Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/22/2010

Juan Williams, No Longer Xenophobe in Residence at NPR

". . .political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. . ." Bigotry is bigotry.

". . .political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. . ." Bigotry is bigotry.

Imagine this :
I’ve been invited to appear on Bill O’Reilly show on FOX News (you see what I mean by imagine this). We are discussing unemployment among black men in the United States. O’Reilly makes some comment about . . . I don’t know what (it’s impossible to tell what vicious thing he might say). My response is,

Well, Bill, I don’t want to feed your ego, But I think you’re right. I’m not a bigot, but political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. When I get on a plane and see a black man with a mustache walking down the aisle toward me, I get nervous. I mean that guy identifying himself first and foremost as a black man, I don’t know.

Juan Williams, sometime “analyst” on NPR, if he heard my statement, would be all over me—calling on Bill O’Reilly to make me apologize—talking about my racist ideas on NPR’s Morning Edition—making a fuss over my reversion back to the Jim Crow days of segregation in the pre-Civil Rights era.

As everyone knows by now, on Monday this week, Juan Williams said on The O’Reilly Factor, in response to O’Reilly’s infamous statement on The View that all Muslims are responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001,

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 political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. 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.

At least NPR had the decency to fire Williams.

That’s a step in the right direction for NPR. However, NPR, like nearly all institutions in the country, has refused to take any kind of leadership role in reversing the lurching hatred of Muslims that has become blatant xenophobia in the United States.

The imminent takeover of the Federal Government by Tea Party candidates has swallowed up the news in the last few weeks, but the undercurrent of xenophobia against American Muslims is never far from the surface. As a tiny example, In a July news story about the race for US Senate in Kentucky, where the Republican Rand Paul has called for the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Osi Onyekwuluje, a conservative Republican lawyer and a former prosecutor in Bowling Green who has run several times for public office reports that,

Before they ever met [him], people said his name sounded weird. Obviously, they said, he wasn’t white or a native Kentuckian. Was he a U.S. citizen? Was he African? If he was African, was he Muslim? If he was an African Muslim, did he pose a potential threat? Suddenly the candidate. . . . had to spend his time explaining that yes, he is black, but he is a devout Christian and an American citizen. (1)

A decent family man?

A decent family man?

This is not an isolated incident. On August 17, a group of half a dozen Republican former government officials took “issue with Republicans who have called the proposed location of the [New York Islamic] center insensitive.” Their letter, published in the New York Times, includes the paragraph

We are deeply concerned by the rhetoric of some leading members of our party surrounding the construction of the Muslim Community Center in downtown Manhattan. These comments are not only constitutionally unsound, they are also alienating millions of Arab American and Muslim American voters who believe, as we do, in the principles of our party – individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. (2)

The unusual step by officials of former Republican Administrations taking issue with their own party during an election campaign is an indication that the issue of Islamophobia is, at the very least, “alienating millions” of possible GOP voters, and that it needs to stop—for political reasons. The “issue” of the so-called “Ground-Zero Mosque” seems to have disappeared as the Republicans have decided to do nothing to jeopardize their probable takeover of the Congress.

But note that the letter by the former Republican officials who say they are “proud of [their] Arab American and Muslim American” contributions to the party and the government, does not say that the Republican and Tea Party manufactured hullabaloo over the mosque is simply “wrong.”

In an essay in The Humanist, Sarah Ameigh finds a different reason for taking New York Republicans to task:

The grief suffered by the friends and family of 9/11 victims is of a magnitude beyond the comprehension of most. No one is suggesting they aren’t entitled to grieve. . . . But allowing this pain to produce bigotry and hatred—social  chemicals nearly impossible to contain once encouraged—creates in our nation a climate conducive to contempt. Contempt from its citizens, contempt from the watching countries of the world. Are we a benevolent super power? Are we an example? Or are we simply soldiers of Christian intolerance, masked by our bankroll and our government? Ask the Muslims attempting to build their mosque. They may see us more clearly than anyone. (3)

During the 2008 election campaign, a well-known incident at a “town meeting” held by Republican John McCain produced the following exchange:

[A woman in the audience said], “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him … he’s an Arab.” It was at that moment, sensing the impending political fall-out, that Senator John McCain reached to take away the microphone from . . . her. “No ma’m”, replied a clearly embarrassed McCain. “He’s a decent, family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign is all about”. (4)

The exchange is remarkable not for the bigotry expressed by the woman, but for McCain’s response. He said the proof that President Obama was not “an Arab” was that he was a “decent family man.” The implication was, of course, that, were he an Arab, he could not be a decent family man.

John McCain and Juan Williams are two characters in the tragic drama playing out in the United States. McCain exemplifies the cast of political characters who use Islamophobia for political gain, refusing to call bigotry by its name. Williams exemplifies the cast of so-called “conservative” pundits who use Islamophobia for broadcast “ratings” and financial gain. In other words, Islamophobia is exactly the same racial hatred that allowed for the demonization of Irish Catholics in 19th-century America and for the subjugation of Black Americans that began to ease only with the Civil Rights act of 1964.

Vandalism and hate mail?

Vandalism and hate mail?

Islamophobia is not a fear of terrorism. It is, at its core, as Erik Love explains, virulent racism. It

does not always target Islam and Muslims per se, but instead takes on the familiar pattern of racial scapegoating: fear and hatred, prejudice and discrimination directed towards groups crudely demarcated primarily by physical appearance. (5)

Juan Williams’ saying, “I get worried. I get nervous,” is part of a pattern in which

Race clearly plays a role . . . Syrian Americans along with Pakistani Americans have to present themselves to immigration authorities for ‘special registration’. . .  Chaldean churches and Sunni mosques alike are vandalized and receive the same kinds of hate mail. (6)

Racist language is particularly tragic coming from an American who has written books on the Civil Rights Movementwho has gained $2,000,000 for his vitriol.
(1) Cheves, John. “The white world of politics in Kentucky: Race seldom a top issue in state politics.” Lexington Herald-Leader. Sunday, Jul. 18, 2010. Web. 21 Oct. 2010.
(2) Becker, Bernie. “Muslim and Arab Republicans Take Issue With G.O.P. on Mosque.” New York Times. August 17, 2010. Web. 21 Oct. 2010.
(3) Ameigh, Sarah. “Square one at Ground Zero.” The Humanist Sept.-Oct. 2010: 6+.
(4) Carrington, Ben. “Fear of a black president: in the US a barely concealed racist backlash is helping to undermine fragile moves towards progress.” Soundings 43 (2009): 114+
(5) Love, Erik. “Confronting Islamophobia in the United States: framing civil rights activism among Middle Eastern Americans.” Patterns of Prejudice 43.3/4 (2009): 401-425. (6) idem.


  1. he shouldn’t have been fired



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