'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."And this, in reference to Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani immigrant who attempted to blow up Times Square with a car bomb:
"He said the war with Muslims, America's war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts."The first quotation reflects the views, I'm guessing, of the vast majority of people who fly in this country (and in Europe and Asia and other parts of the world, as well). With some regularity, Muslim men associated with radical Islamist organizations have been trying to kill American civilians, here and abroad. A group of 19 Muslim men succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in their mission nine years ago. The majority of Muslims abhor terrorism, and Muslims are the disproportionate victims of Muslim terror, but the essential truth remains that most of the world's spectacular terrorism today -- thwarted and achieved -- is committed by Muslims. Juan Williams misunderstands one crucial fact: Muslim terrorists who are attempting to commit acts of terror seldom if ever dress in "Muslim garb"; they dress, for obvious tactical reasons, in a manner meant to help them blend in with surroundings. So Williams is wrong, I think, to be particularly suspicious of traditionally-dressed Muslims. But is he wrong to worry about Islamist terrorism? Of course not.
In reference to Faisal Shahzad, Williams is on firmer ground: Shahzad, and other Islamist terrorists, view themselves as engaged in a war with America, in which American cities are meant to be battlegrounds. It is hard to parse Williams's fragmentary comments, but he seems to be simply reporting on an established fact, one that dates back to Osama Bin Laden's original 1998 fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans wherever and whenever possible. It is not racist to acknowledge that in many different countries, and even within the United States, young Muslim men -- thousands, it would be fair to say -- spend their days thinking up ways to kill American civilians. What is bigoted is to suggest, as Bill O'Reilly and others have recently done, that all Muslims are potential terrorists, or that all Muslims are enemies of the West, or that Islam itself is a terrorist religion. We'll see, as this story unfolds, if Juan Williams made any uglier assertions than the ones attributed to him in the Times story. But David Folkenflik, NPR's media reporter, just tweeted that Williams actually criticized O'Reilly for making generalizations: "Williams also warned Fox host Bill O'Reilly agst blaming all Muslims for "extremists," saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Tim McVeigh," Folkenflik wrote.
There's a larger trend here, the increasing tempo of journalist firings around the issues of Islam, terrorism,and Israel. There is Helen Thomas, of course, as well as Octavia Nasr, who was fired by CNN for praising the radical Shi'a Ayatollah Fadlallah. Helen Thomas is a ridiculous figure, and her comments touched on the Shoah, so I think my position on her firing remains, good riddance, but Nasr's firing seemed unjustified to me, and Williams's removal, so far at least, seems unjustified as well. More to come, undoubtedly.
UPDATE: A handful of Goldblog readers have written me to ask what I thought of the Rick Sanchez firing, which I didn't mention in the post above. I don't think Sanchez should have been fired, either. I think he's a schmuck, but being a schmuck in journalism isn't a firing offense. If it were....
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