profiling, about the place of Muslims in society, about finding a middle ground in the battle against Islamist terror. Instead, they have led to a conversation about his firing, and they have provided the extreme right, which I believe has a very destructive and simplistic understanding of the threat posed by Islamist terrorists, with another free speech martyr. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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