A big reaction in the inbox. A reader writes:

You are dead wrong on this one, Andrew. You wrote, “But Juan could control what he said on national television.” Huh? Andrew Sullivan, telling people to control what they say?

What Juan Williams said is not bigotry. He did not advocate legislating special laws designed to keep people from dressing in traditional Islamic garb. He did not say these people were terrorists. He did not say they should not be allowed here. He simply said he gets nervous.

No he didn't simply say that. He equated it with America's alleged "Muslim" - not "radical Muslim", or "extremist Muslim" threat - but "Muslim dilemma". He cited a Jihadist terrorist coopting all of Islam for his extremist violence and endorsed this terrorist's analysis. He said it was legitimate to feel fear when someone in Muslim garb is on a plane - despite the fact that no Jihadists have ever worn such clothing to murder people on planes in America. One of the most recent wore a US military uniform. If Williams had said he feared dark-skinned men in US uniform on planes after Fort Hood, would we not think that was bigotry? Another writes:

Calling someone a bigot in public discourse is a serious matter.

(And yes, calling a statement bigoted is calling the author of that statement bigoted.) Describing one’s irrational feelings about people belonging to a group is not bigotry, especially if one follows it up with a statement such as Williams did later in the segment: “We don’t want in America people to have their rights violated, to be attacked on the street, because they hear rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy.” We expect better from you than knee-jerk PC reaction.

I think it's more complex than that, as I explain here. Someone who is not a bigot as such can still say bigoted things from time to time. When he does so on national television, he should expect a reaction. Another:

I see no difference between what Juan Williams and Bill O'Reilly say out loud vs. what Trey Parker and Matt Stone attempted to do on South Park by drawing Mohammed.  Yet you defend South Park and criticize the media companies who censored it.  Think about your position for a moment: You'd rather a guy lose his job over a thought crime - even if it's a legitimate fear he holds - but you defend someone else who goes out of their way to specifically poke fun at, and offend the sensitivities of, an entire religion.

Are you kidding? Making fun of all religions, including Islam, is a treasured facet of free speech and an example of blasphemy and comedy. It doesn't come close to bigotry of any kind. And my reader says that Williams' fears are legitimate. That's the entire point. They aren't. They are irrational fears of the other, based on simple religious indicators (like a yamulke or a cross or a veil) and generalizing the actions of a tiny few to a vast majority. If that isn't bigotry, what is? Another:

It is unfortunate that there might be an association between traditional Muslim garb, airplanes, and terrorism.  However, I don’t think someone who reflexively feels nervous in the situation Williams described is automatically a bigot. He did not say others should be nervous too or that he acts on his nervous feeling and exits the plane. He simply acknowledged the association and honestly shared it.

In my opinion Bill O'Reilly’s statements reflect the way a segment of America is responding to irrational reflexes and in some cases bigotry. He is acknowledging his/others fear and then advocating certain policies or actions based on that fear. Namely he is supporting resistance to the Cordoba House based on the irrational association between American Muslims and terrorists. I think THAT is a dangerous train of thought.

Except Williams also opposes Park51, calling it a "thumb in the eye to so many people who lost their lives and went through the trauma there." And he legitimized it. I think that what Fox News is legitimizing is anti-Muslim bigotry, making money off it, and polarizing the country for the sake of profits and ratings. I also think it's a subtle way to demonize a president whom a significant number of their viewers believe is a Muslim, is designed to increased Republican turn-out, and runs the risk of inciting violence against the president as a closet terrorist or "pal" to use Palin's word, of terrorists. The fact that this will hinder us from winning the war on terror, the key to which is isolating the extremists from the vast majority of Muslims, as George W. Bush understood, seems not to matter to them. As another reader writes:

They don't want to win this war. They don't care if they ever win this war. Why should they? This war is gold.

What Roger Ailes is doing is disgusting. And dangerous.

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