Earlier this week I opined on the Juan Williams firing, stating that though it wasnt fair, NPR had the right to do so, and that the mainstream media is full with many such instances of columnists, pundits, and commentators being terminated as a result of expressing politically incorrect statements.
Today, I’m going to twist the question a little and attempt to address the following: how should the Muslim Community have responded to Juan Williams in the immediate aftermath of the comments?
Firstly, there is a large portion of the Muslim Community that feels perturbed at the many double standards apparent in the media. This sentiment is best depicted on www.whatiftheyweremuslim.com, a site that chronicles other individuals committing acts which, if done by Muslims, would likely have resulted in some level of hysteria. As a result of this disposition, civil rights organizations have formulated an approach for responding to instances of Islamophobia: send out a mass email, request constituents to bombard said organization/individual with demands for apology, and hope for said organization/individual to acquiesce to stated demands. In many instances, the process works like clockwork. In others, it does not.
In my humble opinion, this was one instance in which the aforementioned approach was unwarranted. Juan Willaims statements may- and indeed were- bigoted, but Williams is no Robert Spencer. He’s not even Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin. He’s a liberal commentator, with a track record of speaking to the issues of civil rights and black leadership. Saying that he gets worried when boarding a plane and seeing someone with Muslim garb on was extremely ignorant. No argument there. But I dont believe it was insidious, I dont believe his intent was to castigate Muslims everywhere, and I dont believe it should have been met with the level of repudiation it was, particularly by Muslim Civil Rights organizations.
In doing so, we create enemies. I said earlier that Williams is no Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh has a history of making inflammatory statements against groups, and Williams does not. But in inflating the controversy, we run the risk of turning him into a Limbaugh. Jon Stewart, for instance, has gone to bat for Muslim causes a number of times, as have Keith Olbermann and others. If Jon Stewart and Rush Limbaugh both came on the air and made the same statements Williams did, I’d be calling for Limbaugh to get fired, whereas for Stewart, I believe simply getting a Muslim leader on the phone with him would do a lot towards changing his mind. Even if it didnt change his mind entirely, he’d still be advocating for Muslim rights in the future, and in doing so we’d retain an ally in an age where there are far too few people in the media willing to ally themselves with Muslim causes.
Williams is now a full time commentator on Fox News. I suspect that his rhetoric against Muslims will get increasingly hostile as time goes on, and I can only hope that after this entire episode is over, he’s able to maintain some level of objectivity when it comes to addressing the many issues which involve Muslims in some way, shape, or form.
As a final note, in the spirit of fairness, I will say that I’m not sure how much Muslim civil rights organizations factored into NPR’s decision. It appears that the firing was the result of a long standing dissatisfaction with Williams and his relationship with Fox News, and not the result of consultation from CAIR/MPAC or anyone else. My assessment still holds, as I’m sure a nuanced press release from Muslim organizations would have made firing Williams more precarious for NPR, to say the least. And Allah Knows Best.