NPR fired Juan Williams. This act is not political correctness run amok. NPR says it fired Williams for violating editorial standards, noting that his presence on Fox’s news programming had “long been a sore point with NPR News executives.” In almost every respect his situation is the opposite of what happened to Octavia Nasr, whom I defended here on RD.
However, the incident brings up a crucial point that we should discuss. Most Americans have a negative opinion of Muslims, so let’s have a conversation.
I am sympathetic to Andrew Sullivan’s claim that Williams’ comments were odious, not because of what he said, but how he said them. He was justifying his fear of a people, instead of exploring and dealing with that fear. That’s part of the discussion of race in America that can’t be had because it makes people uncomfortable. In the same way, there are people who look or dress a certain way that make us fearful. Let’s talk about these things.
The difference between Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry is that the phobia can be dealt with. The bigotry will never go away, and there is not much we can do about it but minimize it. People are afraid of Islam, and thus Muslims, simply because they don’t know a lot about it, or have a lot of one-sided information. It is a larger issue about our inability to talk about religion. Because of ignorance, President Obama insults Sikhs, and we repeatedly prevent Jews from praying. If we want to be serious about religion, let’s be serious.
To be clear, Williams was fired for being insubordinate. Welcome to the world of corporations that have standard hiring and firing practices. His speech was not censored, nor is this a discussion about sensitivities. However, Jillian York is right, we shouldn’t let this end the conversation about how we talk about religion in America. We should make this the beginning. Williams is a sideshow; let’s stay focused on the main event.